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iTunes Match, no Mac, a conundrum: Download!

by Walter Jules

What if you subscribe to iTunes Match and no longer have a Mac connected with your iCloud account—and then want to cancel the Match subscription? That’s the conundrum one reader wrote in with following the recent column on the pros and cons of canceling iTunes Match.

If you’re only using iOS and iPadOS devices with your iCloud Music Library and iTunes Match, it’s extremely unlikely that all your music has been downloaded to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Many people have libraries at least in the tens of gigabytes, and not everyone has that much storage free, even on a 256GB mobile device.

iTunes Match keeps the tunes flowing on demand from cloud storage, and Music in iOS and iPadOS automatically deletes music when storage demands require, knowing that it could be retrieved again from iCloud. There’s no simple way to force download all your cloud-stored music into an iOS or iPadOS device, even if you have the room available. (You can download albums and playlists, but not the entire library at once.)

The best solution is not to cancel iTunes Match if you don’t have a Mac (or a Windows system with iTunes running on it). For $ 25 a year, you can retain that cloud-based music indefinitely. It’s a small price to pay for ubiquitous access. Without a Mac or iTunes on Windows, you can’t manually sync songs or automatically sync playlists and albums to an iPhone or iPad. You’re essentially cutting yourself off from how Apple lets you manage music on a device.

If you’re determined to quit iTunes Match, however, the most viable (and free) alternative is Google Play Music. The service allows up to 50,000 songs at up to 300MB each to be stored without cost. You can’t buy additional service. You can then use Google mobile apps to play back songs.

You need to retrieve your music first in order to upload it. Follow these steps:

  1. Beg, borrow, or otherwise obtain access to a Mac. I recommend bringing an external hard drive with enough capacity to handle your music library, but it’s not a requirement.
  2. Set up or have the Mac’s owner set up a temporary macOS account for yourself.
  3. Log in and enter your iCloud account information. (If you use iCloud Photos, be sure to disable Photos syncing, so it doesn’t download a potentially huge collection and flood the broadband connection while you’re trying to download music in the following steps.)
  4. If you’re using an external drive, in iTunes (Mojave and previous) or Music (Catalina), choose iTunes/Music > Preferences > Advanced and set the iTunes Media folder location to a folder on the external drive.
  5. Follow the steps in the previous column to download all cloud-stored music.
  6. When complete, use Google Play Music Manager to upload your music collection from the iTunes or Music folder.
  7. When that’s finished, quit the iTunes or Music and the Google software, eject the external hard drive (if you’re using one), log out of the macOS account, and delete the macOS account.
  8. On your mobile devices, install Google Play Music and log into your account.
  9. After you’re sure everything is working, use the method in the previous article to cancel iTunes Match.

The hard drive to ensure you have an additional backup of your music, in case something goes awry with Google’s storage. I would also make a hosted backup of that backup. You may already be paying for cloud storage somewhere, such as with Amazon Cloud, Google Drive, Dropbox (at its 2TB or higher tier), or, yes, even iCloud. You can upload your library there—with a borrowed Mac!

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