iMix for Fun & Non-Profit Learning

Offering Cheap and Legal Files

An issue that comes up in some classes is how to legally license music files for classes in foreign language, history/sociology or music. Traditionally instructional designers have recommended services such as ITS Streaming or one of the digital audio archives from the University Libraries. The disadvantage of streaming is that a student must be connected to the Internet. Additionally there may be some loss of audio quality because the file must still fit in a certain bandwidth.

A second alternative is the Penn State iTunesU service which allows students to download podcasts from specific courses. The quality issues are gone because it’s a download, but there are still murky legal issues for downloading commercial songs and videos. While the TEACH Act allows streaming from password protected sites, it does not strictly allow downloads.

The iMix (Custom iTunes Store Album)

A third option which can solve some of these problems is an instructor-created iMix or a custom album created within the iTunes Store. For example, suppose you wanted to show how and R&B music can used for social commentary or share different genres of Spanish language music with your students. An instructor can legally play the music in class and stream it through ANGEL, but if the instructor wanted to provide students the chance to listen to lyrics repeatedly, some sort of “album” would be needed for students purchase.


In the past, textbook publishers would license compilation albums, but instructors may not have had as much flexibility in selecting material. Now an instructor can create a custom iMix and give the title to students for them to download. There is a cost to students – about 99¢ to $1.29 per song. But now students can buy the whole album or only the songs he or she really feels are necessary. It’s also environmentally friendly in that students download digital media instead of using yet another plastic CD.

Best of all is that licensing issues are neatly dodged – an iMix provides a quick and legal way for instructors to access the fairly extensive iTunes library (which does include Welsh hip hop) and select the best titles for the course. Since students are buying from the iTunes store, instructors can be assured that the music publishers and artists are getting a proper share of the revenue. It also avoids any sort of media duplication and storage issues that would normally be a nuisance.

And…students may even decide to buy other music or podcasts from a particular artist. Who knows? The nice (and dangerous) thing about the iTunes store is how easy it is to branch out and find more titles.

FYI – Textbook publishers are using this already. I got this idea from viewing a French language iMix from Heinle.

Quick iMix How To (iTunes 9)

These instructions are for iTunes version 9. As an instructor you need to:

  1. Download the iTunes application and open an account.
  2. Check the iTunes store for music titles you want then purchase titles. They will all be stored in the Music section (accessed through the Music in the left list.
    Note: Do not import from a CD. If you import songs from a legal CD, you will likely get an error when creating the iMix.
  3. Create a playlist (File » New Play List) and give an appropriate title.
  4. Click the Music section and drag songs into the new play list in the order you like.
  5. To reorder songs, click the top of the number column then drag song titles up and down as needed.
  6. To create an iMix, highlight your playlist, then go to the Store menu then Create an iMix (Store » Create an iMix…). Click the Create to show that you understand that the playlist will be displayed in the iTunes Store, log in to your iTunes, then click Publish.
  7. You will see an information screen for the new album. Add notes and change the title as needed, then click Publish again.

iMix information page

Wait A few Days to Access…

Your iMix should be approved and published within a few days. To access it and get the link, do as follows.

  1. Open the iTunes application, and go to Store » View my Account. Login with your iTunes account if necessary.
  2. On your Apple Account Information page, click the Manage iMixes button. In iTunes 9, it’s in the middle of the page.
  3. A list of published iMixes appears. Click the link for the iMix you wish to review. It will open the iMix in the iTunes store window and show a list of prices.
  4. To email a link to yourself or your students, click the Tell a Friend link to the right. The link will be at the bottom of the message sent out. The link for the one iMix I have created is
  5. To find the embed code for your blog, click Publish to the Web. The next window will include a preview and the embed code in a box to the left. The image of the iMix above is actually from an embed code.

Some Use Cases

The iMix may be appropriate for these scenarios

  • Foreign Language – to listen to non-English music
  • Music courses – many genres are represented in iTunes
  • History & Political Science courses – to hear music from a specific era, including rock and roll classics. iTunes also includes satiric artists such as Tom Lehrer.

Possible Disadvantages

Because no tech is perfect, I will note some disadvantages

  • Not everything is on iTunes, and if a song cannot be purchased in iTunes, then it cannot be included in an iMix.
  • On a related note, you can’t mix iTunes U.K. and iTunes U.S., and yes there is material available at iTunes U.K. (or other non-U.S. iTunes) that are not available in the U.S. store.
  • Students must have access to an iTunes account, and an iTunes account requires someone to have a valid U.S. credit card number.
  • All songs in an iMix may need to be purchased from the iTunes store. Imports from a CD cause an error. Fortunately, instructors usually only need to buy the specific titles needed from any one album.
  • Can one student buy the iMix then share with his or her friends? Of course, but there are some limitations into the iTunes system to minimize the ease of file sharing.
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1 Response to iMix for Fun & Non-Profit Learning

  1. Elizabeth … this post brings up memories for me in my own experimentations with iMixes — mins mostly focused on being able to bring in content from across the iTunes U and Podcast directory spaces. While your thoughts are music centric, I still think the notion of the iMix for academic content is a winner. I am betting that down the line Apple will enable iMixes for educational purposes as (one would assume) they line up textbook publishers for the iBook Store. It could get really interesting … here are some results of my explorations from a few years ago,
    I’ve also looked at LaLa as a way for students to grab legal music via a faculty produced playlist — they get one free listen and then can either purchase the web song for ten cents or buy it as an MP3 for 99 cents. BTW, Apple bought LaLa not too long ago so it isn’t a stretch to think about how the three spaces could come together — iBooks, iTunes U, and LaLa. That landscape may get really interesting in the near future!

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