Understanding iTunes Match

Understanding iTunes Match

Now that Apple has released iTunes Match, many of you may have questions about the service. In this posts we explain the service, help you sign up and get started, and provide some helpful information to help you make the most of it once you’re set up.

What is iTunes Match?

iTunes Match is a $25 per year service which scans your entire iTunes music library, including ripped CD’s and other music you didn’t get from iTunes, and makes it available from all of your Apple devices without having to keep a local copy.

The service will match your music to iTunes, and provide 256K AAC versions of any music it can match. Music that is not matched will be uploaded to iCloud so that you can access all of your music. iTunes Match is currently only available in the United States.

Who can sign up?

iTunes Match is a U.S.-only service for the time being, although the company is working hard to expand availability to other countries. Apple has begun updating the iTunes Store to reflect availability of the new service.

***Update 12/15/11 – iTunes Match is now available in a variety of countries, including Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Australia, Canada, the U.K. and more.

How can I sign up?

To sign up for iTunes Match, you must have the latest version of iTunes (10.5.1). Apple has published an article providing detailed instructions explaining how to sign up for iTunes Match. The service is billed through your Apple ID, and it’s easy to get started.  Once iTunes Match has been enabled, it will begin scanning your iTunes library and uploading songs.  This could take several hours to complete.

To enable iTunes Match on your iOS 5 device, simply tap Settings > Music > turn iTunes Match ON. This will disable your device from automatically syncing from iTunes. Also, once enabled, deleting a song on your device will also delete it from iCloud.

How Does It Work?

iTunes Match works by scanning your iTunes library and determining what is and is not available in the iTunes Store. Any music that is matched will be automatically added to your iCloud library for access anywhere, and most of your music is probably already in iCloud. iTunes will then provide high-quality 256Kbps quality matched files to fill your library with.

How will iTunes Match affect my music library?

MacRumors member Nunyabinez has provided some important facts about the service that will help explain what happens after it is enabled.

  • When you enable Match it goes through a three step process. Analyzing your library, matching songs, uploading non-matched content. It does this for your whole library. You can’t choose to exclude songs other than taking them out of your library.
  • If a song is matched, it becomes available to download in 256K AAC. If a song is not matched it is copied in its current format and bit rate up to 320K. If the file is Lossless however, it is converted (presumably by your computer) to a 256k AAC file and then uploaded.
  • Nothing happens to your local music when you run match. If you have a lower quality song that was matched you can remove it from your local library and then replace it with the 256k version. What happens is you delete the song, but the entry in iTunes stays, but a little cloud now shows up in a newly added column that shows you that you have a song that is in the cloud but not in your library. You can click on the cloud and it will download it to your local library, where again it is now permanently yours at the higher bit rate.
  • Match uses your meta-data. If you in an anal-retentive fashion have made lots of custom edits to your files, that is what gets copied to the cloud. Even if you replace your songs with the upgraded versions you keep your previous meta-data.

Understanding the iCloud status icons

Not every file is compatible with iTunes Match, and some iTunes-compatible formats aren’t allowed in iCloud. Digital booklets and podcasts, for instance, are not eligible. Music videos also won’t work with the service.

When something won’t work with iTunes Match, or when the service has a problem, iTunes will display a status icon in your iTunes index. Apple posted an article explaining what each symbol means.

Icon| Description| Definition
Ineligible This icon is displayed next to items that are not eligible to be uploaded to iCloud via iTunes Match. Some examples are songs that are larger than 200MB or songs encoded at 96 Kbps or less.
Removed This icon is displayed when a song has been removed from iCloud (from a different computer). Songs deleted from iCloud are immediately deleted from associated iOS devices, but will remain on other associated computers until they are manually deleted.
Error This icon may be displayed if the song file is corrupt or if there was an error uploading the song. Try updating iTunes Match (Store > Update iTunes Match) to resolve this. If updating does not resolve the issue, try importing a new copy of the song into your iTunes library.
Duplicate This icon is displayed when a duplicate version of this song exists in your iTunes library on your computer. This icon will be displayed next to duplicates that were not uploaded to iCloud.
Waiting This icon is displayed when a song is in the process of being matched, but has not yet been processed.

Additional Information and Troubleshooting

Apple has posted several other helpful guides, including how to add a computer to iTunes Match, how to delete songs from iCloud, and how to troubleshoot problems with iTunes Match. A full list of Apple’s articles on the service are as follows:

What about you? What are your thoughts? Will you be signing up for iTunes Match? Sound off in the comments!