Serenity Caldwell Serenity Caldwell has been writing and talking about and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. Managing editor of iMore, she hosts a number of popular podcasts and speaks frequently at conferences. In past lives she worked at Macworld and Apple Retail.

Apple has two music subscription services available for you that work with iCloud Music Library: iTunes Match, and Apple Music.

iCloud Music Library is Apple's service for storing your personal music library online by "matching" your tracks to songs listed on the iTunes Store (or uploading tracks directly, if there's no match available). You can then stream and download them — DRM-free — to up to ten other registered devices in your possession.

If you subscribe to Apple Music, you'll get iCloud Music Library included as part of your $9.99 monthly subscription; otherwise, you can subscribe to Apple's iTunes Match service and pay $24.99 a year to store your iTunes library (up to 100,000 songs) in iCloud.

Here's how iCloud Music Library works, how you can subscribe, and how you can get the most out of it!

How iCloud Music Library works

Both Apple Music and the stand-alone iTunes Match service include a feature called iCloud Music Library. Here's what you need to know.

What is iCloud Music Library?

It's Apple's term for all the music you've stored in iCloud.

Wait, stored? Does it count toward my iCloud storage cost?

Nope. You can store up to 100,000 songs with an Apple Music or iTunes Match subscription; it doesn't count toward your iCloud storage costs.

Both? It works with Apple Music and iTunes Match?

Yup, both the Apple Music subscription service and the stand-alone iTunes Match option. iCloud Music Library lets you upload or "match" your personal music library with the DRM-free iTunes Store catalog.

If you have an Apple Music account, you can take advantage of iCloud Music Library and subscription music; if you have a stand-alone iTunes Match subscription, you only have access to your iCloud Music Library.

What's the deal with matching, storing, and the like?

When you subscribe to Apple Music or the standalone iTunes Match service, Apple scans your iTunes music library to check and see which tracks you own are also listed in the iTunes Store.

To save space and upload time, any track in your library that's also available in the iTunes Music Store catalog will "match" to the catalog version; this means that when you play that track on your iPhone or another Mac, you'll get the iTunes Music Store version (a DRM-free, 256kbps-quality AAC file, for those wondering), rather than your original file. Apple uses metadata matching and audio fingerprinting to match your songs to iTunes Store versions. It's not perfect, and you may run into issues with live or rare tracks matching to studio versions; for most users, however, you should be able to use the service without any problems.

Any songs that don't match to the iTunes catalog will be uploaded to iCloud in their original form, save for tracks that are too low-quality (under 92kbps), too long (over two hours), too big (over 200MB), or you aren't authorized to play (say, a song from another user's iTunes account that you don't have the username and password to unlock).

If you have a song in your library encoded in ALAC, WAV, or AIFF, those may be transcoded into an AAC 256 Kbps file when uploaded to iCloud; the original file in your iTunes library won't change.

After your songs are uploaded, they get stored or matched to your iCloud Music Library; any device you own (up to 10) can stream or download songs back from it.

Note: Currently, you'll need an iTunes library with 100,000 songs or less in it for iCloud Music Library to work correctly; if you have too many songs, here's how to create a secondary iTunes library.

What does iCloud Music Library get me?

A bunch of things! Access to your Mac's library on any of your other devices (up to 10), for one.

If you're an Apple Music subscriber, it also allows you to add songs and playlists from the subscription catalog to your library; you can then save those tracks for offline play.

Do I need a backup before enabling iCloud Music Library?

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. iCloud Music Library may give you copies of your songs in the cloud, but it is in no way a backup service. So please, heed our warning: Make sure you have a complete, local copy of all of your music on your primary computer (or external hard drive) before turning on iCloud Music Library.

If you've already enabled it and you don't have all your music locally on one computer, don't panic: Make sure your music shows up as Matched or Uploaded and not Apple Music, then download all the tracks you're missing to your main Mac.

Why shouldn't I use iCloud Music Library?

If you don't have a backup of your Mac's library, have lots of tracks with crazy metadata that you're worried iCloud will mess up, or don't want to save songs offline from Apple Music, you probably should leave iCloud Music Library turned off.

Can I still use Apple Music without iCloud Music Library?

You bet. You can even use iCloud Music Library with some devices and not others. More info here:

I turned on iCloud Music Library and it ate my library/destroyed everything/aghhhh! Help?!

