iTunes Match shouldn't shun those with big libraries

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We are the excluded ones. The misfits. The ones who listen differently.

We are the ones that Apple ignores. The obsessive music lovers. The ones with huge iTunes libraries. The ones who buy the iPod classic, maybe even more than one, because each one can hold as many as 40,000 songs.

We are the ones who cannot use iTunes Match.

OK, perhaps that’s going a little overboard. But when Apple introduced iTunes Match on Monday, my request to move my iTunes library to the cloud was immediately refused. Although Apple had already announced that you could only store 25,000 songs using iTunes Match, I was surprised when iTunes informed me that, “Your library contains too many songs.” The alert the program displayed told me that my library “must contain no more than 25,000 songs that were not purchased from the iTunes Store.”

No iTunes Match for you!

I can certainly understand that Apple needs a limit to the amount of space that it’s willing to give you for the $25 yearly fee of iTunes Match. What I cannot understand, however, is that iTunes Match simply refuses to let those with large libraries sign up at all. It doesn’t let you choose what you put in the cloud, and you don’t get a screen allowing you to select specific artists, albums and/or genres, as you do when you sync an iPod. After all, given that Apple markets the iPod classic—that 40,000-song-carrying music player (at 128 kbps, that is)—to people like me, how can the company then turn around and say that I have too much music to use with this new pay service?

My iTunes library currently contains 76,847 tracks (not songs). I stress the fact that these are not all “songs” because more than half of my library is classical music; while some of that music is technically songs, most of it is not. I also have a large number of spoken word recordings, such as a complete set of Shakespeare’s plays, and some 1500 recordings of old radio shows by Jean Shepherd.

But Apple is now telling me that I have too much music—or let’s say too much “audio content”—in my iTunes library to play along. There are some tricks to get around that 25,000-track limit such as creating a new iTunes library that you can use. This involves culling some of your music, and you can use it to put selected music in the cloud for access on other computers or on iOS devices, but it is a bit of a kludge. Switching back and forth between your main library and your cloud library, to keep both up to date seems to be more trouble than it’s worth.

It shouldn’t be too hard to allow users to choose which tracks get matched/uploaded. There could be a checkbox, in the Info window when you select multiple tracks. Currently, on the Options tab, when you display this window, there are Part Of A Compilation, Skip When Shuffling, and other options; why not add one for Use With iTunes Match? Users could go through their libraries, copy files they don’t want to match to a playlist, select them all and check a box. iTunes would see that these files are flagged, and ignore them. Or I’m sure there are half a dozen other ways Apple could make it work.

One way iTunes Match and large libraries could get along.

I am certainly in the minority, and I know that. While I do know a fair number of people with large iTunes libraries—some even larger than mine—most people only have a few thousand songs in theirs, and will fit in quite well with Apple’s iTunes Match requirements. However, a quick glance on shows that the iPod classic is, today, the number four best-selling device among Apple’s music players there. This suggests that there are a lot of people who have large music libraries.

Many of these people with large libraries are classical music fans, or even collectors. Klaus Heymann, the head of Naxos Records, said in a recent interview that, “There’s pretty much a consensus in the industry that there’s maybe a million [classical music] collectors in the world when you define a collector as someone who buys at least 10 CDs a year.”

Another group of people with large iTunes libraries are fans of live music. Many bands—often called “jam” bands, because they’re big on improvisation—allow their fans to record and download their concerts. The Grateful Dead was one of the first groups to allow this, and I have hundreds of its concerts. But other bands, such as Phish, moe., and a whole new generation of jam bands, allow their fans to trade music as well. They also sell many or all of their live concerts as digital downloads, and it’s not uncommon for serious fans of bands like this to buy dozens of live shows, or even an entire tour’s worth of concerts. Macworld executive editor Jon Seff, a fan of both the Grateful Dead and Phish, told me that his iTunes library has more than 30,000 songs (including lots of live recordings).

These are the people who keep the recording industry afloat. Without these musically-curious people, the music available today would be much more homogenous, formulaic. Granted, this is the case for much pop music, but what keeps the music industry alive is the constantly churning underclass of musicians, songwriters, and composers of all genres who never reach the top of the charts, and make music that most people will never encounter.

So, Apple, please don’t exclude us. We do listen differently, we are curious about music, and we do use iTunes, iPods and iPhones. We buy Mac minis to use as media servers. We stream our music to stereos using AirPort Expresses. We are the ones you should be welcoming to this new service, not the ones you turn away at the door.

[Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Twitter: @mcelhearn Kirk is the author of Take Control of iTunes 10: The FAQ.]

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