How to Digitize Your Movies and Music (Step by Step)

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You movie and music collection may have grown over the years and is taking up a lot of space. The convenience of centralizing into a single storage location and having your media on the go is a must. But exactly how to digitize your movies and music can be a challenge. This guide walks you through the digitization process step by step with a few other tips to get your movies and music more accessible.

Benefits of Digitizing Your Movies and Music

Undertaking the process of digitizing your movies and music carries many benefits, even though it may be daunting to get started. Physical media takes up a lot of space in your home or apartment, which can be quite limited. By getting rid of all those DVDs, Blu-Rays and CDs sitting on shelves in your living room, you then open up that space to use for other purposes or as a way of decluttering.

The best part when you digitize is that you can get rid of your physical media without losing access to the collection you have built up over the years. The advancement of digital storage options and ripping software allows you to store thousands of movies and songs all on a small hard drive the size of your hand. You can also add this media to cloud libraries so you can access it from anywhere on any device you own with an Internet connection.

Digitizing your existing movies and music is much cheaper than buying them again in digital formats. It is simply silly to pay for these items twice, even though it may be more convenient to have everything on the same account. Some digital libraries won’t allow you to add outside files, especially movies.


The Legalities Of Making Digital Copies Of Copyrighted Material

To begin with, it is critically important that you consult with an intellectual property attorney if you have any concerns about the legalities of digitizing your media collection. The information in this guide does not constitute legal advice and is not intended to function as such.

It is typically illegal to make unauthorized reproductions of copyrighted material. However, for material that you own, you are allowed to make copies for your own personal use. Sharing copies, uploading them to online file sharing sites or attempting to sell them is illegal and could get you in very serious trouble. Only possess digital copies of media that you legally purchased.

It is also considered illegal in the United States to break copy protections on media. Just ripping DVDs you own to build a personal digital media collection, however, is not illegal.


Digitizing Music

Digitizing music is much easier than digitizing movies. This is because CDs have fewer copy protections than DVDs or Blu-Rays do. Music lovers have been ripping their CDs to add to their digital music libraries for over two decades, ever since the first .mp3 players hit the market and the original iPod revolutionized digital music.

To digitize music is an extremely simple process you likely already know how to do. In case you don’t, or you’re interested in learning some additional helpful tips, here’s a step by step guide.


Step 1: Insert The Disc Into A Computer

If your computer has a built-in disc drive, this step to digitize is simple. Unfortunately, many new computers do not come equipped with disc drives. If your machine does not have one, you will need to use an external drive which can usually be plugged into your computer via USB.


Step 2: Open The CD In A Program With A Ripping Feature

Here you have a number of options, as there are many music programs that include the ability to rip CDs. On Windows machines, this has traditionally been Windows Media Player.

On Macs and on PCs that have it installed, Apple’s iTunes has been the go-to music library software for years but Apple has recently done away with the iconic program in favor of separate, new programs for most of its functions. There are also dozens of third-party programs with good reputations such as MusicBee and MediaMonkey.


Step 3: Rip The CD

The next step to digitize music is to rip the CD. All you have to do is find the CD in the program and select the option to rip it. The available file formats you can rip music tracks into depend on the software and operating system you are using. The universal music file type is usually considered .mp3, but .wav, .wma, .aac and .flac are all fairly common as well.

File format does not matter as much if you will only be accessing these files through the same program or device. Simply make sure the file format you rip to is compatible with your devices and software. It is usually a good idea to keep all of your music file types uniform to prevent problems.


Step 4: Add To Your Devices And Digital Libraries

Once you have the files, you can then begin adding them to your devices or a digital media server such as Google Play Music or Apple Music. This is usually as simple as dragging and dropping the files from your computer. Source files are usually automatically stored in the default music folder on your computer once they have been ripped from a CD. You might want to organize them into playlists.

If files are missing information, such as the titles of the tracks, artists or albums, you can select properties on the file to edit this data or add it directly through your media library program. Adding this information helps you and your programs keep the files organized.

If you don’t have a lot of space consider upgrading your computer with a larger hard drive or getting network attached storage device.


