Ask the iTunes Guy: iTunes Match confusion

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[Ask the iTunes Guy is a regular column in which we answer your questions on everything iTunes related. If there’s something you’d like to know, send an email to the iTunes Guy for consideration.]

Apple’s $25-a-year iTunes Match service can match the tracks in your iTunes library with those in Apple’s 20-million-song catalog, and lets you upload the ones it can’t match (up to 25,000 non-purchased tracks)—and then access those songs via iTunes or your iOS devices whenever you want. And for the tracks it does match, you can download Apple’s copies to replace your own poorly ripped MP3 files from a decade ago. Sounds simple enough, but we’ve received dozens of questions regarding iTunes Match. Here are answers to a few of them.

Too many tracks

I have more than 25,000 songs that have accumulated over the years from the iTunes store, CD rips, and other sources. How can I prevent some songs from being matched to allow others to sync without removing the excess songs from my library. Many artists are in the form of discographies and I don’t need all of them to sync.

Unfortunately, I’m in the same boat as you (something I lamented in an earlier article). Apple offers no way to exclude certain tracks—if your library tips the scales, you won’t even be able to sign up for iTunes Match.

Having more than 25,000 tracks is a no-no, but there are workarounds.

One (rather clumsy) solution is to select the tracks you don’t want included and change their Media Kind to Voice Memo (File -> Get Info -> Options). iTunes Match will see those tracks as being unfit for duty (aka ineligible).

But perhaps the best solution for now is to create a second library to use just for iTunes Match purposes, or to put your iTunes Match library on a second computer (which is what I did).

I sincerely hope that Apple will add a tag to iTunes to let you exclude specific files from iTunes Match.

Syncing playlists

If I subscribe to iTunes Match, will my playlists be available on other Macs or iOS devices as they are on my “home” computer or do I just see a list of all of my music?

iTunes Match syncs and displays of your playlists on all the computers/iOS devices (up to 10 devices in total) on which you’ve enabled iTunes Match. Well, many of them—if you have playlists that contain podcasts, videos, or music videos, they won’t sync (even 1000 songs and one music video, say). But all your music-only playlists should be available on different computers and portable devices.

Matching problems

Don't worry about your tags preventing your music from being matched.

I noticed that there are many songs in my iTunes library that are sold on the iTunes Store, but that have been “uploaded.” I noticed that some tracks had different spellings, and I changed mine. I tried to update iTunes Match, but I still have the same amount of uploaded tracks.

iTunes Match does not look at the tags in your music files. You could call David Bowie’s “Heroes” something like “Four Score and Seven Years Ago,” and iTunes Match will ignore the title and merely look at the music, creating an acoustic fingerprint that it uses to match against its catalog. So even if you change tags on your own—something I often do with classical music—this won’t affect whether or not they match. Also, if you match songs whose tags are incorrect, iTunes won’t fix them for you.

Losing lossless?

I spent a lot of time adding CDs to my iTunes library in either WAV or Apple Lossless formats. If I understand correctly, I will lose this quality level if I use iTunes Match. Is this correct?

Yes and no. iTunes Match won’t alter the songs in your library unless you choose to replace them. If a lossless track has been matched and you delete your master file, the version you re-download from iTunes will be 256 kbps. And if you download that track on another computer or an iOS device, it will similarly be 256 kbps. Unmatched lossless audio files that are uploaded get transcoded to a 256-kbps AAC file first, but again don’t affect your originals. In most cases, however, 256-kbps AAC files are fine for portable devices—taking into consideration storage space and the headphones or speakers you’ll be listening through. So you might want to use iTunes Match to provide music to, say, an iPhone, but still use your iTunes library on your Mac when you listen via a stereo.

[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, second edition].

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