Radical Approach Fixes Many iTunes Sync Problems with iOS Devices

There are lots of problems syncing iOS devices with iTunes 12. I’ve written about this many times, and this article has more than 160 comments, at the time of this writing, explaining the many problems that people are experiencing.

You’ll find a number of possible solutions to these issues on the web, some of which work for a handful of people. I’ve been researching this for a while, and I think I have found what is wrong, and how to fix syncing.

Two specific issues led me to my solution. The first was when I found that some of my album artwork was replaced during syncs. The artwork that was shown is not even in my iTunes library: it’s the Bob Dylan The Collection artwork you can see below, which was added to many of my Dylan albums, all purchased from the iTunes Store. (In the article linked just above, I go into great detail about the process, and about how iOS devices “phone home.”)

Music app landscape

Similar artwork was added to my Pink Floyd albums, and some other purchased tracks.

The second was when I found that my iPhone was displaying an incorrect artist for all my Bob Dylan music: it showed “Bob Dylan & Grateful Dead” for every track by Bob Dylan, even though I don’t have that artist name in my iTunes library.

Dylan not gratefulI’m pretty confident now that I have found why this is happening: it is because iOS devices contact the iTunes Store, and download some information – incorrectly, in many cases – during syncs. This explains why non-iOS devices – iPod classic, nano, or shuffle – don’t have these problems. Also, I think that the connection to the iTunes Store can be problematic, leading to syncs timing out, not completing, or taking several hours.

Some weeks ago, I had a few readers test the following procedure. Most told me that it resolved their issues, but a couple said it didn’t. I wasn’t able to find out exactly what was happening for those whose sync problems continued, so there may be other issues as well.

If you have intractable sync problems with an iOS device, you may want to try this procedure and see if it helps. Let me be very clear: I don’t think this fixes all problems syncing iOS devices with iTunes, but I believe that a large number of them are caused by iOS devices contacting the iTunes Store during the sync. Your sync issue may be different. If you’re hesitant to try this out, don’t.

WARNING: YOU MAY LOSE DATA WHEN PERFORMING THIS PROCEDURE. I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY DATA LOSS. MAKE SURE TO BACK UP YOUR ITUNES LIBRARY AND YOUR IOS DEVICE BEFORE PERFORMING THIS PROCEDURE.

THIS PROCEDURE MAY TAKE A LONG TIME. I SUGGEST THAT YOU RESTORE THE DEVICE WHICH MEANS YOU ERASE IT ENTIRELY AND LOAD A BACKUP. DO NOT START THIS PROCEDURE IF YOU DON’T HAVE PLENTY OF TIME.

IF THERE IS ANYTHING IN THE PROCEDURE BELOW THAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, GO NO FURTHER.

Please follow these steps very carefully. You should be running the latest versions of iTunes 12, and iOS. You’ll need to do the syncs below via USB; wi-fi syncing won’t work.

  1. Turn off music syncing. To do this, connect your device to iTunes, select it, and click Music in the sidebar. Uncheck Music, click Sync, and wait for iTunes to delete all your music. This may take a while if you have a lot of music.
  2. Back up your device to iTunes. To do this, select your device in iTunes, click Summary, and click Back Up Now. If you back up your device using iCloud, please go to its Settings app, then iCloud, and turn off iCloud backup. Return to iTunes and manually back up the device.
  3. Restore the device. On the Summary tab, click the Restore [device] button. After the restore procedure has completed, load the backup that you saved in step 2.
  4. Before you start syncing music, put your device in Airplane Mode. You can do this from the Settings app, or from Control Center. It’s very important that the device be in Airplane Mode until the sync has completed so it cannot make any network connections to the iTunes Store.
  5. Turn music syncing back on; check Music again, in the same place you unchecked it in step 1.
  6. Click Sync, and let iTunes sync your music.
  7. Disconnect the device, and turn Airplane Mode off.

With my iPhone, and with most of the people who tested this, syncs worked correctly. It resolved both of my issues with tags – album art and artist name – and for most of my testers, it resolved issues such as Waiting for Changes to Be Applied, and other problems.

Assuming this works correctly, you may need to put your iOS device in Airplane Mode each time you sync, at least if there’s any new content being added to the device. My main sync issues lately only affect purchased tracks – such as my Dylan, Pink Floyd, and others – and once they’ve been synced, they won’t change again. If they do change, it’s likely that the device will connect to the iTunes Store, and pull down incorrect tags again.

This is, as I say, a radical procedure, so don’t try it if you don’t understand everything you’re doing.

Please comment below if you have tried this procedure: I need to know if it works, but also if it doesn’t.

56 thoughts on “Radical Approach Fixes Many iTunes Sync Problems with iOS Devices

  1. Hi Kirk. When iTunes changed the Artist tag on your tracks, did this also cause the Date Modified tag value to change?