Step 5: Back Up Files

Finally, as with all other files on your computer, you should back up your new music files as soon as you get a chance. This is a major advantage to uploading your music files to a cloud-based storage system, where they will be automatically backed up. You can move them onto a physical hard drive as a form of backup or to cloud file storage products such as Google Drive, Dropbox or many other available options.

An external hard drive is an excellent choice for data backup. A few offer their own media server capabilities. Top choices from Amazon are as follows:


Digitizing Movies

Digitizing your movie collection is unfortunately trickier than digitizing your music collection. This is because most movies, whether on DVD or Blu-Ray, have much stronger copy protections in place. Few VHS tapes have anti-piracy features, so if you have the proper equipment turning VHS tapes into digital files should offer fewer roadblocks.


Step 1: Insert The Disc Into A Disc Drive

Like with the steps to digitize music above, you will first need to take the disc and insert it into your computer’s disc drive. If your machine does not have one, you will need to use an external drive. Most computers do not come standard with drives that can read or write Blu-Rays, so this can be a roadblock if you did not order your computer with one or you do not possess an external Blu-Ray drive.

If you are working with a VHS tape, you will need to connect a VHS player to a computer via a conversion cable and then use a recording program to create a digital file of the movie.


Step 2: Load A Ripping Program

Unlike music programs, major operating systems manufacturers do not provide software that rips DVDs and Blu-Rays. You must use third-party programs to digitize movies. Handbrake, an open source movie ripper, continues to be the software of choice for many people. Other options include MakeMKV, WinX DVD Ripper and DVDFab.

Many are not free, though they often have free trials available that allow you to rip a limited amount of footage, usually with a watermark. Be sure to use a quality program with a solid reputation. For the most part, the best ones are not free, and many free options may install unwanted software or put your computer at risk for malware and virus infection.


Step 3: Rip The Movie

This is also trickier than it is for CDs because programs which digitize movies will show you all video files on a disc, which could include menu screens and special features. Generally, you want to look for the longest and biggest video files on a disc, which are likely to be the movie itself. As for file formats for digital movies, there are a number to choose from, including .mkv, .avi, .mp4 and more.

Many rippers use and desire .mkv because it can best replicate a disc, with different language and subtitle tracks. If you need to convert them later, there are video conversion programs but you usually lose quality during a conversion, so it’s best to pick a format and stay with it.


Step 4: Store And Back Up Files

Unlike music, you usually cannot add digital movies to an existing digital media server, such as your Amazon, Google or Apple accounts. This is due, again, to copyright protections. You will have to keep them on your computer’s hard drive, on an external hard drive or a general cloud file storage platform. As always, backing up your movie files is a good idea.


What To Do With Leftover Movies And Music

When it comes to what you can do with the physical media you have left over once it’s been digitized, you have a few options.

Keep Them

Your first option is simply to keep them. Many people like having physical media so they can display their collections on shelves. These individuals only wish to digitize their collections as a form of backup or to be able to watch or listen to their collection wherever they go. Alternatively, you can keep only the discs that are important to you or that you like the best while getting rid of the other ones. Store these safely away in a hallway or walk-in closet to get them out of sight and out of your main living space (assuming you have space/things are organized).

Sell Them

You can choose to sell any movies or music you do not want to keep. This can be done online or you could sell them locally. Good places to sell online include Amazon, eBay and Craigslist. Local stores may also buy media, or you could sell them at a garage sale.

If you want to get the most amount of money for your collection, in spite of how time consuming it can be, you should research how much each disc is worth. While many used movies and music CDs are not worth much, some that are rare and out of print could be worth a hundred dollars or more.

While most VHS tapes are not worth anything, some are. These are usually tapes of obscure movies and shows that never got another physical or digital release. Some old children’s shows and obscure horror movies, in particular, can fetch a good price used. So while you are likely to end up selling your VHS tapes for a very small amount of money or simply give them away, you should still make sure you aren’t sitting on something that’s valuable.

Give Them Away

You also have the option of giving them away. This may be your best option if you don’t want to keep your media and they are not worth enough to justify the effort of selling them. You can give them away to friends, donate them to your local library or to other charities.


Conclusion

Once you digitize your movies and music, you will be surprised how much space you have saved. From the physical copies themselves to whatever shelving or holders had your DVDs, BluRays, or CDs… you are quickly reclaiming your home! Next up, tackle that hallway closet or walk-in closet.

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