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Important Features and Limitations You Don't Know About iTunes Match

By Wesley Fenlon

Apple's cloud storage matching service for music has its share of buried and unintuitive features. Here's how to make the most of Match.

More than half a year after Amazon and Google launched competing cloud storage lockers for music, Apple has finally delivered its take on the service--with music label backing--in the form of iTunes Match. For $25 per year, iTunes users can store an unlimited number of iTunes-purchased songs in Apple's brand new data center and match up to 25,000 other tracks to the cloud as well.

iTunes Match has taken longer than expected to go live, and it's understandably a more complex service than Amazon Cloud Player or Google Music. And there are some issues: early adopters with gigantic libraries are actually barred from using the service, as iTunes Match won't work with more than 25,000 non-iTunes purchases. Good thing there's a way around that restriction--that's just one of a handful of things you can do with iTunes Match that Apple hasn't exactly made clear.

iTunes Match doesn't work with a library of more than 25,000 songs (iTunes purchases not included), but there's a workaround.

As Macworld details, the 25,000 song restriction isn't a hard stop for determined users. The restriction can be circumvented, but it's a bit of a hassle. Why does the 25,000 song limit exist at all? That probably came out of the deals Apple made with record companies--they had to put some kind of cap on the number of pirated tracks iTunes Match would freely upgrade to nice 256kbps DRM-free AACs.

But instead of giving users a limited allotment of matches, Apple closed off the service to large libraries altogether. That sucks. Until Apple changes the system, here's how you get around the 25,000 song restriction:

  • Close iTunes if it's running then hold down Option (Shift in Windows) and boot up the program again. Create a new library.
  • Turn on iTunes Match from the Store menu.
  • Under Advanced Preferences, make sure "Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library" is unchecked.
  • Use the "Add to Library" option from the File menu to build a library of songs you want to upload to iTunes Match. Don't exceed 25,000 songs.
  • Use Update iTunes Match from the Store menu to sync your selected songs.
  • Switch back to your regular library to browse your tracks as usual, but with 25k songs already stored in iTunes Match.

Songs with sub-96kbps bitrates will not be scanned and matched, unless you get tricky.

Have some old, terrible quality MP3s that Apple won't even touch? Give them the AAC treatment.

  • Right click on a song and choose "Create AAC version" to convert the song to an AAC.
  • iTunes Match will now scan the song and match or upload it.
  • If your menu option says "Create MP3 version" instead of Create AAC, that's because you set MP3 as the default import option in your Import Settings.

You can upload songs to iTunes Match from multiple computers, but only one account per library.

iTunes Match does not let you sync music to more than one account, even from a shared library. A computer can only be associated with one iTunes Match account. If you change that account, you won't be able to change it back for 90 days. In other words, you can't use your buddy's computer to upload his library to iTunes Match.

If you share a computer, you'll need a separate library for multiple Match accounts.

There are multiple classifications of songs scanned for iTunes Match.

The real selling point of iTunes Match is that it doesn't involve uploading you entire library to the cloud, as Apple's database of 20 million songs can simply add matched tracks to your account. Distinguishing those tracks can be a bit confusing. What's been uploaded, what have you downloaded to your device, what's been matched?

To differentiate, open up View Options and turn on the iCloud Status column. Here are the important statuses:

  • Purchased songs were bought through iTunes and don't count against the 25k total.
  • Matched songs were scanned from your machined and matched in the cloud, meaning you didn't have to upload your own MP3.
  • Uploaded tracks are songs iTunes couldn't match. It stored your version in the cloud instead.
  • Removed tracks have been deleted from one computer and iCloud, but not from another machine. These can be restored to iCloud from the library they're still on.

And there's a ton more to learn about iTunes Match. Here are some other important features, issues, and idiosyncrasies with Apple's cloud storage system.

  • iTunes Match is limited to use in the United States. Apple previously hoped to have it available in other countries by the end of 2011, but sometime in 2012 is more likely.
  • You can use iTunes Match with an account separate from your iCloud account.
  • iTunes Match will allow you to redownload music videos, but it will not match music videos (or anything but audio files).
  • iTunes Match can sync music to 10 devices.
  • iTunes Match will stream songs from the cloud on a computer, but downloads the full track to an iOS device. Play will start before the full track is downloaded, however.
  • iTunes Match will retain all of your metadata, even if it matches a song and gives you a shiny new 256kbps AAC. If you don't want comments from torrent sites on your new songs, scrub those ID3s clean.
  • If your iOS device is synced to a non-Match library, syncing Match files to it will overwrite those tracks. If you use your Match library already and sync new songs, it will leave the old ones alone.
  • You can keep your up to 25,000 new 256kbps AAC files even if you don't resubscribe to iTunes Match in 2012. However, you won't be able to re-download them from the cloud--keep a hard copy if you plan to quit the service.
  • Some songs with explicit lyrics may be matched with the cleaned up versions. If there are multiple versions of the same song, iTunes may make an incorrect match.
  • Some songs not available for sale in iTunes will actually be matched by Apple's library. The company clearly has deals in place for iTunes Match that don't carry over to MP3 sales.