iTunes Match vs Apple Music: why you’ll want to use both services

Apple’s cloud services are confusing to say the least, and things have only gotten more convoluted as these services have proliferated. iTunes Match, Apple Music, or both? iCloud Photo Sharing, Photo Stream, or both? I’ll try to shed some light on these matters over the next couple of days. Let’s start by looking at iTunes Match and Apple Music.

If you want to use Apple Music, using it along with iTunes Match is your best choice if you already have a large music library. In case you’re not familiar with it, Apple Music is a streaming music service, a live radio station, and a venue for music fans to connect with artists. 

Your music, whether from the iTunes Store or ripped CDs, “now lives in one place alongside the Apple Music catalog with over 30 million songs,” says Apple. You can stream songs, albums, or playlists — or let the service do the work for you. 

Apple Music costs $9.99 per month (you can try it free for three months). There’s a family plan for $14.99/month providing service for up to six family members. All you need to do is set up iCloud Family Sharing on your iOS device or Mac and invite family members to join. (Android users can be part of your family membership, too.)

iTunes Match is an $24-per-year service that stores all your music in iCloud—even songs imported from CDs or not purchased in the iTunes Store—and makes it available on up to 10 of your devices and computers. With iTunes Match, you have access to your complete iTunes music library at any time. To use iTunes Match, you sign up for the service using your Apple ID, and enable it on on all the computers and devices on which you want to use it. 

Here’s where things get confusing. Starting with iTunes 12.2 and higher, about the only way to get any info on iTunes Match from within the software is to search for “iTunes Match” in the iTunes Help dialog. And even when you find the info it mentions “iTunes Radio.” But there is no more iTunes Radio now that Apple Music has arrived.

Though both Apple Music and iTunes Match match tracks in the same way, Apple says that “Apple Music and iTunes Match are independent but complementary.” So what’s going on?

Your Apple Music membership includes an iCloud Music Library, which allows you to listen your entire music library from all of your devices as long as you subscribe to the service. When you sign up, it checks your music collection to see which of your songs are also in the Apple Music catalog. It does this by matching against your song’s details (such as name, artist, album). If Apple has your songs in its catalog, it makes ‘em available to access on all of your devices.

When Apple Music adds these matched songs to your iCloud Music Library, Apple Music doesn’t change or alter your original music files that reside in iTunes for Mac or PC or on your iOS devices from which they were added. Apple makes these matched songs available to your other computers or devices in high quality 256 Kbps AAC. Conveniently, iTunes will upload songs not in Apple’s library to your iCloud Music Library so they can be accessed on all of your other devices.

Your iTunes Match subscription also includes an iCloud Music Library. Songs added are made available to your other computers or devices in 256 Kbps DRM-free AAC. Since they’re DRM (digital rights management) free, any of the songs that you save offline can continue to play, even after your iTunes Match subscription ends. That’s the big difference from Apple Music.

As noted by iTunes guru Krik McElhearn, Apple Music adds DRM to your files so if you, for example, you rip a CD, and it’s matched or uploaded to iCloud Music Library via Apple Music, and you download the files on another Mac, you’ll only be able to play those files as long as your Apple Music subscription is up and going. If you delete your originals, you won’t be able to access files without DRM. So you need to keep backups of your original files if you use Apple Music. If you have both an iTunes Match subscription and an Apple Music membership, then you get files without DRM.

Apple could make all this much simpler by making iTunes Match an “add-on” to Apple Music for $2 a month. 

By the way, both iTunes Match and Apple Music have a 25,000 track storage limit. Apple’s Eddy Cue has said that this limit will be increased to 100,000 on Apple Music this year. I’m not sure if that applies to iTunes Match.

On Monday, we’ll look at iCloud Photo Sharing vs. Photo Stream.