To Match or Not to Match, That Is the Question

iTunes Match is an offering from Apple where you pay a fixed fee per year($24.99), and using iTunes, it matches the music you have in your library with its own central store. Once matched, these tracks are then available to listen to on all of your Apple devices, or through iTunes on up to five PCs.

Let me say up front that I love iTunes match now, but it hasn’t been an easy start. Like any worthwhile relationship, there has been some learning to do, adjustments to be made here and there and even some compromises made. And there has certainly been a lot of patience needed. Let me explain:

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The match begins!

The process starts by signing it to iTunes and accepting the agreement to subscribe to iTunes match. There then starts a three-stage process that can take a very long time, possibly many hours, depending on the size of your library, the number of tracks able to be matched, and the size and number of the tracks to be uploaded.

iTunes Match beginning the process.

iTunes Match beginning the process.

If this were a one-pass wonder, I would be over the moon. Unfortunately, at the end of this first attempt, I found that barely a third of my music had been matched, much was still waiting in the queue and only a few tracks had been uploaded. I stumbled upon a forum post that simply advised running the process again to help things along. In total, it took four or five attempts to get all of my library matched in one way or another.

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing.

It is worth being patient after the matching process is complete for the results to update in iTunes, especially if you have a large library. I stared a good few minutes at the screen waiting for my first matches to appear. You can make the matching process easier to monitor by creating a smart playlist where iCloud status is “Matched”. Then, as tracks are matched, they automatically appear in your smart list. Make sure you tick the checkbox “live updating,” too.

Oh, how I wish there was an option to update the metadata of matched files. For example, iTunes has matched a track you have called “Track 2.” It knows what this track should be named, as it has a perfect match in its central library. Does it rename your track? No. Does it even give you a hint of what Artist or Track it might be? No, not even the slightest. Thankfully, there are a few third-party solutions that can assist by querying the Apple store with your Matched AAC file details and pull back accurate track listings.

One such free offering is iTunes Match Tagger. The results from this have, in most cases, brought back excellent metadata for many of my tracks. It is well worth a look.

iTunes Match Tagger at work on my Quo collection.

iTunes Match Tagger at work on my Quo collection.

A word of warning, though: I found that updating metadata outside of iTunes resulted in previously matched tracks becoming unmatched. This was most frustrating, but there is a way round this. Simply remove the track from iTunes, being careful to select the “Delete from iCloud” option too, (making sure you have a backup of the file of course). Modify the metadata, then re-add back in using the “Automatically add to iTunes” folder import area. You should then have a correctly named and tagged entry in iTunes.

When you delete things from iCloud, you must make sure that you still retain whatever duplicate copies of the tracks you have. Sometimes, I found that I would delete one duplicate file, only to come back later seeing the original file listed as “removed.” To get around this, after any period of pruning and renaming, simply click “File/Add Folder to Library,” and the re-select your main iTunes library folder again. This will re-scan the folder and add any missing files back into the iTunes library, and re-match.

Swing Low, Sweet Matching Chariot

From my early days of encoding music to MP3, I had a fair few low bit-rate files, some at around 96kbps. These show up in iTunes as “inelligible,” but another helpful hint is to convert these to an AAC file, 256kbps, and then click Add to iCloud. If your track is Matched, then you can go ahead and delete the track from your library, but this time do NOT click Remove from iCloud. Then a cloud symbol will appear by your track, allowing you to download a lovely full 256kbps version of your music. After much checking and tweaking, you will eventually see the awesome words: “Your iTunes library is now available in iCloud.” Now all that remains is for you to switch on iTunes Match on your iPad, iPhone, etc, and you should see the whole of your library available to listen to.

iTunes Match Complete.

iTunes Match Complete.

Apple’s tag line is “listen to your entire library, wherever you are.” In practice, however, this just doesn’t work all of the time. Playback on the iPad/iPhone when out and about is patchy. Each track has to be downloaded before playing, as there’s no streaming feature. If you are in a poor signal area, this won’t happen very quickly, if at all. Many times I have been out driving and songs will simply stop midway through, or pause, resume, then stop. It’s probably best to load up on songs when you are in a Wi-Fi area, so you can play them without interruption later.

Clean and Safe

If you’re an audiophile and want the best, iTunes Match can still provide a very good service, giving you decent quality clean 256kbps out and about listening. You can keep your lossless encoded music safe at home in your library. For the rest of us, simply the backup facility for all of your music (up to 25,000 tracks) is surely worth the annual charge. Another added bonus of the matching process is that after your whole library is matched, duplicate files can be found and removed very easily using a Smart Playlist where the iCloud Status is Duplicate.

In Summary

iTunes Match is great for the low cost backup storage of all your music. Duplicates can be dealt with very easily, and with some assistance, metadata can be cleaned up. There are times when the service is just simply superb, but there are pitfalls to avoid, and a lot of patience is needed initially to truly benefit. Well worth a look.