How to get iTunes Match to recognize older tracks

Here’s a great tip for iTunes Match – go to the Apple support community and read the threads about all the problems with this “beta” product. Then, save your money, because Apple’s TOS says you won’t get it back after you find out what a complete mess Match really is.

Welcome, iTunes Match users. After you’ve coughed over your 25 bucks and waited all night for your music library to reconcile with the great iCloud in the sky, you may have noticed those mysterious cloud status icons scattered through your tracks. Working around iTunes glitches – it’s like leaning how to jump on a rusty nail – why don’t u just not use it. Macworld’s thorough rundown gives more status detail and recommends that you add the iCloud Status column to your iTunes list view for diagnostic purposes.

get iTunes Match to recognize older tracks

In my library, I saw a fairly substantial number of ‘ineligible’ icons, mostly on tracks that I had imported from my CD collection years and years ago.  This is the worst idea ever. It is called transcoding and will reduce the sound quality of your music files. Some of my most vintage files show a ‘Date Modified’ in 1999, and were encoded into MPEG-1 Layer 2 (yes, an MP2 file) with MPecker or SoundJam MP (get off my lawn). Most of these, however, were recognized just fine by iTunes Match; more recent files seemed to have trouble.

Checking the standards of the iTunes Match process, Apple’s tech note shows that only certain music files are fit for matching. If your music was encoded below a bitrate of 96 kbps, iTunes Match will simply skip over it. When I took a closer look at my problem tracks, the issue was clear: in an attempt to save some disk space way back when, I had opted to go with variable-bitrate (VBR) MP3 files when ripping these CDs. This took somewhat longer, but kept quality reasonably high while creating smaller files.

Present-day me is now somewhat irked with past-me; how to get these vintage tracks synchronized with iTunes Match? I figured out a way, which was independently pointed out by Lex Friedman last week.

As Richard enthusiastically realized in June, one of the most helpful features of iTunes Match is how it ‘normalizes’ any tracks that exist in the iTunes store catalog up to 256 kbps AAC files, the same quality as iTunes Plus music that you buy from the store. While he was interested in lowering the storage requirements of his audiophile-friendly (and massive) ALAC files, this fix works in the other direction: getting low-bitrate or variable-bitrate files up to the standards of current-day digital music.

How to get iTunes Match to recognize older tracks

Step 1: Sort your library by the iCloud Status or cloud icon column. Just click on the column name to sort the track list, and then scroll to the end where all the ineligible songs are. You can take this an album at a time, to keep it simple.

Step 2: Double-check your iTunes import/conversion settings. You’ll find these under the iTunes preferences, in General, when you click the button marked “Import Settings.”

Step 3: Select all the tracks in the album you want to iCloud-ify. Right-click or control-click any of the selected tracks and choose “Create AAC Version”.

Step 4: Once the conversion is done, you’ll have two copies of those songs in your library: the older VBR tracks, and the just-converted AAC 128 tracks. iTunes Match automatically kicks in and begins scanning the ‘new’ tracks, and (since they now meet the minimum criteria for matching) they’re matched!

At this point, for your tracks with ‘Uploaded’ status, what you’ve got is what you’ve got: VBR originals and AAC re-conversions, which may be a bit lower quality than the source files. If you have the disk space to keep both, you can, or give the AACs a listen and see if they sound OK to you. The other alternative is going back to the CDs to capture those files at a higher bitrate.

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