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.

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