29 January 2013

How To: Use iTunes Match to Clean Up Your Music Library

You can use iTunes Match to get DRM free copies of all your music files, and in the process clean up ones that are corrupted.

I wasn't convinced about iTunes Match when I first heard about it but I have a large music collection which had become unwieldily with various problems:
  • Copy protection: Files with DRM meant I couldn't play them on my Android devices
  • Skipping files: Although most of my collection is gleaned from physical CDs (which I own obviously), a large number of those pre-date ripping so were in a pretty bad state when I came to record them.
  • Mangled files: Somehow a number of files had become mangled with each other, so literally the file starts playing one track then jumps to another, but all within the same actual MP3 file! I'm not sure how this could happen but possibly something to do with a failed RAID they were once on.
So having read up on what Match actually did and having clearly defined my exit strategy (I don't want to enter into a contract like this only to find I can never leave without loosing all my music). I took the plunge. 

The Advantages
  • You can stop it at any time: When you no longer want to pay for match you can just download all your (now much better quality) music to your computer and off you go.
  • Better quality recordings: Most of my stuff was ripped into MP3 files as that was the standard when I did it. Match provides a match of tracks at 256-Kbps in AAC format DRM-free. This is significantly better. It is still lossey of course but an improvement.
  • You don't loose the originals or the replacements: Unless you choose to delete them your original songs and the replacements are yours to keep, even after you stop using Match. Personally I would always duplicate the files before starting this process anyway.
  • Missing track info and artwork: All your new tracks will come with shiny information and album covers.
  • Ability to stream: Admittedly only to Apple devices (e.g. other computers running iTunes, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV) but still nice to have.
The Disadvantages
  • Explicit lyrics: A number of posts on the Apple forums (e.g. this one) bemoan the loss of tracks with explicit lyrics, even if the original is available on iTunes Store.
  • Live vs Studio: Some users have reported receiving a 'match' of a studio track over an original live recording.
The Limitations
  • 25,000 songs

Before you Start

  • Backup: As ever the key to avoiding problems is to backup your music first. Copy it to another drive, use Time Machine or upload it to a service like DropBox, GDrive or SkyDrive. Be patient, it's worth it!
  • Check iTunes settings: Make sure your settings are correct in iTunes, Preferences, Advanced:
    • iTunes Media folder location
    • Keep folder organised
    • Copy files to iTunes folder (if required)

Activate iTunes Match

  1. Open iTunes on your Mac or PC
  2. Go to the main menu, Store, Turn on iTunes Match
  3. Wait while it does it's thing or you can continue to use iTunes and your computer but you might notice it's slower.
Problems with Activating
  • We could not complete your itunes store request: I found after it had uploaded missing artwork and remaning songs it threw this error. This is caused by my system's clock and Apple's being out of sync. Go into system time and update it and it should start to work again.
  • Slow upload speed: I found when it got to step three: "Uploading artwork and remaining songs" It was very slow. After some searching I found the following helped:
    • Re-source those with iCloud error (cloud with ! in, or smart playlist iCloud status Error). You can do this by re-ripping, purchasing from iTunes store (they will be matched and once downloaded, not DRM) or deleting.
    • Remove duplicates: View, Duplicates

Upgrade Your Old Tracks
  1. Find the files which aren't up to the 255 ACC standard by creating a smart playlist with the criteria (call it iCloud Matched):
    • Media kind is Music
    • Bit rate: less than 256 kbps
    • Any of (press Option/Alt and click plus sign):
      • iCloud status is matched
      • iCloud status is purchase
    • Live Updating
  2. Go to the new playlist and (having copied those files elsewhere) delete them (Alt/Option Delete).
  3. Follow the instructions below to download the iCloud version.
Download the Entire New Collection
  1. Create a second smart playlist (call it iCloud Not Downloaded)
    • Media kind is Music
    • Location is iCloud
    • Location is not on this computer
  2. Select all matched songs in iCloud Not Downloaded, right or control click and choose Download.
See What's Not Matched
Create a playlist (iCloud Not Matched) with the following criteria:
  • Media kind is music
  • iCloud status is not matched

More information
See this helpful post on macworld.

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