Apple Music, iTunes Match, iCloud Music, yada, yada, yada

With Apple’s recent roll out of Apple Music it’s generated a lot of confusion from consumers. I’ve lost count on the the number of blog posts I read that attempt to explain the nuances between Apple Music, iTunes Match, and iCloud Music Library.The following article is a good read…

So, why am I added the the list of blog posts on this subject? More for my own sanity, but also to provide my own perception of these Apple services and what they mean to consumers.

Apple Music

If you’ve used Spotify, Beats Music, Xbox Music, or any one of the myriad of streaming music services, Apple Music should come as no surprise. AM is a streaming music service that allows consumers to stream any music available in Apple’s iTunes music store to Apple devices. Apple will soon offer the service to Android consumers.

Similar to it’s competitors, AM is available to consumers for the monthly fee. $9.99 (in the US, other countries have different prices) for an individual account and $14.99 for a family plan.

The idea of AM is that you can listen to music anywhere you have Internet, or download music for offline listening, create playlists in the iOS music app and within iTunes on the Mac. Siri understands requests to play a particular genre, artist, track, album, or year of music, which my children love in the car. What makes AM appealing (to me at least) is the ability to listen to AM music songs alongside my purchased music songs in the same playlist on all my Apple devices. AM standing alone makes perfect sense, but it’s the existence of other Apple music services that’s causing some confusion. Read on…

iTunes Match

iTunes match was revolutionary when Apple first introduced it. Previously, service providers, like Google, had the ability to upload your music to cloud servers to allow streaming on the go. The majority of us settled for carrying around iPods with large storage or a subset of our music library on what storage we had available on a portable device. I remember the painful experience of keeping copies of my music library on multiple Apple devices and Windows PCs so I could listen to the same music in the office, at home, and on the bus. Google music required I use their HTML5 player, and I didn’t like that.  iTunes Match changed everything for me.

iTunes Match is a service costing $25 per year, allowing iTunes to scan your media library (on a Mac or PC) and match songs found in the iTunes Music Store. Matched songs are then available to consumers to play on any iOS device and within iTunes on the Mac and PC as long as you have an Internet connection. Even though an original song exists on your Mac at home, you can play the same song on your office Windows PC (using iTunes) or on your iPhone via the music app. What about those eclectic songs that you own that do not reside in the iTunes Music Store? Simple, iTunes uploads them to some private space in Apple’s cloud so you can download and play them on other devices.

iTunes Match is different to Apple Music in many ways, but predominantly:

  • iTunes Match only matches music you already own, whereas AM allows you access to all music in the iTunes Music store.
  • iTunes and the iOS music app downloads matched songs in full, before allowing you to play them (at least that was the way it was before iTunes 12.2 and iOS 8.4).
  • Apple Music streams songs in the same way that Pandora and Spotify do.
  • Apple Music tracks are DRM encoded, iTunes Matched songs are not.

Now that Apple Music is here, do I need iTunes Match? This is a question asked by many, and the answer isn’t simply yes or no. It really depends on your intent to own your own music or not. If you’re paying for AM each month and do not plan on cancelling the service any time soon, there is no good reason to pay the yearly iTunes Match fee in addition. As long as you keep up with your AM subscription, all songs in your music library will remain as long as they’re available in the iTunes Music Store. I cannot say for certain, but I have to believe that when my iTunes Match subscription ends, all those previously “matched” songs will either remain as such, or convert to “Apple Music” songs. We’ll find out soon as AM subscriptions gain longevity and iTunes Match subscriptions lapse.

BTW, it’s worth my mentioning that signing up for Apple Music will not cancel your iTunes Match subscription. I had to cancel mine manually via my account page – see instructions here.

If you’re an iTunes Match subscriber and have decided to take advantage of Apple Music 3 months free trial, and are not sure you plan on subscribing to AM full time, I recommend you do not let your iTunes Match subscription lapse. Assuming you have your original non-DRM files downloaded somewhere in iTunes, you can always go back to the yearly $25 model and continue to match those songs you own. Those AM songs you don’t own will stop working because of Apple Music DRM. As long as your Match subscription is active you should be able to continue listening to the music you do own on all Apple devices. On the other hand, cancelling both AM and iTunes match means you’ll lose all cloud music access and can only play songs which you have stored locally and DRM-free.

Now, if you’re diligent (read: anal), like me, you’ll most likely have a tidy back up of all your original ripped music (from CDs you own, right?). In the event that both your Apple Music and iTunes Match subscriptions lapse, you should be able to go back to the originals.

