Apple introduced iTunes Match back in June as the “One More Thing” of WWDC 2011. Being a part of the iOS Developer Program, I was given early access to try out Apple’s new cloud-based music offering. These are my first impressions.

Currently, my iTunes library has around 13,500 songs and about 83GB in size. Can Apple handle it?

The Setup

Step 1: Gathering Information About Your iTunes Library.

After purchasing the iTunes Match service at $24.99, iTunes Match becomes activated and starts scanning my library for music. iTunes gathers the info needed to submit to Apple. Because of my collection size, all scanning takes significant amounts of time (thankfully, rescans go by quicker). For this step, my system took about 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete.

Step 2: Matching Your Music With Songs In The iTunes Store.

iTunes then determines of my ~13,500 song collection which songs are already in the iTunes Store for instant, ready-to-go streaming and “iCloud-ing.” The scanning goes a little slower, with this process taking about an hour and a half for me. Slow going, but my expectations are that a bunch of my music will not be found, and the majority will be.

Step 3: Uploading Remaining Songs And Artwork.

This step is the big one: iTunes uploads all the rest of my music to my iCloud account for instant access anywhere. However, to my shock, only around 3,000 songs in my collection are found in the iTunes store! What gives!?

It seems that iTunes is very particular about proper ID tagging for your music files. When I say, “proper,” I really mean, “what iTunes has listed on their store.” Many people will have improper tags, or even slightly-altered tags (for example, I removed the “Deluxe Edition” title off a lot of my albums), and if they don’t match during step 2, they don’t get listed as automatically available. I’ve tried renaming a few albums and titles to match their iTunes Store equivalents, but to no success during rescanning of my collection.

Therein lies the second issue: uploading my collection. Uploading any amount of data eats up loads bandwidth, slowing down internet access for myself—and everyone else—on my network. But to do so with ~10,000 songs? I let my iTunes start to do the upload and it had managed to send ~150 songs in under an hour. With the remaining files (at a constant rate, completely uninterrupted), it would take about 2.5 days to complete the upload. Granted, it’s probably understood that the upload would not happen all at once, but if you add music to your collection frequently, a rescan would be necessary after closing out iTunes. What is really unfortunate for us beta users is when the beta period ends, our iCloud uploads gets wiped, forcing us to upload everything again.

With a successful upload, you finally get this message. I used a secondary library to complete this part, as my main collection—on an external hard drive—has not completed uploading at the time of this writing. I’ll get to multiple library handling in a moment.

Streaming vs Progressive Downloading

There has been different rumors and statements online about how iTunes Match handles “streaming” content. The reality is simple: Desktop versions of iTunes will do true internet streaming. iOS devices will do “progressive downloading,” which means your music will play as it downloads to your device.

On the desktop version of iTunes, simply find the song/album you want to play from your iCloud… and play it! That’s it! Playback was instant in my testing.

On an iOS device, select the song you want to play, and it starts to download as it plays for you. If you want to download instead of play a track or album, simply press their corresponding buttons. Tool on-the-go, for the win!

Multiple Libraries (and Issues)

iTunes Match has the ability to combine multiple libraries into one mega library! Since it goes by your Apple ID, you tell your account which libraries you own and they will upload to your iCloud account.

However, while ideally this is an excellent feature, it does not come without caveats.

My setup: My main library is on an external hard drive to help keep my MacBook Pro clean with free space. So, when the hard drive is not connected to my laptop, I have a library of only select tunes and a few new albums that haven’t been backed up yet.

When I told iTunes to add my “minimal” library to my iTunes Match account, it went through the same scanning process as my main library. When it gets to the uploading portion, my minimal library now has all my music listed. This is great… if all your music is already uploaded. For me, however, there’s just a lot of empty promises of future music to listen to. Thankfully, you can turn off iTunes Match on a computer if you only want to see your locally-stored music.

Also, while my main library—attached to another computer—was uploading music via iTunes Match, I tried to start a scan of my laptop’s minimal library to find that iTunes can only do one scan at a time for an account. If I start a scan on my laptop, the in-progress scan on a secondary computer grays out and will require a rescan to continue.

With mixing libraries, I also found two other issues with music collection, or rather, removing music from my collections:

1. If my second library adds songs that are in the iTunes Store, they match without any issue. I can stream or download the matched AAC audio version as I want to. However, if I add the version of the songs I own to my main library, iTunes lists both the iCloud-stored version and my local version. If I try to delete the iCloud version, nothing happens. I’m just left with duplicate copies of music.