Deep breaths. Do you have a backup? If so, turn off iCloud Music Library on your Mac and restore your library from that file.

If you don't have a backup, there are a lot of other things you can try, from chatting with Apple Support to resetting your iCloud Music Library. We suggest checking out our troubleshooting guide linked below if you've run into trouble and are backupless:

What you can and can't do with iCloud Music Library

Now that we've explained what iCloud Music Library is, here's a quick rundown of what it can and can't do.

With iCloud Music Library, you can...

  • Stream your Mac's library to up to ten different devices you own (including up to 5 Mac or Window PCs).
  • Delete matched tracks you own on your Mac and redownload them to get high-quality 256kbps DRM-free versions from the iTunes Store (useful if you have low-quality ripped tracks).

You can't...

  • Manually sync music from iTunes to your iPhone: It's all done over the air now.
  • Use your iCloud Music Library with Family Sharing: Each Apple ID (and their iCloud Music Library) is separate; you can download any purchases from iTunes, though.
  • Match or upload more than 100,000 tracks from your library that weren't purchased from the iTunes Store: If you still want to use iCloud Music Library but have too many tracks, make a secondary iTunes library.
  • Use it in every country: Here's Apple's list of supported countries for iCloud Music Library.

Note: If you're only using the $24.99/year standalone iTunes Match service, iCloud Music Library won't give you access to music from the Apple Music catalog: You need an Apple Music subscription for that.

How to enable iCloud Music Library on your computer

If you have an Apple Music account:

If you have iTunes Match:

  1. If you're signed in to your iTunes account, open iTunes and navigate to the Account menu
  2. Click Sign Out.
  3. Click on the Match tab that appears in iTunes, (or go to Account > iTunes Match).

  4. Select Subscribe for $24.99 per Year.
  5. Enter your Apple ID and password.

  6. After your subscription goes through, select Use iCloud Music Library.
  7. Click Add This Computer to upload and match your computer's music library to iCloud Music Library. (This step may happen automatically, so don't panic if you don't see it.)

Adding an additional Mac or Windows PC is similar to the initial signup process for iTunes Match users; it's also a great way to unify a music library if you've been accidentally building separate collections on your personal and work machines — once you enable iCloud Music Library on both machines, you can download all the songs from your secondary PC or Mac onto your primary computer.

  1. On your secondary Mac, open iTunes and navigate to the Account menu.
  2. Click Sign Out.
  3. Click on the Match tab that appears in iTunes, (or go to Account > iTunes Match).

  4. Select Subscribe for $24.99 per Year.
  5. Enter your Apple ID and password. (You may have to enter it twice.)

  6. Select Use iCloud Music Library to use it on this computer.
  7. iTunes will remind you that you've already subscribed to iTunes Match, and ask you whether you want to activate it on this computer. Click Add This Computer to connect your computer's music library to iTunes Match and iCloud Music Library.

How to enable iCloud Music Library downloads over cellular

If you want to stream songs from your iCloud Music Library over your cellular data connection as well as over Wi-Fi, you can do so by following these steps.

  1. Launch the Settings app on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
  2. Tap on iTunes & App Store.
  3. Switch Use Cellular Data to On.

Keep in mind that this option not only enables your iCloud Music Library over LTE or 4G, but it also turns on cellular data for automatic downloads and Apple Music. If you'd rather avoid that, you can disable automatic downloads on your devices, or only enable the Use Cellular Data switch when needed.

How to see your local music on your Mac

There are two ways to see your locally-stored iCloud Music Library tracks on your Mac. The easiest way is as follows:

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. Select My Music from the drop down menu.
  3. Go to the View menu and select the Only Downloaded Music.

You can also view what songs are actually stored in iCloud Music Library by doing the following:

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. Select My Music from the drop down menu.
  3. Select Songs from the sidebar.
  4. Go to the View menu and select Show View Options.
  5. Check the iCloud Download checkbox.

The resulting column will show no icon if your track is stored locally; a cloud icon with a downward arrow if your track is stored only in iCloud; or a cloud icon with a line through it if the track is local, but ineligible for iCloud Music Library (usually a PDF).

How to see your local music on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch

  1. Open the Music app.
  2. Tap on the Library tab.
  3. Tap on Downloads.

To return to viewing all your music, tap the Library tab again.

Troubleshooting iCloud Music Library

If you're running into any iCloud Music Library problems, here are some solutions to the most common issues. Still have a question about it? Let us know in the comments.