“With iTunes Match, all your music — even songs you’ve imported from CDs — can be stored in iCloud. So you can access your music from all your devices and listen to your entire library, wherever you are.”
“All your music”? “Entire library”? “Wherever you are”? Unfortunately, that’s just not true.
iTunes Match, announced at Apple’s 2011 WWDC along with iCloud and rolled out last fall for consumers who pay $25 annually, is Apple’s digital-music locker service. Rather than force your computer to upload a big music library over the course of hours, if not days, to the cloud, iTunes figures out which songs in your library are also available in the iTunes store. The tunes that “match” are then automatically added to your iCloud account.
Apple says iTunes will upload songs that don’t match so they too live in your music cloud. Even better, all matched songs in iCloud play back at “256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality — even if your original copy was of lower quality,” according to Apple.
But here’s the reality, at least my reality: iTunes did not match my entire library. In fact, about 800 titles out of my 4,300 songs weren’t matched, or almost 20 percent of all my music. According to the little iCloud icon that shows up next to the forlorn tracks in my iTunes library, these items are “not eligible for iCloud.” No further information is offered in Tunes, though Apple’s website says ineligible items include “songs that are larger than 200MB or songs encoded at 96 Kbps or less.”
All my songs that didn’t make the iTunes Match grade were imported from CDs, some of them more than a decade ago, when I converted my library in preparation for the first iPod. It’s possible I didn’t encode my tracks at a quality higher than 96 Kbps, but I think I did. Still, dozens of tracks were imported in recent years, when I was savvier about such things, and many are well below 200MB in size.
The iTunes “mis-Match” wouldn’t be such a big deal, however, if it weren’t for my playlists. If any of the tunes not matched by the service are included in a playlist I created, that entire playlist isn’t synced to my iPhone as long as iTunes Match is activated on the phone.
And so, I’m forced to face some unpleasant choices.
I could remove those orphaned tracks from my iPhone playlists. But not having Tears for Fears’ Head Over Heels or The B-52’s Love Shack on my exercise playlist is simply not an option.
I could buy those songs from iTunes and add them to my iCloud collection and thus, my playlists. But with over 800 songs to replace at roughly a dollar a song, that’s not going to happen.
Ultimately, I’ve decided to turn iTunes Match off on my iPhone so I can listen to any and all of my tunes. The downside is that I can’t also spontaneously listen to a song that’s not stored on my iPhone, which defeats much of iTunes Match’s usefulness for mobile device. Come on Apple, does it really have to be all or nothing at all with iTunes Match and playlists?
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.