Everything You Need to Know About iTunes Match

Play All of Your Music on Many Devices with iTunes Match

MacPro, iPod, iPad, and iPhone
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iTunes Match is part of Apple's iCloud suite of web-based services. It allows you to upload your entire music collection to your iCloud Music Library and then share it with other devices using the same Apple ID and that can access your iCloud account. This 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.

Subscribing to iTunes Match costs US$25 per year. Once you have subscribed, the service automatically renews every year unless you cancel it.

Adding Music to iTunes Match

There are three ways to add music to iTunes Match. First, any music you've purchased from the iTunes Store is automatically part of your iCloud Music Library; you don't have to do anything for these songs.

Second, iTunes Match scans your iTunes library to catalog all 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 it is available in the iTunes Store, it's added to your iCloud Music Library. This is very helpful because it saves you from having to upload thousands of songs, which otherwise could take a long time and use a lot of bandwidth.

Lastly, if there's music in your iTunes library that isn't available in the iTunes Store, that music is uploaded from your computer to your iCloud Music Library as well. This applies to AAC and MP3 files, only.

You can add up to 100,000 songs to your iCloud Music Library via iTunes Match.

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 used in iTunes Match

iTunes Match supports all the file formats that iTunes does: AAC, MP3, WAV, AIFF, and Apple Lossless. The songs that are matched from the iTunes Store won't necessarily be in those formats, though. As mentioned, however, songs that you own but are not available in the iTunes Store will only be uploaded if they are AAC or MP3 format.

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. Songs encoded using AIFF, Apple Lossless, or WAV are converted to 256 Kbps AAC files and then uploaded 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 songs 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 backup your original music files, even though iTunes Match keeps a copy of your music in iCloud. This 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 be added to your iCloud Music Library and it will be made available across all of your devices logged into 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 the song to play it as you would any normal song, 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—there's no way to download a song to an Apple TV device.

Playlists and voice memos

iTunes Match does support playlists, but not voice memos. All playlists can be synced to multiple devices via iTunes Match, except those that include unsupported files, like voice memos, videos, or 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, you can force an update to iTunes Match, click on File > Library > Update iCloud Music Library.

Limits to iTunes Match and DRM

There are a few limitations to using iTunes Match. You can add up to 100,000 songs to your iCloud Music Library via iTunes Match. You can't upload songs that are larger than 200MB, or longer than 2 hours, to your iCloud Music Library. Songs with DRM (digital rights management) enabled will only be uploaded 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. The DRM restriction mentioned above is also designed to reduce piracy.

There is a maximum of 10 total devices that 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 the music in your iCloud Music Library—iTunes Store purchases, music matching, or uploads from your computer—is saved. 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.

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.