Why iTunes 12.2 Changed Metadata, Artwork and iCloud Status for Files in Some Users’ iTunes Libraries

When iTunes 12.2 was released, a number of users found that their music libraries were mangled. Artwork was different, tags had been changed, and, most distressingly, many tracks that were in iTunes Match prior to the update showed as Apple Music tracks, meaning that they would have DRM when downloaded.

Early this week, Apple released iTunes 12.2.1, which claimed to fix some of these issues:

– Fixes an issue for iTunes Match where iTunes incorrectly changed some songs from Matched to Apple Music.
– Provides a way to correct a library problem affecting former iTunes Match subscribers.

Yet it did not resolve my problems.

I discussed this issue with some knowledgeable people, who helped me understand what happened in my case, and with many other users. Seeing the conditions that caused it made me realize that it was a limited problem. However, there is no solution, and it does raise a couple of questions as to why iTunes and iOS acted the way they did.

Context

The context of my situation is important to understand why iCloud Music Library perturbed my music library so much. I have an iMac which holds my main music library, around 70,000 tracks. This library is too large to use with iTunes Match, so I’ve never turned that service on on the iMac. Instead, I use a smaller, test library on my MacBook Pro to be able to use and test iTunes Match.

The iMac syncs to my iPhone, which is the device I use most to listen to music. I also have an iPod touch, again, used for testing, which used iTunes Match.

When iTunes 12.2 and iOS 8.4 were released, I installed the former on the MacBook Pro, not wanting to risk installing it on my iMac right away. I installed iOS 8.4 on all my devices. On my iPhone, I don’t recall whether iCloud Music Library was on by default, or whether I was asked to turn it on. In any case, I did turn it on, and that’s what caused all the problems.

iCloud Music Library

iCloud Music Library is the umbrella for iTunes Match, iTunes in the Cloud, and the cloud library element of Apple Music. The goal of iCloud Music Library is laudable: to ensure that you have all your music available on all your devices, at all times. Naturally, this comes at a price: you need to have network access to download or stream your music, and if you have bandwidth caps, you may be constrained. But the principle is one of blurring the lines between what is local and what is remote.

As such, iCloud Music Library takes a bit of a sledgehammer approach to your music. When you turn it on, it is supposed to ask if you want to merge your existing music with iCloud Music Library or replace your device’s music, but I did not see this message on my iPhone when I turned it on, and I have never seen it on my Mac. (I have turned iCloud Music Library off and on several times on my MacBook Pro while testing.) I do see it now on my iPod touch, which is running a beta version of iOS 9.


Merge replace

iTunes 12.2 converted my existing iTunes Match library – the one on the MacBook Pro, and synced via the cloud to my iPod Touch – to an iCloud Music Library.

When iCloud Music Library was activated on my iPhone, the music it contained, that was not yet on my MacBook Pro, was added to my iCloud Music Library, and it propagated to the other devices. (But not to the iMac, which I hadn’t yet updated to iTunes 12.2, and which had never had iTunes Match turned on.) It was this mixture of content from two devices – the MacBook Pro’s iTunes Match library, and the music that had been synced to my iPhone – that caused problems.

How iCloud Music Library Matches Files

Your iCloud Music Library can accept files from all your devices. First, your Mac or PC, running iTunes, sends information about the files in its library to Apple’s servers. These files are matched with files in the iTunes Store or Apple Music library using digital fingerprinting (if you have an iTunes Match subscription) which essentially scans the music, not just the tags identifying the tracks. If you don’t have an iTunes Match subscription, this matching is based on tags alone: the song name, artist, and album. If matches are found, they’re added to your iCloud Music Library as such. If they can’t be matched, the files are uploaded.

Files on your iOS devices are also added to your iCloud Music Library; and that’s where things went wrong. When I turned on iCloud Music Library on my iPhone, the device sent information about all its tracks to Apple’s servers, and these tracks were added to my iCloud Music Library. Files aren’t fingerprinted on iOS devices; The iOS device only uses tags to identify songs, which can lead to lots of mismatches when there are multiple versions of tracks.

