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Recently, music industry observers have made the case that iTunes has been rendered obsolete by streaming services.

While it is certainly true that streaming has radically changed how people listen to music and that subscription streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, and Apple Music have drastically cut into sales of downloaded music, this doesn’t necessarily mean that iTunes is about to become irrelevant or go away.

As long as people keep paying for downloads, iTunes will most likely be there, and it is still a viable outlet for anyone looking to profit from selling their music. As Mark Twain supposedly said after reading his own obituary in a London newspaper: “The report of my death has been greatly exaggerated.” We could say this about iTunes right now.

To put your music on iTunes, you need to:

  • Work with a music aggregator like CD Baby or TuneCore
  • Know what UPCs and ISRCs are and why you need them
  • Understand what to do to work directly with Apple
  • Understand technical and content requirements/li>
  • Learn what encoding means and when you’ll need to do it

Indeed, there is something inherently attractive about listening to music offline, with no internet connection needed. Whether while running, traveling by air, cooking, talking on the phone, or disconnected from the web for any reason, many people still want to own their music, listen to entire albums, collate their own lists, and take their music with them across borders, platforms, and devices.

It’s true that Spotify will also let you do this, but only if you pay for a monthly premium subscription. With iTunes, you pay for the download once, and then never have to pay anything again.

On top of all this, iTunes can be used as a media hub in a network environment, so that users can access their own library and create their own programming from multiple devices. And then there’s the videos, films, games, and podcasts. Netflix may dominate in movies, but there is always that monthly subscription cost.

With iTunes, you can own and enjoy your visual media free forever from monthly charges and ads. iTunes may end up as a niche market, like CDs or vinyl. As of this writing, iTunes still lives on.

So how exactly can you upload your music to iTunes for distribution and sale? Here are the steps you will need to take if you are an independent, unsigned artist, and want to sell your music and music videos on iTunes.

Music Aggregators, UPC & ISRC Codes

For independent artists and Producers, the easiest way is to use a music aggregator such as CD Baby or TuneCore. These companies are third parties that offer packages allowing you to sell your music through multiple channels, including on iTunes. Apple has a full list of approved aggregators on their website showing exactly which services are offered by each.

Aggregators will format your music and deliver it to iTunes using Apple’s specifications so that it uploads correctly the first time. They can provide UPC and ISRC codes which are also a requirement to sell music on iTunes (I’ll explain what these are in the following paragraph). Aggregators also collect payments from Apple and distribute the payments to you.

Importantly, you could use the same aggregator to stream your music on other services like Spotify. Music aggregators charge a nominal fee for their services.

It’s a requirement to have a UPC and an ISRC code on everything you upload. UPC stands for “Unique Product Code” and is used by stores and distributors to track the sale of your product, whether an album, EP or single track. These are the barcodes you see on a CD or other merchandise, for example.

ISRC stands for “International Standard Recording Code” and is (according to SUGO Music Group): “a unique 12-character alphanumeric ‘digital fingerprint’ that stays with an individual recorded track forever, regardless of any changes in ownership of the track.”

The ISRC is added as metadata to the digital audio file prior to release and is used to trace sales of individual tracks through various digital distribution and broadcast channels. In summary, the UPC covers an entire album or EP (or other product, e.g. merch), while an ISRC is a digital code that is affixed to every individual track in order to account for each sale of that single track.

If you meet all of Apple’s application requirements (see below), you can sign up to offer your content by working directly with Apple. If you don’t meet the requirements or if you have other operational or financial needs, it may be best to work with an aggregator. You might also choose to work through an aggregator because they offer marketing and publicity services to help promote and sell your music.

Beyond Audio, Encoding for Videos

If you want to sell concert or produced music videos on iTunes, you will need to have your visual media formatted and submitted by an encoding service. On Apple’s site, in addition to aggregators, you will find a list of approved encoders.

An important distinction to note: though encoding houses submit your content directly to Apple, iTunes payments for videos will be made directly to the content’s owner, unlike with a music aggregator that collects payments on your behalf and forwards the money to you.

Apple’s Requirements: Technical, Content, Financial

If you intend to work directly with Apple and avoid using a music aggregator, you will need to carefully review and meet all of Apple’s requirements for this. Apple has a somewhat lengthy list of all their requirements to be able to upload your music for sale on iTunes.

Apple’s iTunes website has an application form and lists their specific requirements for independent artists. These requirements fall into three general areas: technical, content, and financial.

Meeting all of their requirements is not a guarantee that you will be accepted to work directly with Apple selling on iTunes. You may still be referred to working with one of their approved aggregators.

Technical Requirements

The technical requirements are related to your hardware, software, storage, plus broadband internet connection and upload speed. To begin, you must have an Intel-based Mac computer with OS X v10.10 or later, and at least 512 MB RAM.

