“If anyone from Apple is listening…”

iTunes Guy Kirk McElhearn on this Macworld podcast (paraphrasing):

Come on – Amazon does 250,000 tracks in the cloud. You can’t do better than Amazon?

My trick for getting around the limit is to delete anything I don’t think I need in the cloud from a computer other than my main iTunes library. That way it takes the music off the cloud, but leaves it in my main iTunes library. When/if Apple lifts this limit I’ll be able to add those tracks I removed from iCloud as they were before they were purged.

If that sounds complicated, it kinda is. I shouldn’t have to deal with it. And if your criticism is “well your iTunes music library shouldn’t be so big” the reason it’s that big is because I use iTunes. People with big libraries are big music fans, which is why iTunes still exists.

Otherwise we’d all be on Spotify.

iTunes Streaming Bitrate

It appears that over wifi iTunes Radio is streamed at 256k AAC, but over cellular networks it drops to 96k.

Some of the posts here lament that, but I’ve been hoping that’s how it’s been all along. iTunes was supposedly going to have some kind of adaptive streaming for these very situations. I don’t want to unwillingly eat up my data plan because of iTunes Radio.

Even at 96k iTunes Radio should sound better than satellite radio.

“Apple’s iCloud is no safe haven for some iTunes purchases”

Even if you have iTunes Match, make sure you download purchased tracks. Access is based upon licenses and other deals you have no control over. This is definitely a problem with the streaming services, but with iTunes you can at least have a local copy of your stuff.

“Listener Matched Content”

Hypebot, regarding iTunes Match and iTunes Radio royalties:

Apple will not pay any royalties:

  • during the 120 day beta period
  • “Heat Seeker” promotions approved “at iTunes discretion”
  • “Complete My Albums” plays defined as “a Performance of a sound recording identified for a given Listener or a Remaining Track” and rendered for such Listener in order to promote the relevant CMA offer”.
  • Listener Matched Content – songs that are already in the users collection.

It’s the last category- Listener Matched Content – that will likely reduce payments labels and artists the most. According to the agreement, Apple does not have to pay for for up to two songs per hour of iRadio play if the tracks appear in the users cloud collection.

Since the heaviest users will likely pick iRadio streams that match their tastes, Apple may have effectively cut royalty payments by 10 – 14%.

I don’t understand the outrage here. Matched content means a sale was already made, whether it was a CD sale long ago or an MP3 sale at Amazon or elsewhere.

I know this doesn’t apply all the time. Illegal downloads get matched and people seemingly believe that iTunes match legalizes those downloads when it doesn’t.

But if I legitimately buy a CD and rip it to my iTunes collection, why should the record label get paid again?

DELETE ALL THE SONGS!

NPR Music’s Bob Boilen uses iTunes Match and has deleted the local copy of his iTunes library.

I’m not sure why people are doing this. When I signed up I decided not to delete anything because the service was still new. I still get mismatches and some album tracks not getting matched from time-to-time. What’s been really great about iTunes Match is having my music with me on my work computer without having to bring an iPod. But at home, my local copy is still taking up space on my drive.

Maybe that’s the point—to free up hard drive space. But I don’t really mind. It’s not hurting anybody.

The Music Subscription Breakdown

http://twitter.com/davidwinchestrr/status/177552866112835584

This tweet says succinctly something that I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about.

Music subscription services do not make sense if you have a small, highly curated music selection. It doesn’t matter if you have millions of tracks available to you if the few that are most important to you are unavailable.

iTunes Match Can’t Handle The Truth

User kudzurebel on Apple’s discussion forum sums up the iTunes Match problems pretty well:

The big things that everyone is realizing aren’t being updated in the cloud libraries are “play counts”, “last played dates”, and artwork (I’m sure there are other things that aren’t updating properly). “Play counts” and “last played dates” seem to only sporadically get updated in the cloud under many circumstances. As far as I can tell, artwork changes never get pushed to the cloud. The only way to force the cloud to update artwork is to remove the track(s) from your library (and iCloud) and then re-add to iTunes and to iCloud with the new artwork in place. Otherwise the cloud eventually reverts your local library to whatever artwork you had when you first uploaded/matched the files.

The artwork problem may not seem like a big deal, but here’s an example where I’ve been struggling with it. I dislike greatest hits albums. If I rip a greatest hits album to iTunes I modify all the metadata to reflect each track’s original release information, including year, album name, track number, and artwork.

You have to dance with iTunes to get this working properly when Match is enabled. There are always sort problems. Usually marking all the ripped tracks as part of a compilation and then unmarking them as part of a compilation works, but sooner or later the artwork is going to change back to whatever the cover of the greatest hits album was.

I made a playlist called “See if this updates on iOS” to keep tabs on tracks I’ve played from iOS that may or may not get updated properly. Here’s an example.

iosplays

All these tracks were played in the past week. One of them didn’t update its playcount at all. The other eventually updated within at least 7 days. Ratings are the only reliable thing about iTunes Match on iOS. Note how many tracks have a playcount of 1 but do not have a last played date. Not having last played date affects smart playlists built upon that information, like Recently Played.

One of the reasons the music nerds haven’t completely switched from iTunes to Spotify is because we have this level of detail in iTunes. But between the track limits, slow behavior on iOS, unreliable matching and syncing, iTunes Match harms the most valuable iTunes users: people who still love and buy music.

iTunes Match Distrust

Check out this weird behavior. Sometimes iTunes just plows through music, updating the play counts with it.