For example, a playlist of Bill Evans tracks on the iPhone got added to my iCloud Music Library as metadata matches. These were all live recordings of Evans in his final year, from three box sets, but whose “albums” I had named according to the dates they were played.

The tracks were matched, the album names were not changed, and iCloud Music Library “found” artwork that matched albums which contained those tracks. Here’s the original artwork:


Bill Evans artwork

Here’s what iCloud Music Library showed me:


Bill Evans iCloud music library

iCloud Music Library matched these tracks using metadata – without fingerprinting – finding some albums that had songs with the same names, but simply got it wrong. That also explains why some of my Bob Dylan artwork was incorrect:


Apple music album artwork

Note the artwork for the Dylan album Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid; that’s from a best of album. Planet Waves, Shot of Love, and Side Tracks show artwork from the album Biography. And the artwork for Real Live is as wrong as possible. The soundtrack for Silver Linings Playbook does contain a Dylan song, Girl of the North Country, but the original studio version of that track from Nashville Skyline. Why the metadata matching turned up that particular album instead of the many other Dylan albums that contain the song is a mystery to me.

About Those Apple Music Files with DRM

So why were so many of my tracks showing in iCloud Music Library as Apple Music tracks with DRM? The metadata matching that occurred on the iPhone meant that iCloud Music Library could not verify whether the tracks that device contained were my original rips or tracks that I may have downloaded from Apple Music for offline listening. As such, it assumes the latter, adding them to my library as Apple Music files.

If it didn’t do this, you could download a couple thousand songs from Apple Music, turn off iCloud Music Library, and then turn it back on, and those songs would sync to your library as Matched tracks, without DRM. In other words, it would be trivial to get DRM-free copies of anything in the Apple Music library.

What Went Wrong

As you can see above, the problem was not iCloud Music Library in general, but the way it added tracks from my iPhone. I was not alone in having this problem, and, since so many other tech journalists also had these issues, I speculate that many of them are in situations similar to mine. They have multiple devices, and even, perhaps, test libraries, and iCloud Music Library did what it was supposed to do, but that behavior, designed for the “average user,” caused problems for people whose music libraries are complex.

A DJ site reported these problems, a long MacRumors forum thread discusses them, and a musician reported that Apple Music “screwed up [his] entire discography”.

This said, there have been problems with iTunes Match and the way it matches music since that feature was introduced. Sometimes it matches a track on a different album from the one you have in your library, and provides a slightly different version of a song. In some cases, artwork is changed. But this isn’t limited to iTunes Match; iOS devices phone home, and can change your album artwork when you sync music to them.

What should have happened is the following:

  • If iCloud Music Library was turned on by default, it should not have been.
  • When turning on iCloud Music Library, there should be a dialog asking if you want to merge or replace your library. This is something that I did not see after installing iOS 8.4 on my iPhone, and have never seen on my Mac, even though Apple’s support document claims that you should be asked this.
  • There should be a way to recover from this sort of issue. It’s not enough to have a backup; my iCloud Music Library is now a mess, and the only solution is to delete much or all of the music. Fortunately, in my case, this is a test library.

Now that I understand what happened, and why it happened, I can see that the process does make sense. Apple’s goal is to ensure that all your music is accessible from all your devices. Mine is certainly an edge case, but, judging from the number of emails I’ve received, and comments to articles on this website, there are plenty of other people in the same boat as me. (Though that’s an infinitesimal number compared to the total iTunes user base.)

As I’ve said elsewhere, “My music library is sacred. I’ve spent a lot of time ripping CDs, tagging files, and adding artwork.” When something like this does go wrong, the fix can be complicated and time consuming. This is a reminder that if you have a carefully curated music library, you should always have backups.

33 thoughts on “Why iTunes 12.2 Changed Metadata, Artwork and iCloud Status for Files in Some Users’ iTunes Libraries

  1. Great explanation, thank you for getting to the bottom of this!

    If I understand correctly, artwork could be messed up on an iOS device for anyone who (1) has music on the iOS device, synced from iTunes and (2) activates iCloud music library on the iOS device (before doing so on the computer with iTunes) choosing “merge” rather than replace.

