Everything You Need to Know About iTunes Match

Play all of your music on all of your devices

iTunes Match is part of Apple's iCloud suite of web-based services. With it, you can upload your entire music collection to your iCloud Music Library and then share it with other devices using the same Apple ID. iTunes Match makes it easy to access all of your music on any compatible device.

Because it's overshadowed by the more widely used Apple Music, iTunes Match doesn't get much attention. In fact, you may think that Apple Music is all you need, and in most cases that is true. But while the two services are related, they do some things differently. iTunes Match requires a paid, annual subscription. Once you have subscribed, the service automatically renews every year unless you cancel it.

iTunes Match works with iTunes 10.5.2 and newer.

Adding Music to iTunes Match

You can add up to 100,000 songs to your iCloud Music Library via iTunes Match, and your music goes to iTunes Match in three ways:

  1. Any music you've purchased from the iTunes Store is automatically part of your iCloud Music Library.
  2. iTunes Match scans your iTunes library to catalog all of the songs in it. Apple's software then adds music you have in your hard drive library that's also available on iTunes to your account. It doesn't matter where that music came from—if you bought it from Amazon, ripped it from CD, or acquired it from another source. As long as it's in your library and available in the iTunes Store, it'll be part of your iCloud Music Library.
  3. Apple uploads music in your iTunes library that isn't available in the iTunes Store from your computer to your iCloud Music Library as well. But it will only do this with files in the AAC and MP3 formats

Only iTunes (on macOS and Windows) and the iOS Music app are compatible with iTunes Match. No other music manager program allows you to add music to iCloud or download it to your devices.

Music File Formats in iTunes Match

iTunes Match supports all the file formats that iTunes does: AAC, MP3, WAV, AIFF, and Apple Lossless. The songs it matches from the iTunes Store won't necessarily be in those formats, however.

Music that you bought through the iTunes Store or that is matched by the iTunes Store is automatically upgraded to DRM-free 256 Kbps AAC files. Your computer will convert songs encoded using AIFF, Apple Lossless, or WAV to 256 Kbps AAC files and then upload them to your iCloud Music Library.

High-Quality Music Files and Backups

When iTunes Match creates a 256 Kbps AAC version of a song, it only uploads that version to your iCloud Music Library. It doesn't delete the original song, so those files stay in their original format on your hard drive. If you download one of these songs from iTunes Match onto another device, it will be the 256 Kbps AAC version.

You should always back up your original music files, even though iTunes Match keeps a copy in iCloud. Making backups is particularly important for those high-quality music files you may own because if you were to delete that higher-quality version of the song from your computer, you'll only have the 256 Kbps version from iTunes Match.

Do You Need iTunes Match and Apple Music?

If you have an Apple Music membership, you get all of the benefits of iTunes Match, plus access to the entire Apple Music catalog. You can also get a Family Membership to share the catalog with your family members.

When you subscribe to Apple Music, all of your music will move to your iCloud Music Library, and it will be available across all of your devices logged in to the same Apple ID, just as with iTunes Match.

Streaming Music From iTunes Match

On a computer, you can stream or download songs from your iCloud Music Library. Clicking the iCloud button next to a matched song downloads that song to your computer. If you just double-click to play it, the song will stream without downloading.

On an iOS device, playing a song will cause it to both play and download, while on an Apple TV, you can only stream music.

An iTunes library with the cloud icon highlighted

Playlists and Voice Memos

iTunes Match supports playlists but not voice memos, even if you sync memos from your phone. Your iTunes playlists will sync to all of your devices via Match, except ones that include unsupported files like voice memos, videos, and PDFs.

Updating Your iTunes Match Library

As long as iTunes Match is turned on, it will automatically attempt to add your new songs to the iCloud Music Library—you don't have to do anything. However, to force an update to iTunes Match, click on File > Library > Update iCloud Music Library.

iTunes with the path to Update iCloud Music Library highlighted

Limits to iTunes Match and DRM

iTunes Match has a few limits other than the one restricting you to 100,000 songs. You can't upload songs that are larger than 200MB or longer than 2 hours to your iCloud Music Library. Songs with digital rights management (DRM) enabled will only upload if your computer is already authorized to play them.

Technically it may be possible for Apple to tell if some of the music in your iTunes library is pirated, but the company has said it won't share any information about users' libraries with third parties, such as record companies or the RIAA who might be inclined to pursue pirates.

Finally, only 10 total devices can share music on an iTunes Match account.

Canceling an iTunes Match Subscription

If you're signed up for iTunes Match but want to cancel your subscription and you cancel your iTunes Match subscription, all of the music in your iCloud Music Library—iTunes Store purchases, music matching, or uploads from your computer—stays where it is. However, you can't add any new music or download or stream songs without subscribing again.

iCloud Music Icons

Once you've signed up for and enabled iTunes Match, you can view a column in iTunes that shows a song's iTunes Match status (these icons appear by default in the Music app). To enable it, select Music from the drop-down in the top left, then Songs in the iTunes sidebar. Right-click on the top row and check the options for iCloud Download.

iTunes on a Mac with the iCloud Download menu setting highlighted

When that's done, an icon appears next to each song in your library:

  • Cloud with a downward arrow means this song is in your iCloud Music Library but isn't on this device. Click the icon to download it.
  • Cloud with a dotted outline indicates a song that either hasn't been uploaded or is waiting to be uploaded.
  • Cloud with an X means the song has been removed from your iCloud Music Library via another computer or iOS device that has access to it.
  • Cloud with a line through it signifies a song that is not eligible for iTunes Match for any number of reasons, such as those discussed earlier.
  • Cloud with an exclamation point indicates that the song was not added to your iCloud Music Library due to an error. Update your library to try adding it again.

In the same menu, you can click iCloud Status for a text description of each song:

  • Apple Music means it came to the iTunes library from the Apple Music service.
  • Matched means either iTunes Match or Apple Music matched it to the library.
  • Purchased appears if you bought a track from the iTunes Store.
  • Uploaded is for songs you added from a CD or other source.
  • Not Uploaded means the song came from another device, like an iPhone, but your computer doesn't have the file.
  • Ineligible is for songs that you aren't allowed to play, either because a different Apple ID purchased them or they don't fall into iTunes Match's length or size limits.
  • Waiting means a track is in the process of uploading but hasn't done so yet.
  • Removed songs are on your computer but not your iCloud Music Library.
iTunes on a Mac with the iCloud Status header highlighted