I’m accessing these on a non-primary Mac’s iTunes library with iTunes Match enabled. If I open some of these songs in Quicktime I get that stutter sound that sounds like a glitch from a Squarepusher album, if it plays at all. This example features tracks that were not matched, but were uploaded from my personal library.1 Somewhere an error occurred that iTunes didn’t catch.

With iTunes Match sometimes tracks get skipped. Sometimes tracks don’t get matched that should get matched. And from an iOS device (and sometimes on other Macs) Last Played and Play counts don’t get updated.

I love iTunes match, but I don’t trust it.


  1. Also downloaded from Bandcamp in AAC…so maybe iTunes Match just doesn’t like some encodings. 

IMAP For iTunes

I started my iTunes Match scan yesterday. I paused it for today so I could try it out on a separate Mac. It was on the upload part, so I assume that everything that could be matched has been matched.

This comment explains why I’m kinda giddy about this.

Important point that, strangely, nobody seems to bother saying explicitly: this is true iTunes Library sync, not just remote storage for your music. It’s iCloud for iTunes in the same sense that the free service already offers iCloud for iCal. Changes to playlists, tags, play counts, etc. propagate to all connected libraries, both in iTunes and in iOS.

iTunes Match:

  • Keeps your ratings
  • Keeps your metadata
  • Keeps your playcounts
  • Syncs your playlists across devices (including other computers running iTunes)

It’s a lot like what I said I wanted.

You can stream right from iCloud or choose to download songs when using iTunes. I wish it was smart enough to know what was coming up next in my queue and download it automatically so the full file is locally stored before it gets played.

Some weirdness:

  • I had a scare where automatically generated album ratings disappeared from my master iTunes library. I think they’ll comeback…maybe.
  • I pruned some items to get under the 25k limit
  • I had to restart my scan a few times last night, I’m guessing from Apple’s end timing out to keep up with demand
  • Launchbar (and I assume other iTunes controllers and search tools) does not currently index music stored on iCloud. Coversutra can see music on iCloud, but doesn’t appear to take any action on it (like adding to iTunes DJ)
  • There’s some screwy behavior with what gets matched and not (some albums get most tracks matched, but not all)1
  • I wonder how much of my stuff has been matched, but to the wrong track

Other than that, so far so good.


  1. For example, on this MF Doom album it’s not clear why some stuff is matched and other stuff isn’t.
    mfdoomexample
    I think what’s happening is that iTunes rescans when you open iTunes. What could it be scanning? Maybe the tracks that didn’t get matched. Could be something like Genius where, over time, it gets better. 

Why should anyone pay to listen to an album once?

I’ve been pruning my iTunes collection to prepare for iTunes Match. iTunes Match is limited to 250001 songs. As of this writing I have about 30000 in my iTunes collection.

Almost all of these albums I’ve listened to only once. Some of them aren’t from legitimate sources. Some of them are from Amazon’s daily deals.2 Some of them were bought on impulse. Some were junk and some are albums that I thought were okay, but didn’t think were good enough to visit again.

How do I know? Because I set up these smart playlists years ago to help me figure out this kind of stuff. If they were real CDs they’d be collecting dust somewhere.

The majority of this was added back before streaming services launched in the US, back when I’d hear about new tunes, buy and/or download them, and either like them or not like them. So now, when I’m going through and deleting stuff I didn’t like, I’m feeling burned. Every little square that I delete in iTunes’s grid view represents $9.99 that I may as well have just lit on fire.

It made me miss Lala.com. Lala let you listen to an album, for free, once. If you liked it enough to go back to you were prompted to buy it.

I think that model is a good compromise between the current $9.99 square that can burn you and the small payouts of streaming services. I’m hesitant to switch entirely to Spotify and Rdio because sometimes things just disappear. If I love something and download it to iTunes it’s always there. But the streaming services are much better for discovery. There’s no buyer’s remorse when listening to an album and not liking it. It didn’t cost you anything other than your subscription fee, if you’re even paying one.

It’s that buyer’s remorse that makes it difficult to feel empathy for an industry that feels like Steve Jobs screwed them over. That same industry operated for decades on selling albums on the strength of one or two tracks. But now we have things like star ratings that can show us how much value we’re really getting out of a $9.99 album or the CD you bought for $16.98 a decade ago.

Given the launch of streaming services I don’t go on downloading binges anymore. If I get a recommendation it goes into my Rdio queue. If after listening to it I think it’s worth owning I’ll buy it. Rdio for me right now is my music discovery platform, even though it feels like it’s trying to be more.

That means I pirate a lot less. It also means I buy a lot less because I’m only buying what I think is worth owning.3


  1. 25,000 tracks is a lot, but I get the feeling that it’s a number pulled out of the sky to satisfy licensing requirements, not to ease demand on a server. I deleted a couple of Todd Barry stand-up comedy albums I bought, each with ~30 second tracks, taking off maybe 70 tracks. 70 tracks for about 90 minutes of material. A 40 minute Sufjan Stevens album might have 22 tracks on it. Meanwhile I have classical albums four tracks long that last an hour. Tracks aren’t a good measurement of actual musical duration and content, but it’s what the suits use because it’s easiest. 

  2. Like a Lady Gaga album I didn’t like for 99¢. 

  3. There’s a cynical part of me that feels like that’s the real thing behind the complaints of streaming’s low payouts. How are we going to make money on this music that nobody wants to own and could do without because it’s forgetabble?