    I would not call this a limited problem — it is likely to affect a lot of people.

    If the iCloud music library is activated as “replace” on the iOS device (not merged), and then activated on the computer to permit matching, the artwork and tags problem would be avoided, correct? Tracks subsequently downloaded to the iOS device would come down to the device with correct artwork?

    Once iCloud library is activated on the iOS device, what happens if there is an attempt to sync with the computer? Or is syncing no longer possible when the library is activated?

    • I’m not sure how many people were affected, but it seems to only have affected those with different content in their iCloud Music Library and on their iOS device.

      If you sync the device later, you need to turn off iCloud Music Library. But if you turn it back on, and you’ve added content not in your iCloud Music Library, then you’ll have the same problem.

      • I encountered the same issues, but don’t believe I had different content in the iCloud Music Library and affected iOS device when I initially enabled iCloud Music Library.

        Chronologically, I updated to 8.4, enabled iCloud Music Library, presumably selected “merge,” and experienced the incorrect art and mismatched tracks for live recordings. I then disabled iCloud Music Library on the phone, confirmed that iTunes 12.2 reflected iCloud Music Library was disabled, and resynced phone to Mac, which corrected cover art issues.

        Am I now in a similar situation, however, if I enabled iCloud Music Library from iTunes? i.e. will the only fix be to delete the affected music from iTunes prior to enabling iCloud Music Library again?

        • Mike, turning off iCloud music library on the phone does not purge your iCloud library. The stuff you merged from your phone is still there. If you turn it on on the Mac, you may have some of the problems discussed. As Kirk mentioned, the “fix” doesn’t seem to fix everything. If you are thinking of turning it on at you Mac, I think you need to reset your iCloud music library first.

          • Stupid question: How do I reset my iCML? I’ve already restored a backup of my iTunes library on my Mac, so everything is fine there again. I’ve also disabled iCML on my iPhone.

            Does this mean I am going to start with a clean slate if I switch iCML back on in iTunes or does the slight mess that existed in my iCML still stored on Apple’s servers? I probably could wipe all music from my phone, then enable iCML on it and see if what is still in my iCML and if it still contains stuff, remove all of it. And then start afresh with enabling it in iTunes.

            The general message I get from your description is that with no music on iOS devices and enabling iCML first in in iTunes, the risk of things going wrong should be as low as possible.

            • Yes, that’s correct. But you may find if you wipe the phone that you still get some of its tracks in your iTunes library. You may need to manually delete them in order to straighten things out.

            • To reset the iCloud music library, I set up a new, empty library in iTunes, and turned on Icloud music library. Then I waited as it “delivered” all the music that was synced to the ICML from my phone, then deleted them all.

              There is supposed to be a “reset” button in “view my account”, but it was not showing up for me.

            • So this is unbelievably frustrating, but perhaps I still don’t understand the digital fingerprinting process.

              Like Chris, I did not see the “reset” option in View Account in iTunes, so (within iTunes) I disabled iCloud Music Library, deleted my iTunes library (and all related files), enabled iCloud Music Library, deleted my iCloud Music Library music. I then deleted all music on my iPhone, disabled/enabled iCloud Music Library on the phone to be sure nothing was there (and there was nothing).

              I waited a few hours to ensure that nothing was stuck somewhere in my iCloud Music Library waiting to screw everything up again. Within iTunes, I then added a live recording that should be “unmatchable.” The files were completely new that were not within my previous iTunes library.

              Surprisingly (or not), it again matched most songs to studio versions. It appears that the only way I can now listen to this music is by disabling iCloud Music Library, since I see that you cannot manually manage music with it enabled.

              Am I doing something wrong in this process? Per Kirk’s post, I was hoping that starting with a clean slate and beginning with iTunes, all these live recordings I would like to listen to would be uploaded instead of matched.

            • Mike, are you saying that even in iTunes you are forced to hear the mis-matched files?

