How to Use Apple Music Without iCloud Music Library

iCloud Music Library, which is independent of yet complementary to Apple Music, has caused serious problems for people with iTunes music libraries. In some cases, it changes artwork; in others, it added DRM to files in the cloud. There are some reasons for this, but there are also situations where it screws things up without any known reason.

Yesterday, Jim Dalrymple of The Loop said that “Apple Music is a nightmare and I’m done with it”. I’d come to more or less the same conclusion; not so much about Apple Music, but rather about iCloud Music Library.

I had really high hopes for Apple Music. The idea of integrating what’s in the cloud with what’s in my iTunes library sounded great. Unfortunately, Apple simply isn’t careful enough in the way it treats the music you own, and my music library is sacred.

I’m in a situation where I need to use this feature, because of all I write about iTunes. Just as with iTunes Match, which was launched in 2011, I have to understand how it works to be able to explain it. As such, mainly because of the size of my music library – iTunes Match, like iCloud Music Library, has a hard limit of 25,000 tracks – I set up a test library on my MacBook Pro. This allows me to use it without using my full music library. (Since I wrote this article, Apple increased the limit to 100,000 tracks.)

In some ways, this has been a blessing. There have been lots of issues with iTunes Match over the years, and none have affected my full music library. The same is true with iCloud Music Library. iCloud Music Library has caused havoc with that test library, but it hasn’t affected the integrity of my carefully curated and tagged 70,000 track music library.

Together with this MacBook Pro, I use an iPod touch as a test device, both for music-related features, and for beta versions of iOS. Right now, I have a brand new iPod touch, and I’m using that with iCloud Music Library, and with Apple Music. With these two devices, I can use all the features of Apple Music, just not when I’m out on the road with my iPhone. That’s fine; I sync music from my iTunes library to my iPhone, so I’ll always have music. I’d like to have more, but, whatever.

You can use Apple Music without turning on iCloud Music Library. In iTunes’ General preferences, you’ll see two checkboxes, one for Apple Music and one for iCloud Music Library.

Apple music off

If you check the first one – Show Apple Music – you’ll be able to stream music from Apple Music, access the For You and New sections, listen to Apple Music Radio. If, however, you check the second one, iCloud Music Library, then you’ll also be able to add music from the Apple Music catalog to your library, but your library runs the risk of being sliced and diced, and the consequences can be problematic. (There are similar settings on iOS, in Settings > Music.)

iCloud Music Library causes problems with existing libraries. If you don’t have any music in your iTunes library – which is the case, most likely, for hundreds of millions of users – then there will be no problems if you turn it on. If you do have music, however, the matching process can result in weirdness. Not just tracks that end up in DRMed versions, but tracks matched to different versions of the same songs. You, too, can use Apple Music, without turning on iCloud Music Library. You’ll lose the ability to add music to your library, and to save it for offline listening, but your library will be safe.

I’ve actually been enjoying Apple Music, for the most part, listening, so far, to music I had on LP in the 1970s and never bought on CD, checking out some jazz musicians I’m unfamiliar with, and listening to lots of music by Morton Feldman, John Cage, and other experimental composers. But there’s no way I’m going to let iCloud Music Library get anywhere near my iTunes library.

So, I use an interim solution. Not everyone has another computer they can use to store their library, or another iOS device to play it back. It’s a shame I have to go to this much trouble to use Apple Music. It’s a shame it doesn’t just work.

Learn how to get the most out of iTunes with my ebook, Take Control of iTunes 12:

22 thoughts on “How to Use Apple Music Without iCloud Music Library

  1. So confirm how to enjoy the pleasures of “safe streaming” without having iCloud music infecting our music libraries, while (if I understand you correctly) there is no danger in checking the iCloud Music Library box on IOS devices, but leaving it unchecked on the Mac that contains your music library, are there risks in any of the following scenarios:

    1. Checking the box on IOS devices that also sync playlists with the Mac that contains the music library that you are trying to keep uncorrupted?

    2. Checking the box on other Macs (e.g., laptops) that have no music at all on them, but share iCloud accounts with the Mac that contains the music library?

    I’ve got a lot of Morton Feldman in my main iTunes library (it’s the only music I can listen to while writing without getting distracted) and I wouldn’t want to blow it all up by crossing the streams. Tricky business here … thanks for staying on top of it!

  2. What do you mean by 1? I don’t see any such setting.

    As for 2, yes, if the library is empty to start with, then you risk nothing. Just don’t ever turn it on on the Mac containing your main library.

    Feldman is indeed great for writing. You’ll find some good stuff on Apple Music, such as his String Quartet No.2, by the Flux Quartet, which clocks in at about 6 hours. That’ll see you through a full day’s work. 🙂

    • Thanks for the prompt reply (and apologies for some typos — it’s still morning in North America). Scenario 1 would involve an iPhone that I’ve been syncing (via the lightning cable) with my main music library on my iMac. I use the setting within iTunes that lets me check off certain playlists that I’ve created (e.g., Michael Gielen’s Mahler cycle) for syncing when I connect the iPhone to the iMac. Since there is two way syncing going on when I do this (play counts are updated and, as a result, changes are made to certain smart playlists on the iMac — e.g., ones that consist only of music with play counts of 0), I’m not sure whether this might lead to a corruption of the library.

