Apple improves iCloud Music Library matching, ditches copy-protected matched files for Apple Music users

Kirk McElhearn
19 July, 2016
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When Apple Music was released just over a year ago, Apple also debuted iCloud Music Library, a way of storing your iTunes library in the cloud. There were two ways to seed the cloud, either with iTunes Match or Apple Music. If you were an iTunes Match subscriber, matching your songs in your local library to your cloud library was done one way, and if you were just an Apple Music subscriber, matching was done differently.

This created some confusion about the way tracks were matched and stored in iCloud Music Library. Now, Apple is changing this, and will use the same matching method for both services. The company said that Apple Music now uses acoustic fingerprinting and provides matched files without digital rights management (DRM), or copy protection, just like iTunes Match.

Acoustic fingerprinting versus metadata

As I explained just over a year ago, iTunes Match and Apple Music were, as Apple said, “independent but complementary”. Both matched tracks you owned that were in your iTunes library, but in different ways.

If you had an iTunes Match subscription, matching was done using acoustic fingerprinting; a way of analysing the music in your audio files to find the correct track in Apple’s huge library of music. If a track didn’t match, it was uploaded.

If you only had an Apple Music subscription, matching was based only on metadata: the track name, artist and album. And if nothing could be found with this metadata, the track was uploaded. This way of matching tracks is much less precise than acoustic fingerprinting.

If you subscribed to both iTunes Match and Apple Music, then the iTunes Match matching won out; you got the fingerprinting algorithm to match your music. But if you only subscribed to Apple Music, then you get the simpler, less efficient matching. This led to two issues. The first was matching that wasn’t as accurate, and the second was that when you re-downloaded files to another device, those Apple Music matched files had DRM or copy protection. If you let your Apple Music subscription lapse, then you wouldn’t be able to play those files.

What does this mean for you?

Having both services use the same matching method should improving matching and hopefully making your iTunes library less cloudy. More specifically:

  • You don’t use iCloud Music Library: Nothing to see here, move along. You keep playing your music as before.
  • You subscribe to iTunes Match subscription, and not to Apple Music: Nothing changes. Your life goes on as normal, and you continue paying US$25 a year to have your music (up to 100,000 tracks) in the cloud.
  • You have both iTunes Match and Apple Music subscriptions: You can turn off auto-renew for iTunes Match. You won’t need iTunes Match any more, since Apple Music will now match using acoustic fingerprinting, and your files won’t have DRM if you download them on another device. Go into your account in the iTunes Store (Account > View My Account), then go to iTunes in the Cloud > iTune Match, and click Turn Off Automatic Renewal.
  • You subscribe only to Apple Music: You won’t notice much of a change. The only difference will be that new matched tracks will have an iCloud Status of ‘Matched’, rather than ‘Apple Music’ and they won’t have DRM. You can force older downloaded tracks to change their status by deleting the local copies and re-downloading them; iTunes won’t automatically do this for you. And you can play these matched tracks on any device, even one that doesn’t have an Apple Music subscription or isn’t signed into Apple Music. Note that tracks you add from Apple Music to your library still have DRM; this change only affects tracks that are matched from music you own.

Also, if you are an Apple Music subscriber, then you won’t be able to subscribe to iTunes Match any more, which makes sense, since you won’t need it.

Apple will be rolling this new system out gradually to the millions of Apple Music users, and you won’t be notified when your account gets these new privileges. But you will be able to see that newly added files in your library will have the iCloud Status of Matched after your account has been updated. Note that Apple hasn’t changed the matching algorithm, and your iTunes library won’t be re-matched.

This is a good move on Apple’s part. There was a lot of hand-wringing over the DRM issue when Apple Music was launched, and the overlap between Apple Music and iTunes Match was confusing. Now there’s just one method of matching tracks, and things will be a lot simpler for everyone.

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