              I did something similar to you — after resetting, i created a new library in iTunes with only one album. It matched incorrectly, but in iTunes the original was untouched. On the phone, I see the mis-matched artwork.

              So I think I am posting to the wrong comment thread. My iTunes library is untouched, but I am getting incorrect artwork on other devices. I guess these comments belong under Kirk’s post about artwork mismatches….

            • Chris, no I’m hearing the correct versions in iTunes, with correct artwork. However, on the phone, I see incorrect artwork *and* I hear the mismatched studio version of the song. Since iTunes matched incorrectly, the live version was not uploaded to my iCloud Music Library.

              So as of now, I’m unable to listen to that live version on my phone because: (a) Apple Music matched to a studio version that lives in the cloud, whereas the correct version only lives in my iTunes library; and (b) I can’t manually manage music from iTunes to iOS with iCloud Music Library enabled.

              In your scenario, are you only getting the mismatched artwork?

      • I don’t think that it’s just people in this situation it happened to.

        I have only one library. I have never used iTunes Match. My iPhone syncs to iTunes, and have the “all music” option chosen rather than specific playlists/artists etc. Most of my music is ripped CDs with some iTunes purchases.

        I think I’m boringly normal in my use of iTunes / iPhone music.

        I lost all of the songs out of all of my playlists on all devices (including iTunes, and I didn’t have backups). I lost more than half of my album art, on my iPhone and loads of the music just suddenly wasn’t there any more.

        It’s taken me ages to get my music back. I’ve tried it with iCML on and off, I’ve tried removing all the music from my iPhone and resyncing, I’ve tried resyncing over and over again to try to get it to put back the missing songs, and eventually I did a full reset of my iPhone.

        When I did this, my music synced across, but no songs from any artist beginning with the letter A appeared on my phone. No ABBA, no Adele, no Army of Lovers, no Árstíðir. Renaming to bABBA, resyncing made them appear. Renaming back to ABBA and resyncing, they stayed. Manual process…

        The playlists alone took me hours to recreate and of course there will be mistakes.

        From my perspective, Apple Music is a nightmare and I’m scared to even use it again in case everything gets screwed up.

        I’ll be avoiding permanently, or at least VERY long term until they acknowledge and address these issues (which knowing Apple may never happen, or at least they may address the issues but we’ll never know as they’re not big on acknowledging issues) which is a real shame because I was going to subscribe – Apple Music is great for my use-case. I love having access to full albums (eg: I have all of the Ultravox remastered albums on my phone) but usually I just listen to my favourites from a playlist and don’t listen long-form to the albums so I don’t really need them permanently on my phone – for the odd occasions when I do want them, streaming or downloading to listen offline would be fine.

        • …oh, and I’ve just discovered (joy) that it’s not just artists beginning with A (though ALL artists beginning with A, even if they’re in compilation albums were missing) but also a load of them from B (but somehow even more frustratingly, not all of them) and I’m guessing others as well.

          My music is screwed. How on earth do I get it back to how it was? Apple have lost so much of my good will here.

    • In answer to my own question, NO.

      Even if matching takes place on the computer, when the music is viewed on the iOS device, the artwork may be changed.

      Tried it by wiping my iCloud music library on Mac and iOS, then adding one problem album on Mac. After it matched, looked at it in iOS and artwork was wrong.

  2. Thanks for the explanation, Kirk. This was my issue as well. I didn’t want to turn on iCloud Library on my MacBook Pro (that has my main library, though I do have a backup of all the files on an exernal drive) until I tested it on my iPhone…which is where I ran into the same problems as you (mismatched artwork, live recordings “matched” to album recordings). Now I know that the first step is to start on the laptop, let it upload the correct versions of songs that Apple Music doesn’t have, and then turn on iCloud Library on the phone. This was a big obstacle to hurdle before committing to Apple Music, so thanks again.

    • I forgot to add that I DID get the Merge or Replace popup on my iPhone (even after turning iCloud Library on and off several times) and selected Merge.

