Ask the iTunes Guy: Understanding iCloud storage, issues with songs ratings

Apple gives you 5GB iCloud storage for free, but do you know what you can do with it? Does it have anything to do with music in the cloud, or on your iPhone or iPad? I ponder this question, along with a question about the needlessly complex issue of rating songs and albums in iTunes.

I don’t grok the cloud

Q: I bought a 128GB iPhone so I can store a lot of music on my device. But now, to listen to music on the iPhone, I have to use iCloud, and I only have 5GB free storage. Do I have to buy more storage to be able to listen to more music with Apple Music?

Apple is doing users a disservice by not clearly explaining what iCloud storage is for. Part of the problem is that they use the word “iCloud” with so many features: iCloud Music Library, iCloud Photo Library, and all those settings in the iCloud section of the iPhone and iPad Settings app. iCloud includes email, contacts, bookmarks, calendars, backups, and more.

When you purchase a subscription to Apple Music (or iTunes Match), Apple lets you store up to 100,000 tracks in the cloud. These can be tracks that you’ve got in your iTunes library—such as CDs you’ve ripped—or tracks you’ve added to My Music from Apple Music. In addition, any music you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store is added to your cloud storage, yet doesn’t count against the 100K track limit.

Apple gives you 5GB iCloud storage for free, but this has nothing to do with music. You can use this storage for files from different apps that can use iCloud, for iOS device backups, and for your photos. Where music is counted in the number of tracks—regardless of their length—photos are counted by size, so there’s no way of knowing how many photos you can store in the cloud.

It’s very confusing. I often get this sort of question; people don’t realize exactly what iCloud storage is for, and end up paying for additional storage thinking, sometimes, that it actually expands the storage on their device (virtually, of course), allowing them to put more content, such as music or videos, on their iPhone or iPad and retrieve it, when they want, from the cloud.

Apple really needs to make all this clearer.

Album ratings make my head hurt

Q: I cannot assign ratings to the “album rating” column in iTunes 12. All of my old album ratings work and appear in black, but all of the new ones are in grey and are automatically determined by my ratings of the songs on the albums. However, I use album ratings and song ratings independently, to determine which albums sync to my iPod, and want to decide an album ranking myself. Is there any way to fix this?

I think there are two questions here. The first is about rating albums, and the second is about the confusion in iTunes between song and album ratings.

To start with, you can rate albums in iTunes in different ways in different views. (I discuss the different media views in this article.) The question mentions the Album Rating column, presumably the one that you can display when in Songs view. That’s a read-only column; clicking it does nothing.

The Album Rating displays below or to the right of the album name, depending on the view you choose. In the screenshot below, I’ve chosen to view two albums in Artists view.


Two albums in iTunes, one where I applied a rating to the album, and the second where I rated each song.

In the screenshot above, you can see that stars to the right of the album name are black for Hotel California, and gray for Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975. Here’s where things get complicated.

The black stars for the first album indicate that I’ve rated that album manually. I’ve done so by hovering my cursor over the section where those stars are and clicking the rightmost fifth star. (When you hover the cursor, you see little dots; click and you see stars.) To remove this album rating, click just to the left of the leftmost star; this resets it to unrated. You can also remove album ratings by right-clicking an album in Albums, Artists, Composers, or Genres view (but not Playlist or Songs view), and choosing Album Rating > None. You can do this for multiple albums, but only when in Genres view. That makes sense, right?

The Rating column following each song name shows song ratings, and since I hadn’t rated songs in Hotel California, iTunes displays a gray star, showing that it’s a sort of average rating based on the album rating. Look at the second album; you can see that I’ve rated all the songs four or five stars, and for the album rating, next to the artwork, iTunes has worked out an average of four stars for the album’s overall rating. You cannot delete these average ratings.

One problem that occurred when iTunes 12.2 was released was that some song ratings were applied to album ratings. I don’t use album ratings, but for those who do, this can be problematic. You’ll need to go back and manually change a lot of ratings to get things back to where they were before.

Oh, and there’s also the new ♡ rating. That’s a topic for another column...

Have questions of your own for the iTunes Guy? Send them along for his consideration.

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