      Regarding Feldman: unless I’m mistaken, Apple Music also has a second recording of the String Quartet #2, by another group (the SQ#2 is also great for long plane rides). There’s quite a lot of interesting music on iTunes, but trying to locate it can be difficult. It would seem that, even though Apple Music doesn’t display the composer field, the search function is aware of it (e.g., searching for “Morton Feldman” will turn up recordings that do not have his name in the title or performer field).

      • I’m going to remain very skeptical about anything to do with updates via iCloud Music Library. iTunes Match has been notorious for not updating correctly, and I have to assume that iCloud Music Library will have the same problems.

        There is a record of the SQ2 by the Ives Ensemble. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’ve added it to my iCloud Music Library library to give it a listen.

        There are some works which contain Feldman’s name, such as one by Takemitsu that you’ll find. By the way, if you don’t know Takemitsu, I strongly recommend checking out his music.

        See this article:

  3. If I have iTunes Match and don’t subscribe to Apple Music am I good to leave it on? I haven’t noticed anything screwed up with that combo. I have no desire to sign up for Apple Music as it seems pretty crappy next to Spotify for now as far as functionality and design.

    I don’t want my 8000k track library f’d up either.

    • It’s not about Apple Music, it’s iCloud Music Library. If you use iTunes Match, you have to turn on iCloud Music Library.

    • I wish I had of found the comment first. I had a itunes consisting of 6900 songs a new lovely gift of 128gb ipod touch from my old ipod classic at like 120 i think. I had both the match and apple music. Lost all my personal music with the exception of a few hundred and to b honest i still dont get why if its my music. My cds. I copied them to the itunes dang it. I dont even have some of these now. It ticked me beyond off. The computer had stopped working too…i about died right there. Im def buying a TB drive to back my music up. I finally turned the cloud crap off and music and i currently have like 6700 songs. Smh only bc my computer and itunes tend to lose tracks but they are actually there. I just need to figure out how to sync with out readding the whole friggin library… Takes hours

  4. A brief report on my experiment with Scenario 2:

    I turned on the iCloud Library on a new MacBook Air that had an empty iTunes library and, when I looked in the My Music tab I saw links to a few items that I’d added while using Apple Music on my iPhone and my iPad. But I also saw various items were in the iTunes library on my iMac, greyed out but with the cloud icon next to them. Figuring that this couldn’t be good news (as we know from Ghostbusters, it’s bad to cross the streams, at least until it turns out to be good to cross them), I turned off the iCloud Library option on my Air.

    Since I haven’t updated iTunes on my iMac (and never subscribed to iTunes Match), my main library should be safe. But I’m a bit unnerved that there seems to be a complete list of the items in my iTunes library residing in the cloud, just waiting to be matched up. Creepy, eh?

    Thanks for reminding me about Takemitsu — I’d heard some of his music live at the Boston Symphony during the Ozawa days, but didn’t much take to it. I’ll give it a try. Apple Music also seems to be quite well stocked with Kurtag, who is very much worth hearing.

    • “But I also saw various items were in the iTunes library on my iMac, greyed out but with the cloud icon next to them.” These were almost certainly songs that you purchased from iTunes in the past with that account. If you add the iCloud Status column to your view (which you can do by right-clicking on the header line) you would see the status “Purchased”.

      • The bulk of them weren’t songs that I’d purchased from iTunes but instead were tracks and playlists from my iPad, which I’d synced with my iMac. The iPad was the first device I’d set up to use Apple Music and I’d checked the option to make use of the iCloud Library (I’d installed and activated it prior to Kirk’s warnings).

        • Right, you had the same problem I did. iCloud Music Library sucked up everything on the device and added it to the library, but treated them all as Apple Music tracks.

  5. So I’m a fellow Yes-to-Apple Music, No-to-iCloud Library user here. (We need a catchier name.) I’m willing to live with the limited functionality that comes with this, but I don’t get one thing: why can’t I make playlists of streamed Apple Music tracks like I can with Spotify? I don’t need to mix my music with Apple’s and I don’t need to download the tracks for offline use. I just want to make some online playlists of Apple Music tracks that I can listen to on my Macs and iOS devices. If I cancel Apple Music, I’m okay losing those playlists. Spotify makes this easy, and it seems like it should be easy here, too. Maybe this is coming in a future update?

      • I know, but there’s no reason that I can think of for why. There’s nothing in this feature that makes it specific to iCloud Music Library’s functionality. I can listen to Apple Music perfectly fine without iCloud Music Library; there’s no reason I can find for why I can’t just make playlists out of that music.

        Since I can do this easily with Spotify (and have no worries about Spotify screwing up my 60,000-song library), I may just cancel Apple Music and go back to Spotify once the trial is over.

        • I second this emotion, iCloud music library seems to be a function for matching music. I just want to create a simple playlist.