  3. Thanks for the explanation. It makes sense but it remains a logical problem which I would like to see how Apple solve it.
    Had similar problems. I was careful enough not to turn Apple Music on on my main library, which is a media server on a Mac mini. I have a separate library on my MacBook Pro on which I did turn iCloud music on, and now it’s a mess. I don’t mind it that much because I don’t use it much. On my iPhone I turned Apple Music on, saw the mess and turned it back off, re-synced and now it looks like it used to be.
    I’m not sure what the solution should be, but I will continue syncing my iPhone with my media server for the time being.

  4. Sounds exactly what happened to me. I’m slowly re building my library by editing the track details directly onto the iCloud library…

    The file structure locally was changed to drastically to fix.

    Later in the year I finally have to bite the bullet and changed from the UK store to Australian store. I get a headache just thinking about it.

  5. In my library the covers and meta information were changed in a different way. A lot of albums showed the covers of totally different albums from other artists, so not just different recordings of the same artist. I also ended up with several identical entries for one artist, like ten artists which were all called “King Crimson”. It was so bizarre that I was glad to have a backup (which I do religiously). My experience with iTunes Match was kind of similar when it first came out. I didn’t use it since then. For me Apple and cloud services don’t get together. It just doesn’t work.

  6. Similar thing happened to me. I updated my phone to iOS 8.4 before I updated my iTunes to 12.2. Got a bunch of duplicated playlists, some weird metadata issues. Some play counts wiped out but the “Last Played” date remains. A bunch of rankings wiped out. Annoying.

  7. Kirk, I am sorry you have had to endure all this. Thank you, however, for chronicling it so helpfully.

    I, too, had iCloud Music Library turned on in my iOS 8.4 iPhone unknowingly. The phone syncs by cable to my iMac, which runs Yosemite 10.10.3 and iTunes 12.1.2.

    (I will not update either until the replacement for my faulty Time Machine drive — 10 days and counting on Disk Warrior, with 6,410 disk malfunctions so far — arrives and goes into service. I also have a cloud backup.)

    What I would like to know is, can delete my iCloud Music library?

    I would like to rid my iCloud Music Library of the songs that are on my iPhone and presumably were uploaded to the service. (I have not downloaded songs from Apple Music.) Eliminating the library itself would be even better.

    I plan to turn off my iMac’s iCloud Music Library immediately when I upgrade.

    Deleting my iCloud Music Library would make me more comfortable about upgrading Yosemite and iTunes. Is there a way to cleanse myself of iTunes Music Library?

    • I just updated my iPhone 5 from iOS 7.x to iOS 8.4 (on the way to iOS 9 Public Beta).

      I checked iCloud Music Library first thing. It was turned off, as installed by Apple.

  8. I’m in the EXACT same boat. I am beyond furious. I spent a good two hours online chatting with an Apple advisor who promised me time and time again they would help me fix it but after the first hour they were seemingly stumped as they took a lot longer to respond. Finally they got a senior advisor on the line to chat with me and they asked I download a “data capture.dmg” app so they could send the details to their iTunes engineers. I said I don’t feel comfortable downloading an app called “data capture” being I’m not aware of what data is captures. So basically I haven’t heard back from that person. I can’t Imagine Apple is going to be able to fix this. It just blows me away they could not have thought something like this out. Like no one said, “Hey, what do we have in place to ensure people who have paid money for the music we sell don’t lose their libraries when we sync it to the magical cloud?”. I mean I feel cheated. Music I paid for has essentially been damaged and not playable in it’s current status. For example I have music by Jack Johnson. I click on his name and it shows double tracks and I click one of the songs and it plays his music. The bottom copy of that song plays a song by Michael Buble and the album art changes when I play it but all the data says it’s a Jack Johnson song. It’s beyond frustrating and beyond that I don’t see how I can essentially keep a backup without having a ton of extra storage because I would need to completely backup my library which is large already. It’s just frustrating and as stated the only fix because that last iTunes update is garbage is to go track by track and I frankly don’t have time to do that. Thank you for this article. I am so glad I am not the only one and after everything I see there are a lot of others. I am going to tweet this article to Tim Cook and Cue. Nothing will happen though because my last name is not Swift but its worth a shot. They need to take some of that cash from overseas and hire some better engineers.

