(Pocket-lint) - Apple Music is about to get better at matching and syncing songs you've already purchased in iTunes.
Apple's music-streaming service, which launched last year, has a built-in feature that allows it to match songs in your existing iTunes library, but it doesn't work as well as iTunes Match, a similar tool that Apple has long offered to customers who were willing to pay $25 a year for the service. Well, according to The Loop, Apple is finally addressing the problem via an update to Apple Music that will bring iTunes Match's audio fingerprint technology, and it will finally allow all properly-matched, uploaded songs to download DRM-free.
OK, so we understand this is complicated. But put on your thinking cap, because we've explained everything in detail below, with the purpose of helping you comprehend what's going on with Apple Music, as well as whether you should continue paying for iTunes Match.
First, what's the point of iTunes Match?
In the early days of iTunes, you could rip purchased CDs with your Mac and then listen to them in iTunes.
When the iTunes Store came along some time later, it let you purchase songs for a set fee. It also let your ripped music and purchased music lived side-by-side inside the app. However, due to Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), a technology that controls what you can do with the digital media and devices you own, you couldn't do much with your purchased music in iTunes. Bummer.
In 2009, Apple stopped selling music encumbered by DRM restrictions (no DRM means you could finally play your music files on as many Macs or PCs as you want, resulting in your music actually being yours). However, if you want DRM-free versions of music, you have to pay $.30 more per track or album. DRM-free tracks are also encoded at 256-kpbs, twice the bit rate of standard iTunes tracks.
So, not only can you play your files on as many Macs or PCs as you want, but they're now higher-quality and thus make your ripped music sound way worse than their DRM-free counterparts in the iTunes Store. To solve all our woes, Apple began offering iTunes Match. For $25 a year, you can automatically upgrade any track in your personal music library that's in the iTunes Store.
That means all your low-quality ripped music will be replaced in your iTunes library with higher-quality, DRM-free AAC tracks. Also, with your iTunes Match subscription, you can upload up to 100,000 songs from your library to iCloud Music Library, where you're able ton stream and download them to up to 10 other devices. Voila! And that's the point of iTunes Match, in a nutshell.
Wait - what is iCloud Music Library?
When you turn on iCloud Music Library, it looks at all your music on your Mac to see if any of those songs and albums are also available in the iTunes Store (if you're an iTunes Match subscriber) or Apple Music's catalogue (if you're an Apple Music subscriber). If they are, it'll match those songs, letting you download or stream higher-quality, 256-kbps AAC tracks on another device that doesn't have your music locally stored.
If Apple can't find a track from your library in its catalogues, it'll still upload the original, possibly low-quality version of your track to iCloud Music Library, where you can re-download or stream it on a different device (it's just been transcoded to work). That doesn't mean you could use iCloud Music Library as a back-up service. For instance, until recently, if you deleted your ripped music on your Mac because it was matched to Apple Music's catalogue and uploaded to iCloud, you couldn't just unsubscribe from Apple Music.
That's because Apple Music has a DRM layer, which we expand upon in a bit.
If you deleted the local copies of your ripped music on your Mac, you basically got rid of your original, DRM-free copies. And if you were only using Apple Music, your matched tracks suddenly had DRM on them. So, if you unsubscribed from Apple Music and tried to download your ripped music from iCloud, the newly-applied DRM prevented you from doing that. But Apple Music is changing how some of that works now.
It's confusing, we know.
OK. So how is Apple Music changing?
Apple Music's matching algorithm is more more reliable now, and it no longer DRM-locks uploaded copies of your own music.
We've already discussed iTunes Match, iCloud Music Library, and DRM-free music, so before we discuss how Apple Music is changing, let's first dive into how the service handles its streaming music collection. Just like every other streaming service, it has a DRM layer in order to prevent you from getting a subscription, then downloading all the music you want to any device you own, and canceling your subscription.
Apple Music also has an iTunes Match-like feature that matches songs in your existing iTunes library. But it didn't work as well as the iTunes Match. The Loop has reported that Apple is rolling out an update that'll use iTunes Match's audio fingerprint technology to better match the songs you've bought. Until now, Apple Music used a less accurate version of iTunes Match that leveraged metadata to pair tracks.
This often resulted in Apple Music pulling the wrong version of a song. For instance, Apple Music would sometimes replace a live version of a song with a studio version. That's not going to be a problem any longer thanks to audio fingerprint. And if you had songs that were matched incorrectly, Apple Music will now rematch to the correct song, but it won't delete any downloaded copies of songs you have in your library.
Apple Music is giving you the new version of iTunes Match for free. If you are a current iTunes Match subscriber and subscribe to Apple Music, you can ditch your iTunes Match subscription and get the same benefits. But that's not all: this update also means that all matched songs will now download DRM-free, and the only tracks that'll be DRM-restricted are those you didn't upload to iCloud and directly downloaded from Apple Music.
What does this mean for you?
Not only is Apple Music's matching algorithm going to be better, because it's matching from audio fingerprints instead of metadata, but the tracks you upload to iCloud Music Library from Apple Music will no longer have DRM.
Any music you purchased or ripped from CDs will display in Apple Music as Matched or Uploaded without DRM applied to it. So, if you accidentally delete your personal music on your Mac, you'll still be able to re-download copies of those songs that are DRM-free. When you download your matched tracks on another device you own, it won't disappear if you cancel Apple Music.
But any iCloud Music Library tracks you don't have stored on a device will disappear. Also, tracks or playlists downloaded from the Apple Music subscription library will be DRM-restricted. You didn't upload them to iCloud, nor do you even own them, obviously, and so they will disappear if you cancel your Apple Music subscription.
And finally, because Apple Music is integrating with iTunes Match to the max, you will no longer have to pay for both services. Apple Music subscribers are getting these iTunes Match features as part of their subscription.
When will the new Apple Music be available?
Apple is rolling the new Apple Music out to 1 to 2 percent of its users every day. The update will happen automatically. You'll know it has arrived when you see "Matched" tracks instead of "Apple Music" in your iCloud Music Library.