  6. I have an idea! If, like me, your music is important to you. I have 24,000+ songs and a lot of playlists in my library right now that I would rather not get messed up. I also use iTunes Match, so I had to get below the 25,000, and I also use Apple Music. Let me start with that, thus far, I have not suffered any issues. That said I did have some early growing pains with iTunes Match which required me to start from scratch. Which perhaps may contribute to my later Apple Music success? I have no idea.

    What I do know is that my music is important to me and because of that it is backed up five places in three ways. The entire iTunes folder structure is backed up on two Time Machine backups, one to a local USB drive, and the other to 3GB Time Capsule. The second is a monthly image of the entire HD of the computer backed up to a second local USB drive using Carbon Copy Cloner. Third are the original ripped files stored on yet a 3rd drive as the emergency “all my Apple stuff stopped working” back-up. This in turn is backed up on my unlimited Microsoft One Drive business account.

    Because of this crazy focus on making sure I never lose years worth of music and hours of ripping from hundreds of CD’s when iTunes Match messed up my stuff I was able to go back and trouble shoot and finally corrected the issue over a period of a few hours. It wasn’t pretty, I shouldn’t have had to do it, but since I was a programmer, and now software product manager, I know stuff happens! Worse in the consumer space, there are things that no matter how long or broad the beta program, that will cause data loss. It WILL happen. The only question is will it be you.

    If your music is important, your videos, your photos, anything, than BACK IT UP! You can roll back with Time Machine, you can re-image with your previous month’s content and then update forward, you can delete as I did, and start from scratch armed with new knowledge that prevents the issue form occurring.

    What I don’t get is these people who are ranting claiming their music means EVERYTHING to them and how the evil Apple Music destroyed it, yet they didn’t back up. At all! As if thir spinning HD or SSD won’t also develop an issue and perhaps die taking all their music with it.

    Back up! Think through a logical troubleshooting process in the event os a catastrophic loss of data and ensure you have the right back-ups to provide you the means to get back to where you were in the shortest possible time and with the least trouble.

    Once you do that you can turn on what ever you like and see how it works for you and the nuances of your machine, your library content, the metadata, etc., and judge these services for yourself.

    As for me…again, no issues, all is well…but if issues were to befall me, you won;t find me ranting on my bog, I’ll be focused on making things right again while I generate a bug report to Apple.

    Carry on!

    • “you won’t find me ranting on my blog. i’ll just be ranting on someone else’s review to make myself feel important”

  7. I wish Apple Music can be independent streaming music service with availability off line listening like Spotify premium. Too many hastle, my curated list of top 100 music from many era and genre also being truncated due to availability of the music in Apple Music. Hate this, moreover Car Play also reporting No Content playlist, which in this case is not true.

  8. I listen to most of my music on my phone and I organise it into playlists so that I can just let it play and not have to worry about changing songs. When I synced my phone after getting Apple Music, the playlists that I previously used no longer sync to my phone when I have iCloud Music Library turned on. Turning it off, for me, defeats the point of having apple music as my network coverage isn’t good enough to stream music on the go with any consistency so being able to make songs available offline is a must. Is there a way I can use Apple Music with iCloud Music Library turned on and still keep my iTunes Library playlists on my phone?

  9. Based on the comments, it looks like you posted this advice a year ago. It’s now July 2016, my iTunes is now up to version 12.4, and the general prefs page has a checkbox for “Show Apple Music” but no checkbox for iCloud.

    I’m still having sync problems… after trying every combination of quits, restarts, reboots, restores & so on, I exported a playlist with all the music on my iPhone, then trashed the entire phone library and re-installed. iTunes apparently went from oldest to newest, but refused to load 499 files. Eventually (and I don’t know why) it did copy them over (having erased all the greyed-out files that didn’t load in the first place)… but this time it left out a couple of dozen newer, but not newest files, very randomly. I had cleared out some apps, leaving 5 or 6 gigs free, so it’s not a capacity problem.

    Apple may never get this straight, but I’m hoping you can.

  10. I’m unclear about prices listed by individual tracks for downloading vs. tracks eligible for listening via Apple Music. How can I stream a track to an iPod (I have 6-7) or an iPhone without fear that it will show as a charge on my bill?

    I accepted the trial membership and didn’t use it once. Now I’m paying for it with no idea about how to use it. (I don’t want any pre-programmed lists of tunes.) Also, assuming I find the Apple Music tunes, to what extent can I use a file? Can it be used on any Apple computer with iTunes as well as iPod and iPhone? Can it be accessed via an android tablet or Echo? (the latter a “smart radio”).

    iTunes used to be intuitive. I once burned hundreds of CDs of my favorite jazz artists using the left side of the iTunes screen. Now the right side has become involved. Most importantly, I cannot even load my own broadcasts. Every attempt produces the following warning:

    “Some of the files were not copied to the iPod “Sam Chell’s iPod Touch 6” because iCloud Music Library is enabled on this iPod.”

    I can’t make any sense out of the above. Is it saying that my subscriptions to Match, Apple Music and Apple Storage PROHIBIT me from loading any files not purchased from Apple?

    If it’s a choice between those three Apple features (Match, Apple Music, iCloud storage) and having any personal control of the music on my Apple products, I’m afraid I’ll have to cancel all of my Apple subscriptions immediately.

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