  9. I can’t reply directly to some of the comments above (there’s a limit as to how many levels the comments go). But here’s what I’ve found out in testing today, which explains the mismatches with the live tracks.

    iCloud Music Library seems to only use tag matching. I tried adding a file to my MacBook Pro running iTunes Match, and added a file where I had intentionally changed the tags. It matched a file with the tags I changed, not the music of the original file.

    I’ll be writing up something about this soon.

    • Thanks Kirk. That makes sense with how my live tracks are tagged. I was hopeful that the “digital fingerprinting” aspect would better differentiate, but this does not appear to be the case.

  10. It all makes sense, but the bigger question is this: why did Apple let this happen? If they don’t have access to the digital fingerprint of the music, why trust the dodgy process of “oh let’s just match what kind of looks like the tags and hope for the best”? If it’s not an exact match, why not just upload that music to be safe?

    • My understanding is that they do not upload anything from iOS devices. I can see two reasons for this. The first is data usage, it can take a long time to upload a lot of music. The second is uncertainty about the provenance of the files. All of this stuff is the placate the record labels, to prevent you from easily stealing lots of music from Apple Music.

  11. Sorry Kirk, I missed the last comment before mine. So they don’t even use digital fingerprinting? No wonder everything got so screwed up. How is Apple so far behind something like MusicBrainz?

  12. I’m so glad that apple does not develop safety critical software like aircraft control software. If that was the case, passengers would need a parachute, and in case of a crash, apple would say: well, you knew it could be lethal to fall down from great heights.
    What apple really wants from us is to subscribe to apple music, at any costs. Long time before you think about what’s good for you, they already made a plan to get their user ducks in a row. And for every argument against apple, they always keep saying: dude, you are doing it the wrong way. Yeah, i know, and it started, when i bought my first apple device.
    The way apple crashed my data in the last 10 years after itunes and os x updates never happened on my windows systems. Yes, i got backups, but after all there is so much waste of time involved, using their incredible amazing awesome new features.
    Apple: listen to users, or go to hell!

  13. I complained about this to Apple through my states attorney general. I have plenty of evidence to support my claim. My attorney general gave me a right to sue letter. I think we need to join together and create a class action lawsuit. This problem is more common than reported. I have since lost music I purchased on Itunes from subscribing to the cloud. When your subscription expires you no longer have acces to the cloud music that was matched and it removes it from your library. This happened to both purchased music and downloaded CDs. My library is about 17,000 songs. I spent a month twice rebuilding my library from scratch. I downloaded my extensive CD collection. Even after calling customer service 5 times between April and May of this year, none of their techniques worked. I value my music and it has gone to hell because of itunes and they refuse to acknowledge and accept the blame. This is my last straw. After many years of purchasing their products, Apple leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I avoid doing business with them whenever possible. Thanks for the posts, Apple tried hard to blame me for the reason my Itunes library is destroyed.

    • Count me in. I am in the EXACT same spot. I feel as if Apple took physical good I owned and damaged them then took a step back and tried to cover it up. My library is wrecked. It stemmed solely from uploading my library to Apple Music servers and their computers tried to figure the metadata for my music that was already organized and made it their own thus making a song from Michael Buble show up under Eminem. I am beyond pissed and even more pissed that Apple dropped the ball so hard on this and that their is not a class action lawsuit. As far as I’m concerned I want like $2,000 to completely re download my iTunes music so it is correct. If you need my contact info and want to file I am all in.

      • Count me in for any lawsuits. When I signed up for Apple Music, my music library was likewise destroyed and Apple support has had no intelligent response. Making matters worse, much worse, is after hours of manually fixing hundreds of song labels, I discovered that my Mac continued to ruin hundreds more in real time ( fight the fact that I turned off the cloud match).

        I am beyond angry as well and do not have any clue as to what I can do to remedy. This is such a significant issue I have honestly thought about showing up at Tim Cook’s house on a Saturday afternoon.

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