It’s 10pm: Do You Where Your Music Is?

iTunes, the de facto Mac music management app, is increasinly obfiscating the exact location of users’s hard-built music libraries. I have been using iTunes for over a decade, and have a relatively small, but significant library of music that isn’t entirely available by every streaming services.

I was a user of Beats Music before it abruptly transitioned to Apple Music. I, like many others out there ran into migration issues. During that transition, I lost my entire set of Beats playslists and to double-down on bugs, iTunes deleted all of my iTunes Match playlists after syncing with Apple Music. Apple’s engineers acknolwedged that The playlist issue that you are experiencing is not global and is not reproducable to us at this time… Currently there is not ETA for a fix.”

They kindly added a .txt version of my playlists should I want to have a memory of my playlists. Oddly, though, the attached .txt file contained just two songs, out of the dozens of playlists I had and hundreds of saved tracks, this seemed wrong.

After questioning this, they followed up with a .txt track list of everything in my library.

Thanks for running that database query for me, however, I’m not sure what an end-user would do with this information.

They reference using the attached list as a reference, so I think it’s their thought I would spend the hours to search and re-add each tack manually. Awesome customer service, Apple.

Ultiamtely, this is old news, and beyond the point. There isn’t anything that will change, I’ve moved on. However, after being burned once, I wanted to double check myself before using another Apple music-cloud service. My biggest question is as follows:

Can you explain to me where all of your music is?

Let’s elaborate on that question: combining iTunes, iTunes Match, Apple Music and the vague iCloud Music Library… let me know what parts of your music library are where. What goes into each bucket? What is your mental picture of what music is where?

Three important, follow-up questions I’ll ask you:

  1. If you stopped subscribing to Apple Music, what parts of your library would disappear?
  2. If you stopped subscribing to iTunes Match, what would change?
  3. If you turned off iCloud Music Library what would happen?

Do you know for certain? Write your answers down before continuing. I thought I had a good idea initially, but it took two trips to the Genius Bar for them to explain it all to me. (Even they were a bit confused and tongue-tied…)

What I thought:

Based on this part of the Apple Music website:

from Apple’s Apple Music websitefrom Apple’s Apple Music website

I drew a quick diagram of where things were, based on the information listed:

Thanks to 53’s Paper appThanks to 53’s Paper app

This attempts to illustrate how I assumed Apple Music, iTunes Match, and iCloud Music Library were all separate products.

However, I was completely incorrect.

I reviewed this verbose article on Apple’s support site, and visit the flagship San Francisco Genius Bar twice to get this base understanding of how thier product works.

Here is how it actually fits together:

Here’s a better picture of how this works when you have both iTunes Match and Apple Music:

Hint: It’s all a part of the iCloud Music Llibrary spectrumHint: It’s all a part of the iCloud Music Llibrary spectrum

iCloud Music Library is the backbone

It’s a togglable setting referenced in the preferences of Apple’s various iOS Music / iTunes apps. However, once you think of the iCloud Music Library as a general term to describe the storage service Apple offeres for music, it starts to make sense. All music stored in the cloud by Apple is stored in the iCloud Music Library. (With the exception of Apple Music streaming tracks… those are segregated.)

The iCloud Music Library follows a protocol with certain priority given to purchased tracks, and those who have iTunes Match subscriptions, on how it stores tracks in iTunes Match. Rudimentary it goes:

  1. Purchased tracks (DRM-free, 256kbps AAC, alwasy available everywhere)
  2. Matched tracks via iTunes Match (DRM-free, 256kbps AAC, with an active iTunes Match Subscription)
  3. Uploaded tracks via iTunes Match (DRM-free, up-to-256kbps AAC, with an active iTunes Match Subscription)
  4. Matched tracks via Apple Music (DRM-enabled, in 256kbps AAC, available while you have an active Apple Music subscription)
  5. Uploaded tracks via Apple Music (DRM-enabled, up-to-256kbps AAC, stored while you have an active Apple Music subscription)

Streaming tracks via Apple Music (DRM-enabled, in 256k AAC, available while you have an active Apple Music subscription) don’t go into your iCloud Music Library… as you don’t own them.

Being an iTunes Match / Apple Music subscriber lets you use iCloud Music Library to also sync playslists and metadata between devices. If you subscribe to just Apple Music, which is what I believe Apple is thinking most people are defaulting to, you’ll get nearly every benefit of iTunes Match (matched and uploaded tracks, playlist sync) as long as you are a subscriber.

As soon as you cancel your Apple Music subscription, poof. Your playslists, matched, and uploaded tracks are deleted from Apple’s servers and are made unavailable on your devices. It’s the same thing that would happen if you cancelled your iTunes Match subscription, but it isn’t something made abundantly clear.

The Betas Music to Apple Music transition has been a bit rocky. While the apps are not as clear-cut and well-defined as services like Spotify or the now defunct Rdio, especially when it comes to which music is yours and which could vanish, Apple’s offerings remain one of the two music service options that let you combine personal and streaming libraries.

Google Play Music All Access is the other service that lets you truely combine personal libraries with their streaming service. Spotify has a very rudimentary, backwards way to pull it off, and isn’t something I’d recommend right now to do that.

Quintin Carlson Designer, in flight.