What’s funny though is that if I download the iCloud versions of the songs and view their info, I see the same tagging from my uploaded copies, which are from Amazon-purchased songs. Interesting!

2. I scan my minimal library, but don’t upload my music to my iCloud. I have a single song that was scanned but not uploaded, then add the song manually to my main library. What happens? The song is listed twice, similar to the previous example. The difference is you cannot download the iCloud version, because it was never uploaded. However, you can’t delete it either. The fix would be to complete the upload process or remove the file from the first library and rescan. Once my main library has uploaded to iCloud though, this won’t really be an issue. Still annoying in the meantime.

Continue Down The Stream(ing)

I still have a lot more playing around to do with iTunes Match, but for starting off, things are looking pretty good for the new service. This weekend, I’ll have iTunes Match turned off from my laptop while my office computer works though the weekend uploading my full collection. A business-grade internet plan makes for easier uploading, especially if it’s on the weekend when no one is working and no worries of data caps either. In the coming weeks, I will give iTunes Match a more thorough testing, and by launch I’ll give an update post.

For people not beta-testing the software, do you have any questions for me about iTunes Match? If you are testing it, what are your thoughts on iTunes Match so far? Let me know in the comments!

16 Responses

  1. Can you add songs AFTER you signed up? Like, if i go out and buy an album after the first setup, and rip it on my air, will it get uploaded or matched by itunes?

    1. Sorry for the delay in reply. Not sure why my blog doesn’t notify me of new comments, so I will look into fixing that.

      To answer your question: Yes, iTunes will run Match on each start up of the iTunes application and scan your music Library. If it finds anything new, it will either be matched or uploaded. So far, the matching is pretty poor (read my results in my post above), but it will hopefully get better with time and revisions. And, if it can’t match, you have a 25,000 song limit, which will hold a pretty large collection. I’ll give an update as I have more to report, probably by the time it goes live. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

    1. As I’ve seen with my account so far, if I upload music to iTunes Match then delete it from my library, my iCloud will keep permanent copies of all my music, which has both its advantages and drawbacks. The advantage is—as you were probably hoping—that you can delete music out of your library once it’s been uploaded to save on local hard disk space.

      The downside, however, is that there is currently no way to delete music off of iCloud storage. For example, if I rip/download an album at a low bit rate (between 128kbps-192kbps) that is currently not available in the iTunes Store, and later I take the same album and encode it at/find it in a higher bit rate (256kbps-320kbps), iTunes Match will upload it to my iCloud storage, but not delete the first upload. To make things worse, if I leave the same ID3 tag data the same, I will have 1 album with duplicate copies of the track data listed. From my iPhone and iPad, there is no way to differentiate these tracks apart until after they’ve been downloaded.

      The service is still in beta, so things may change, but I’m finding that this drawback is the biggest complaint on the Apple developer forums. However, if you’re not the type to be always upgrading your music quality or changing out your audio files on the fly, this may not be a problem for you. We’ll just have to wait and see if Apple gives users the option to delete music from iCloud on demand. Thanks for the comment! 😀

      1. Ah.. ok. That sort of answers the question I had. But what about this: you’ve said iTunes Match re-scans your library every time it starts. So say I start out with one album, Album A, which I upload to iCloud. I delete Album A and save Album B to my hdd iTunes. Close/open iTunes and it scans my library. Album A will definitely be in iCloud still and Album B will start to upload?

        (FWIW, Ive found the inability to figure out what’s on iCloud and therefore to deal with those files to be the weirdest/hardest thing about the service. Its opacity might make it just work but it makes the actual working kind of terrifying to think about in the specific.)

        1. Yes, that method works. Unfortunately, I found it works to a negative effect. If I have an album that is not part of the iTunes Store library, and it uploads my copy to the cloud, but then I have to change ID3 tags (or acquire a better quality version), then I will have duplicate versions on my iCloud account. They’ve gotten better about matching, but I’ve discovered new quirks in the latest beta.

          Most recent example: I got the newest Coldplay album (hey, I liked them before Parachutes went mainstream). iTunes Match had matched it to their online library, but it didn’t match “Princess of China.” The reason for this was because I had the artist as Coldplay when that particular track was in the iTunes Store listed as “Coldplay & Rihanna” as the artists. Once I changed that, the track was matched. However, before I changed the track, it was grayed out on any device I didn’t have it downloaded too (remember: music already on your hard drive is unaffected; your iDevices will need to download the tracks). Also, when it matched the track “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall,” it matched the single version of the track, not the final album version. The single version starts from silence, where the album version continues from the previous track. Very annoying when you can’t control this. Again, I hope they fix this before the public release.