Some took the brave step of deleting their originals after signing up with iTunes Match. Some haven’t paid much attention and their library consists of both locally downloaded songs as well as cloud only matched songs (especially if you haven’t played them recently). Those with multiple devices may have local music on one device and not another – it’s hard to tell. My recommendation is to backup any and all locally downloaded songs, via iTunes, while you’re still subscribed to iTunes Match. This way you’ll at least have music you own DRM-free somewhere. Those AM music tracks that you never purchased will disappear (and not play if you have a local DRM copy available).

iCloud Music Library

I left the best to last… if you’ve signed up to use Apple Music, iTunes probably (should have) gave you the option to switch over to iCloud Music Library. Here is another helpful link. What’s this, a third service from Apple for music? Sort of…

The best way to get this mismatch of Apple Music Services straight in your head is to consider Apple Music and iTunes Match as “services” and iCloud Music Library as a freebie add-on for AM subscribers. After all, AM and iTunes Match are paid subscription services in their own right, which you can opt in or out. iCloud Music Library is an extra feature available to those signed up with Apple Music.

iCloud ML is exactly what the name says it is – it’s your iTunes Music Library stored in the cloud. Long-time users of iTunes Match are probably screaming at this blog post and saying that is what they’ve been using all along and they’re partially right. iCloud ML aims to replicate your iTunes Music Library across all Apple devices and include match, non-matched, and Apple Music songs in all playlists. iTunes Match would not sync playlists that contained non-matched and non-uploaded songs. Personally, I think Apple took this feature from iTunes Match and made it available to AM subscribers so AM subscribers could cancel iTunes Match without losing non-matched local music in the cloud.

Unfortunately, iCloud ML has gotten bad press since the roll out of Apple Music. If you look at the slew of complaints since the roll out of iOS 8.4 and iTunes 12.2, most are about iCloud ML and not the actual AM service. From what I can tell, people migrating from other music streaming services to AM continued their life without issue (except for recreating their favorite playlists in the new AM service). However, those that manage their own Matched music libraries in iTunes were very upset when iCloud ML started monkeying with their music libraries. There were lots of complaints of missing songs, missing artwork, incorrect song metadata, changes to the playlist not replicating to all devices… the list goes on. Apple recently pushed an update to iTunes – 12.2.1 to address an issue where Apple classified matched songs as DRM Apple Music songs in version 12.2.

To clarify – you do not need to switch over to iCloud Music Library if you’re an Apple Music subscriber. In fact, if you’re untrusting of Apple’s recent roll out, then I’d recommend not opting into iCloud ML. In this case, you’ll be able to listen to AM songs on all your devices and see AM playlists, but your local music will remain local. I still have time left with my iTunes Match subscription so cannot determine if opting out of iCloud ML will eradicate my “matched” tracks if I have AM turned on without an iTunes Match subscription active.

I took the plunge with iCloud ML and made sure I had a back up of my original MP3 and AAC files. I came from an iTunes Match subscription, which I cancelled the automated billing shortly after taking the plunge with AM. I’m curious to see what will happen to my “matched” songs once my iTunes Match subscription lapses – hopefully they’ll stay DRM-free, but I’m not too bothered knowing I have my originals and plan on staying with AM for the immediate future.

Something I found out of late, and I’m not sure if Apple is addressing it, is that iCloud ML and Apple Music appear to impose request throttling. In non-techie terms – iTunes and iOS can make a finite number of calls to the AM and iCloud ML servers within a period of time (I’m not sure how many requests or the window of time). This, like most web services, prevents denial of service attacks by malicious applications flooding a service with too many requests. The upshot of this is that I found I hit the throttle limit easily when making mass changes to my iTunes Music Library with iCloud ML enabled. I spent an hour “loving” tracks in my library so that AM would produce better curated playlists and recommendations, after which I’d lose connectivity to AM and iCloud ML. It was quite frustrating.


To summarize… Apple Music and iTunes Match are two different Apple Cloud services. You do not necessarily need iTunes Match if you’re an AM subscriber, but might want to go back to Match if you cancel your AM subscription – in which case keep back ups of your original and matched DRM-free downloads.

iCloud Music Library is a bit of a cluster-**** at the moment and it appears that Apple is making strives to fix it. iCloud ML works for me (after hours of tinkering) but if you’re proud of the many hours invested in your iTunes Music Library, you may not want to let iCloud ML run rampant over it just yet.