    • iTunes doesn’t make the change; the iOS device does. So there’s nothing in my iTunes library about that change.

      • Thanks Kirk. I haven’t noticed iTunes changing my artwork or artist tags, so was looking for an easy way to spot the changes. Guess I’ll have to look manually. But I do have the “Waiting for sync to start” problem often. I’ll have to try your solution …

  2. Hi Kirk. When iTunes changed the Artist tag on your tracks, did this also cause the Date Modified tag value to change?

    • iTunes doesn’t make the change; the iOS device does. So there’s nothing in my iTunes library about that change.

      • Thanks Kirk. I haven’t noticed iTunes changing my artwork or artist tags, so was looking for an easy way to spot the changes. Guess I’ll have to look manually. But I do have the “Waiting for sync to start” problem often. I’ll have to try your solution …

  3. I have the same issue and have tried to trouble-shoot with Apple techs to no avail. For me, iTunes changes all the artist tags for Alison Krauss but not Alison Krauss & Union Station. This has been driving me crazy. Still crazy, but I at least know why.

  4. I have the same issue and have tried to trouble-shoot with Apple techs to no avail. For me, iTunes changes all the artist tags for Alison Krauss but not Alison Krauss & Union Station. This has been driving me crazy. Still crazy, but I at least know why.

  5. Wow, thanks! I switched to an iPhone 6 for my music after my iPod Classic died half a year ago – and immediately descended into sync hell (as has been much discussed here and elsewhere on the web). This approach fixed all of the issues I was having – music not syncing, album artwork not syncing, syncs aborting for no apparent reason. I would have never thought to put airplane mode on during a sync, but once I did that it was just like syncing my iPod Classic (may it rest in peace) – no problems whatsoever.

  6. Wow, thanks! I switched to an iPhone 6 for my music after my iPod Classic died half a year ago – and immediately descended into sync hell (as has been much discussed here and elsewhere on the web). This approach fixed all of the issues I was having – music not syncing, album artwork not syncing, syncs aborting for no apparent reason. I would have never thought to put airplane mode on during a sync, but once I did that it was just like syncing my iPod Classic (may it rest in peace) – no problems whatsoever.

    • No, it’s not just an issue with Wi-Fi sync, as I’ve had that turned off for quite some time and was still having many sync problems, that were fixed by turning on Airplane mode before connecting to iTunes.

    • No, it’s not just an issue with Wi-Fi sync, as I’ve had that turned off for quite some time and was still having many sync problems, that were fixed by turning on Airplane mode before connecting to iTunes.

  7. When I go to itunes, I cannot even see my device so cannot seem to backup my iphone. I am not looking at backing up music or videos as I have none, just photos taken with my iphone 6.

    • I had the same problem. Do you have iOS9? iTunes on my iMac said there was no music on my phone but the phone said different. Then I remembered this problem I had with downloading apps right after installing iOS 9, and the solution was to go to the Music app and sign into iTunes there. So I tried signing OUT of iTunes in the Music app and voila — all the music disappeared at once.

    • Same problem too…cannot even see my device to sync. Always says invalid response from device. I’ve tired everyone’s suggestions ie. airplane mode, etc.

  8. When I go to itunes, I cannot even see my device so cannot seem to backup my iphone. I am not looking at backing up music or videos as I have none, just photos taken with my iphone 6.

    • I had the same problem. Do you have iOS9? iTunes on my iMac said there was no music on my phone but the phone said different. Then I remembered this problem I had with downloading apps right after installing iOS 9, and the solution was to go to the Music app and sign into iTunes there. So I tried signing OUT of iTunes in the Music app and voila — all the music disappeared at once.

    • Same problem too…cannot even see my device to sync. Always says invalid response from device. I’ve tired everyone’s suggestions ie. airplane mode, etc.

  9. I’ve just noticed that in Preferences in iTunes 12, under “Store Preferences”, there’s an option “Share details about your library with Apple”. If the problem is with iTunes contacting the iTunes Store during syncs, then is it possible that unchecking this option might help?

  10. I’ve just noticed that in Preferences in iTunes 12, under “Store Preferences”, there’s an option “Share details about your library with Apple”. If the problem is with iTunes contacting the iTunes Store during syncs, then is it possible that unchecking this option might help?

  11. I started your procedure. I got as far as step one. iTunes won’t remove all of the music from my iPhone 5. (It seems like it removed SOME, but dozens, maybe hundreds of songs are still there. Strangely enough, the songs I play most are the ones it deleted.

  12. I started your procedure. I got as far as step one. iTunes won’t remove all of the music from my iPhone 5. (It seems like it removed SOME, but dozens, maybe hundreds of songs are still there. Strangely enough, the songs I play most are the ones it deleted.

