Ask the iTunes Guy: Locating unique playlist tracks and the perils of the 25K track limit

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iTunes is, in part, a database, and its smart playlists are just like database queries. In this week’s column, I look at an interesting question, which can be resolved with multiple smart playlists. I also discuss what happens when you break through iTunes Match’s 25,000 track limit, and answer a question about gifting content to people in other countries.

Smart playlists find unique tracks in two different playlists

Q: I have two very long playlists, and I want to find out which tracks are unique in each of them. In other words, I know that a number of songs are in both playlists, but I want to find the songs that are only in one playlist, without having to check each track individually. Is there an easier way to do this?

To start with, there’s an easy way to find the songs that are in both playlists. Assuming the names of the playlists are Playlist 1 and Playlist 2, here’s what to do.

Create a new smart playlist with these conditions: Playlist is Playlist 1 and Playlist is Playlist 2. Make sure that the menu at the top of the smart playlist window is set to Match all of the following rules. I call this Playlist 3.


This smart playlist finds all the songs that are in each of two playlists.

Now, to find the songs that are unique in both playlists, I can create a smart playlist with these conditions: First, Playlist is not Playlist 3. After creating that condition, hold down the Option key and click the plus (+) button. This creates a nested condition. In this section, you want the following: Playlist is Playlist 1 and Playlist is Playlist 2. You need to make sure you get the match rules setting correct. At the top of the window, you want Match all of the following rules, and you want to set the nested condition to Any of the following are true.


This playlist subtracts the common tracks from the first two playlists, to find what's unique.

To sum up, we’ve taken two playlists, Playlist 1 and Playlist 2, and we’ve found what they have in common, putting those tracks in Playlist 3. For Playlist 4, we’ve essentially subtracted the contents of Playlist 3 from Playlist 1 and Playlist 2, leaving what is unique across the two playlists.

Sometimes, you can do interesting things with smart playlists. A lot of this is just logic; and it makes me think I really should have taken that formal logic course back in college....

iTunes Match limit approaches; what to do?

Q: My iTunes library is approaching 20,000 tracks, as I rip a lot of LPs, and I’m getting concerned about hitting the 25,000 track mark. I have only about 500 tracks purchased from the iTunes store, so most of my music counts against the limit. I like the fact that all my music is available on my laptop, my wife’s Mac, and all my iOS devices. Is there a way I can ask Apple to raise my cap as I get to 25,000? If not, what will happen when I get to 25,000 tracks?

The 25,000 track limit to iTunes Match is a problem for many people. For me, it’s a fraction of the size of my music library. And for others like you who are adding to their digitized collection, it’s a looming problem. Also over time, everyone’s music library gets larger, and this limit will affect more and more people in the future.

Apple doesn’t seem to be interested in lifting the limit on the number of tracks. They want to sell music, and your purchases don’t count against that limit. So if you have the cash, you could conceivably have a “matched” library of 100,000 tracks, if you bought them all from the iTunes Store.

One problem is that when you hit the 25,000 track limit, all sorts of strange things happen. I’ve heard from people who’ve told me that uploads get wonky, that iTunes displays various error messages about connecting to the servers, and that, even after a number of tracks are culled, there can still be issues. Sometimes, even after getting a library below the 25K mark, it won’t upload new songs, even though iTunes Match says it’s updating. Sometimes it’s hard to download songs. And automatic updating can be unreliable.

itunes match limit

Just one of the issues you face when exceeding iTunes Match's track limit.

So the only solution is to create a second library, and shunt music back and forth between the two. I discuss splitting an iTunes library in this article.

Gifting across borders

Q: Can I gift something to someone on iTunes if it’s available in my country but not available in theirs?

Nope. And you can’t send a gift of anything to someone in another country. This is due to licensing rules. Apple could conceivably loosen its rules for apps, where licensing restrictions aren’t so onerous. But dealing with other types of content—which are often licensed by country or territory—is an accounting nightmare.

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

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