Apple recommends you have at least 20 GB of available hard drive storage space (more for larger music catalogs) and a broadband Internet connection with an upload rate of minimum 1MB/sec.

You will need to download their free software program “iTunes Producer” which requires the Mac hardware to run. In addition to allowing you to upload your music files, the software is designed to facilitate the delivery, marketing, and sales of your content in the iTunes store.

Apple provides a user guide for the iTunes Producer software in the “Resources and Help” section of the website (linked above), while the latest version of the iTunes Producer software can be downloaded from the “Tools” section.

Content Requirements

For content, you must have at least 20 albums in your catalogue, and have UPC and ISRC codes for all your content (see above). Apple requires you have studio-quality mastered CD or audio files — audio files with appropriate file extensions (.wav, .caf, .m4a) encoded in a lossless format. You should also have your UPC album and track ISRC code(s) ready to go.

The iTunes Store supports only the following uncompressed audio formats (format and corresponding file extension):

  • Pulse-Code Modulation (PCM) .wav
  • Apple Lossless (ALAC) .m4a
  • Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) .flac

For Apple Lossless (ALAC), the QuickTime CODEC has been qualified. This is available through iTunes, iTunes Producer and QuickTime. All audio must be generated using a CODEC (device or software that compresses data to enable faster transmission and decompresses received data) tested and approved by Apple. More info about encoding can be found at Apple’s site, searching under “mastered for iTunes.”

Cover art should be at least 3000 x 3000 pixels, with an aspect ratio of 1:1, and delivered as high-quality JPEG or PNG files best quality, RGB Color mode. Larger images are recommended.

Finally, you must own all the rights to sell your music on iTunes, and be able to show proof of clearance. If you don’t own the rights to the music, you will not be able to sell it on iTunes.

Financial Requirements

To sell music on iTunes, you must have a U.S. tax ID, a valid iTunes Store account with current credit card on file, and meet certain payment requirements and earning thresholds in each territory you are distributing. Apple suggests you consider this before applying to work directly with them, as you could receive payments more quickly working with one of their approved aggregators.

iTunes Global

According to TuneCore, there are over 241 million active iTunes users worldwide. This means you can sell your music on iTunes in many regions of the globe. iTunes artists and labels can request a contract to sell downloads in all countries where the iTunes Store sells music.

Once a contract for a specific country or region is finalized, all content that has cleared territory rights will automatically be available for sale in that location. Content owners receive about $.70 per downloaded track or $7.00 per album, but this can vary slightly overseas due to currency exchange fluctuations.


There is no charge to sign up with Apple as an iTunes seller. Terms of the sales will determine how they get paid, and this information is provided during the signup process. When your application is complete, it can take up to 8 weeks for them to process, make a decision, and notify you.

Notification comes via email. Once you are approved, you will receive notice to download the proprietary software from Apple, iTunes Producer, which will allow you to upload your music files with metadata, cover art, and .pdf files. If you want to upload concert or music videos, ringtones, or LP albums you will need to work with an approved encoder, as mentioned above.

iTunes and Streaming

Apple has also launched a music streaming service, Apple Music, which potentially will cannibalize some sales from iTunes. Their strategy seems to have shifted to streaming, which makes sense since the bulk of growth in revenues from recorded music is happening there.

From their perspective, to remain relevant in the music business they must embrace streaming, or lose market share to Spotify and the other streaming services. They must have calculated that iTunes would decline in revenue anyway, whether or not they entered the streaming business, so they really had no other choice.

iTunes doesn’t cost Apple money to run, so there is no logical reason for them to close it, as some have predicted they would. Apple Music hasn’t been a huge success as of yet, partly due to the walled-off ecosystem (you can only stream using Apple products).

Apple views itself as a music industry force to be reckoned with and their position as a hardware company has given them a unique edge in the music business, since they are not exclusively dependent on sales of music for their survival. They’ve also been innovators in integrating their hardware with music platforms, for example with the iPod line of devices.

iTunes has been an integral part of their strategy from the start, which is another reason I think it will live on as a legacy product.

The question remains whether or not they can find synergy between iTunes and their music streaming business. Whether or not they achieve this, iTunes isn’t too likely to disappear. It will probably live on as a niche format, similar to vinyl and CDs. As such, it’s still worthwhile for artists to sell their music and videos on the iTunes Store platform.

Most independent artists who sell on iTunes do so through an aggregator, as I’ve detailed here. Since aggregators do more for artists than just facilitating sales on iTunes, it makes sense to consider one if your goal is to have your music available to fans through as many channels as possible.

Interested in getting your music on Spotify? Check out this article.

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