  13. i can’t delete my song off the iPhone from the iMac while it sync, the delete drop down menu is greyed out

  14. i can’t delete my song off the iPhone from the iMac while it sync, the delete drop down menu is greyed out

  15. My iPod Touch 5 has the same problem. It shows a new picture for the Artist/Album at the top and a tiny pic of my original midway down. I like to make compilations and make my own thumbnails so this is quite annoying. This didn’t happen until I logged onto the Apple store using my iPod Touch 5!

  16. My iPod Touch 5 has the same problem. It shows a new picture for the Artist/Album at the top and a tiny pic of my original midway down. I like to make compilations and make my own thumbnails so this is quite annoying. This didn’t happen until I logged onto the Apple store using my iPod Touch 5!

  17. I also have had trouble getting my iPhone to complete the sync to iTunes and I tried your method. I had some issues completing the first three steps (since I have problems completing the sync… duh!), but finally succeeded and easily completed the rest of the procedure. It worked well and I have subsequently synced the phone to iTunes simply by placing it in airplane mode first. Thanks for your advice!

  18. I also have had trouble getting my iPhone to complete the sync to iTunes and I tried your method. I had some issues completing the first three steps (since I have problems completing the sync… duh!), but finally succeeded and easily completed the rest of the procedure. It worked well and I have subsequently synced the phone to iTunes simply by placing it in airplane mode first. Thanks for your advice!

  19. Ever since i updated to iOS 8 on my iPod Touch I dealt with that ridiculous sync problem. It would simply not transfer music from iTunes. Spent countless hours on trying whatever the web suggested, but nothing helped. Now the airplane mode did it! There was no need for the other steps, although I might have applied them in an earlier attempt to fix the issue.
    I can’t believe I have a usable iPod now! Thank you so much!

  20. Ever since i updated to iOS 8 on my iPod Touch I dealt with that ridiculous sync problem. It would simply not transfer music from iTunes. Spent countless hours on trying whatever the web suggested, but nothing helped. Now the airplane mode did it! There was no need for the other steps, although I might have applied them in an earlier attempt to fix the issue.
    I can’t believe I have a usable iPod now! Thank you so much!

  21. Ok. I have about 2000 songs (fairly smaller than most of you, I know) carefully maintained and curated solely by myself. And I use iTunes 12 almost from day 1, when syncing with iPad and iPhone. So far I don’t have this issue. Maybe I am lucky enough. Or perhaps apple is not good at Japanese, while almost every single song is Japanese song.

    Even now Japanese iTunes Store doesn’t cover many contents I want to know or hear. But also thanks for that, searching artwork on Apple iTunes Store often return nothing. And for very few times, iTunes Store would locate correct album artwork and embed it to my music, but that is all.

    I am glad to see that I don’t need to take this prolong procedure to keep everything back to normal, although I have encountered many times iTunes refuse to sync some songs because contents on iPhone is broken. I often end up using software like iexplorer to delete iPhone library, and retry.

  22. Ok. I have about 2000 songs (fairly smaller than most of you, I know) carefully maintained and curated solely by myself. And I use iTunes 12 almost from day 1, when syncing with iPad and iPhone. So far I don’t have this issue. Maybe I am lucky enough. Or perhaps apple is not good at Japanese, while almost every single song is Japanese song.

    Even now Japanese iTunes Store doesn’t cover many contents I want to know or hear. But also thanks for that, searching artwork on Apple iTunes Store often return nothing. And for very few times, iTunes Store would locate correct album artwork and embed it to my music, but that is all.

    I am glad to see that I don’t need to take this prolong procedure to keep everything back to normal, although I have encountered many times iTunes refuse to sync some songs because contents on iPhone is broken. I often end up using software like iexplorer to delete iPhone library, and retry.

  23. I am using iTunes 12.3 and have IOS 9 and when I plug any of my devices in, my iTunes does not see any of the devices. Since upgrading iTunes does not see my devices let alone I cannot sync either. So frustrated. I have tried removing and reinstalling iTunes and still nothing. Any help of suggestions would be a greatly appreciated.

  24. I am using iTunes 12.3 and have IOS 9 and when I plug any of my devices in, my iTunes does not see any of the devices. Since upgrading iTunes does not see my devices let alone I cannot sync either. So frustrated. I have tried removing and reinstalling iTunes and still nothing. Any help of suggestions would be a greatly appreciated.

  25. Does this work for books? I put ebooks on my dad’s ipad for him all the time, and suddenly they stopped syncing. I am currently updating everything for him to see if that helps as well.

  26. Does this work for books? I put ebooks on my dad’s ipad for him all the time, and suddenly they stopped syncing. I am currently updating everything for him to see if that helps as well.