          Thanks for the comment! If you have any other questions, just ask. 🙂

  2. Hi,

    I had a quick question regarding iTunes match before I pay the $25 to activate it. So once Apple ‘upgrades’ my songs after matching them, will I be able to access the mp3 files themselves on my hard-drive, much like a regular library? For instance, if I want to burn these upgraded songs to a CD to play in my car, will they be the 256kbps upgraded songs, or are these only available on iTunes and iOS devices? Or if I open the songs in say WMP for instance, will they be 256kbps upgraded songs?

    Thanks for all the help,

    1. Rohan,

      When you upgrade, iTunes checks your library for compatible tracks. If it finds tracks that “match” their online catalogue, your account gets an approval to re-download them if you choose to do so. It doesn’t touch your tracks on your hard drive in any way. Your local hard-drive library is unaffected. However, if you wanted the upgraded versions to burn to a CD for your car, you would have to manually re-download the tracks first. Basically, you would (1) scan your library, (2) make sure the tracks were matched (because if they aren’t, iTunes will just upload your versions to your iCloud account, and they won’t be upgraded), then (3) remove the tracks you want to upgrade from your library (deleting them from the library to be precise—make sure to have your music backed up in case iTunes screws up), and finally (4) re-download the tracks to your computer. When you right-click the file and select, “Get Info,” under “Kind” of file, it should say “Matched AAC audio file,” have a bit rate of 256kbps, and will have your name and email address under the “purchaser” information. Because they are unprotected and do NOT have DRM, you’ll have full rights to burn them to CD and listen to them in your car.

      Also, if you download the matched files, and your iTunes Match account expires, what you have already downloaded is unaffected! So, if you have a lot of music that was matched and your year subscription is coming to an end, get to downloading quick!

      It sounds kinda confusing (and a little annoying), but when it works, it works very well. If you have MP3s that are encoded at 192kbps or less, iTunes Match can be a beautiful thing. However, there are still bugs. Check out my comment to B. Michael to see another little bug with the system. Otherwise, it’s pretty sweet. And remember, it’s $25 for the year, so it really is a sweet deal!

      Thanks for your question, Rohan! Any other questions, you just let me know!

  3. So… I would have to pay the $25 BEFORE Apple scans my files? Doesn’t that seem odd? It would make more sense to have them scan my files and then I would decide whether or not to go all in based on the results I get. I am so looking forward to this service but at the same time crossing my fingers that it won’t let me down.

    1. Jeff,

      Yes, you would have to pay the $25 before you can even test out their service. Unfortunately, there are no free trial offers.

      I believe they have a refund policy where you can cancel within a short timeframe and get your $25 back. However, it’s a very small window and once you cancel, you lose iTunes Match. This refund policy may only be for developers, but I would expect them to allow the public to do the same.

      At the same time, what’s $25? That’s about the cost of 2 deluxe albums on iTunes. Or, it’s the equivalent of paying about $2.08 per month, but in one lump sum. It’s worth it to at least give it a try.

      Besides, you have to think of it more primarily as a matching service for your lower quality files and secondarily as a music storage service. Streaming to another computer with iTunes is great, but there are plenty of free/cheap options out there such as Amazon’s Cloud Player and Google Music. I personally have a Rdio account I pay a small monthly fee for to listen to streaming music. It doesn’t have everything, but it tends to have more than Spotify for what I listen to.

      If you have an extensive music collection, iTunes Match is really worth checking out. However, if the price turns you off from it, there are always other options out there that work fine. It really comes down to how connected to iTunes you are and/or want to be.

      Thanks for the question/comment!

  4. With the Match service can you specify scanning of only certain Playlists as opposed to scanning the whole library?

    1. Giansky,

      Unfortunately, it’s an all-or-nothing scanning system. iTunes Match scans your entire library as-is and doesn’t allow for customizing what you do or do not want in your online account.

      Thanks for the comment, and my apologies for the two-weeks-late reply (I really need to find a better notification system for my comments).

  5. i have a library of some 27000 songs so to use i match i had to remove some 2000 songs i removed a few extra so that when i get new albums i will be able to add them. however i can’t seem to get past the gathering info part i tunes crashes and i have to force quit. i know i have a mammoth collection but its frustrating. I’m using a mac air with lion. my music is actually stored on my time capsule or alternatively external drives. any suggestions? thanks james

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *