iTunes Match rescued my messy MP3 collection

iTunes Match

Paul Ockenden reveals how iTunes Match helped bring order to his eclectic digital music collection

For many years I’ve had a large and eclectic music collection. Shelves full of vinyl were eventually replaced by CDs, sometimes several times over; I’ve lost count of how many copies of Mr Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album I have, because he keeps adding unreleased tracks to each re-release so I have to buy yet another.

Like many people I’ve also started buying music in MP3 format, although I’m of a generation that tends to prefer "special" music on CD and resorts to MP3 only for the more ephemeral stuff.

I’ve never really got back into vinyl, and my old LPs are boxed up and slowly decaying in the loft. People say they’re attracted to the "warmer" sound of vinyl, but for me, convenience wins every time – I love to listen to music, not perform spectrum analysis on it. So long as it’s relatively distortion-free, I’m happy.

I’ve spent a small fortune on tools and utilities that claim to magically transform my MP3 morass into a neatly structured and deduplicated collection

Now, however, I find myself with a substantial MP3 collection – some bought, but many ripped from CDs. (Some are from CDs so obscure that they barely sold into triple figures, and when I pop one into the PC drive, the various online "find the track name" services don’t have a clue!)

Actually, calling my MP3s a "collection" isn’t quite right, as they’re all over the place. Over the years, I’ve attempted to organise them, but the result is a clutch of folders called "cleaned mp3s", "copy of cleaned mp3s", "properly cleaned mp3s", "merged mp3 collection" and so on, all containing slightly different versions, some with corrected track names, some with updated cover art, but none of them complete.

As well as spending a shed-load of money over the years on music, I’ve spent a small fortune on tools and utilities that claim to magically transform my MP3 morass into a neatly structured and deduplicated collection, complete with cover art and correct track names. I’ve probably bought 30 or 40 such products, and have several freebies too, and all suffer major limitations. I’ve tried Windows, OS X and even Linux-based tools.

Recently I’ve been working my way through the tools available in the Mac App Store; if they turn out to be junk, at least Apple is good at giving refunds. The last abomination I bought – TuneUp, which costs £28 – turned out to be really buggy, so I emailed Apple for a refund and it returned my money within 15 minutes. That’s impressive customer service, but I’d be more impressed still if Apple didn’t allow such low-quality apps into its store in the first place.

Having said that, I’ve stumbled across an excellent solution to musical mess. I’d been trying out a few of the "upload your music collection to the cloud" services: notably Amazon’s Cloud Player, Apple’s iTunes Match and Google Music.

Scan and match

Amazon and Apple both offer a "scan and match" facility, whereby you don’t need to upload a track if it already exists in the company’s extensive library. At the time of writing, Google doesn’t offer such a facility, and I’m guessing this is because Google doesn’t have its own music store (in the UK), and so has no database to match users’ collections against.

It’s Apple’s iTunes Match that came to the rescue of my MP3 collection, for although it has some serious limitations (mainly a 25,000 track limit per collection, so I’ve had to split mine into a number of smaller chunks), it has a bigger "master database" than Amazon and, more importantly, offers a built-in deduplicate function. Where Amazon’s service will happily let you upload several copies of the same track, iTunes Match will notice that the song is already in your library and prevent you from uploading another copy.