  27. Well your article did the trick for me. I’m a very low tech senior citizen and just got my iPod Touch (Gen 6). When I synched it to my iTunes Library (never Wi-Fi or iCloud), it gave me iTunes’ digital box artwork. So, I switched to Airplane mode, re-synched my 1322 songs which took about 10 minutes…then all MY artwork showed in the iPod thumbnails. Then by shutting off Airplane mode, I can do Email, internet surfing, etc. And, my artwork stays, it won’t come back unless I synch with Airplane mode off…so the easiest thing is to simply switch to Airplane mode before synching; then, turn off to use other iPod features.

  28. Well your article did the trick for me. I’m a very low tech senior citizen and just got my iPod Touch (Gen 6). When I synched it to my iTunes Library (never Wi-Fi or iCloud), it gave me iTunes’ digital box artwork. So, I switched to Airplane mode, re-synched my 1322 songs which took about 10 minutes…then all MY artwork showed in the iPod thumbnails. Then by shutting off Airplane mode, I can do Email, internet surfing, etc. And, my artwork stays, it won’t come back unless I synch with Airplane mode off…so the easiest thing is to simply switch to Airplane mode before synching; then, turn off to use other iPod features.

  29. you need to add a note with the latest version of IOS 10 and ITUNES 12 that you will need to LOG OFF from ITUNES on your IPHONE. If you put the phone in AIRPLANE MODE and you also LOG OFF from ITUNES all on the iphone side you can get the sync to work every time. no matter what you do. No matter what changes you make to the iphone.

    • unfortunately you also need to un -check the MUSIC sync on the TUNES side and run a cycle to dump all music, then turn it back on the reinstall all music. sync does not work normal on the iphone and itunes.

  30. you need to add a note with the latest version of IOS 10 and ITUNES 12 that you will need to LOG OFF from ITUNES on your IPHONE. If you put the phone in AIRPLANE MODE and you also LOG OFF from ITUNES all on the iphone side you can get the sync to work every time. no matter what you do. No matter what changes you make to the iphone.

    • unfortunately you also need to un -check the MUSIC sync on the TUNES side and run a cycle to dump all music, then turn it back on the reinstall all music. sync does not work normal on the iphone and itunes.

  31. Did NOT work for me. I followed all the steps above and updated both iTunes (to ver 12.6.2.209 – on my pc) and iPhone software (ver 10.3.3) and finally got all 7,458 tracks back on my iPhone 6 Plus. Now, instead of SOME of the artist icons not having artist icons, (seen on iPhone at iPhone>Music>Artists), NONE of them do! Every single last one of them is now gone. Clearly these are populated by connecting to iTunes Store (i.e. DISABLING Airplane Mode and allowing a connection to iTunes)!

  32. Did NOT work for me. I followed all the steps above and updated both iTunes (to ver 12.6.2.209 – on my pc) and iPhone software (ver 10.3.3) and finally got all 7,458 tracks back on my iPhone 6 Plus. Now, instead of SOME of the artist icons not having artist icons, (seen on iPhone at iPhone>Music>Artists), NONE of them do! Every single last one of them is now gone. Clearly these are populated by connecting to iTunes Store (i.e. DISABLING Airplane Mode and allowing a connection to iTunes)!

  33. The advice above was very helpful (“wipe the device and start again”). One comment: for those like me who prefer not to use iCloud, and who are therefore not very familiar with how deep it goes in various sync processes, I hadn’t realised that when you initialise a new i-device it defaults to syncing to iCloud, which caused me major problems in trying to run a successful sync through iTunes. The 4th time I ran the whole process, I realised that as soon as I renamed the device to the name that iCloud knew it ran a sync. The 5th time I ran the whole process, with iCloud sync turned OFF, it all worked the way it’s supposed to. I’m not a fan of iCloud except for its essential device management functions, for the same reason as people above have avoided iMatch. There were warnings about iMatch when it was first released, and based on comments above those warnings still apply (and, for different reasons, iCloud can also cause unexpected and undesirable outcomes).

  34. The advice above was very helpful (“wipe the device and start again”). One comment: for those like me who prefer not to use iCloud, and who are therefore not very familiar with how deep it goes in various sync processes, I hadn’t realised that when you initialise a new i-device it defaults to syncing to iCloud, which caused me major problems in trying to run a successful sync through iTunes. The 4th time I ran the whole process, I realised that as soon as I renamed the device to the name that iCloud knew it ran a sync. The 5th time I ran the whole process, with iCloud sync turned OFF, it all worked the way it’s supposed to. I’m not a fan of iCloud except for its essential device management functions, for the same reason as people above have avoided iMatch. There were warnings about iMatch when it was first released, and based on comments above those warnings still apply (and, for different reasons, iCloud can also cause unexpected and undesirable outcomes).

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