iTunes Match Limit: What to do when you hit 25,000 songs

iTunes Match Limit: What to do when you hit 25,000 songs

iTunes Match is great, but what happens when you hit the 25,000 song limit? The solution isn't pretty

You can keep iTunes Radio, Spotify, Pandora and the like. I like collecting my music, just as I have since I was a kid. I'll never sell my audio CDs or get rid of vinyl. Between that and stuff I've downloaded from iTunes and other music services like and, I'm somewhere in the vicinity of 24,000 songs. I also use iTunes Match, which has a 25,000 song limit. What happens when I hit the limit? Turns out things get weird.

Recently Kirk McElhearn, who writes the iTunes Guy column for Macworld, explained to a reader what will happen when that limit is reached. McElhearn writes:

One problem is that when you hit the 25,000 track limit, all sorts of strange things happen. I've heard from people who've told me that uploads get wonky, that iTunes displays various error messages about connecting to the servers, and that, even after a number of tracks are culled, there can still be issues. Sometimes, even after getting a library below the 25K mark, it won't upload new songs, even though iTunes Match says it's updating. Sometimes it's hard to download songs. And automatic updating can be unreliable.

Based on my current rate of acquisition, I'm less than a year from hitting that 25,000 song threshold. It's an existential dilemma for me. for obvious reasons. There's some good news here, though. If you've bought music from iTunes, that doesn't count against your 25,000 song limit. Only music you've acquired through other means — ripping from audio CD, or other download services — seems to affect the limit.

If you're like me, you've probably used iTunes and a lot of other methods of adding music to your library. If you want to know how many of your songs are from iTunes, there should be a "Purchased" list in the iTunes sidebar, right below "iTunes Store." That may not give you a complete list, however. To be sure, you can create a Smart Playlist to figure it out. Here's how:

To make a smart playlist that shows all your iTunes songs

  1. Open iTunes
  2. Click on the File menu.
  3. Select New then select Smart Playlist.
  4. Make sure Match the following rule: is checked, then...
  5. Select the pop up menu that says "Artist" and change it to "Kind."
  6. Make sure the next pop up menu says "contains."
  7. type "Purchased AAC" in the text field.
  8. Click the OK button.

iTunes will generate a smart playlist containing all of the files that you've bought from iTunes. For me that's 2241 songs, so I'm a little further back from my 25K limit than I thought.

But if you have hit the limit, or you're close to it, the best solution — again, according to McElhearn — is to actually split your iTunes library into smaller chunks. Your library has to be under the 25,000 song limit for iTunes Match to work.

To split your iTunes library

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. Click on the File menu and select New, then select "Playlist."
  3. Name the playlist "New iTunes library."
  4. Drag any music you want to move from your existing library.
  5. Click on your Mac's desktop to activate the Finder.
  6. Click on the File menu.
  7. Select New Folder. Name it "New iTunes Library."
  8. Return to iTunes. Make sure you can see the folder you just created on your desktop.
  9. Make sure the "New iTunes Library" playlist is selected, then click the first song in the playlist. It should be highlighted.
  10. Type Command-A (Select All) to select all the songs in that playlist.
  11. Click and drag them into the folder you created on your desktop.
  12. In iTunes, click the File menu, select Library and select Export Playlist. Save the playlist to the desktop or somewhere else you can easily find it.
  13. Quit iTunes.

That will copy (duplicate) all the songs in your New iTunes Library playlist into that new folder. Move that folder to a safe location, such as inside the Mac's Music folder. It will also generate a .XML file that iTunes can read which contains all the metadata associated with those files — whatever ratings you've applied, play counts and other details that aren't actually embedded in the music files themselves.

To see your new iTunes library

  1. Open iTunes while you hold down the Option key.
  2. iTunes will tell you to Choose iTunes Library. Click the Choose Library... button.
  3. Select the folder containing your new iTunes library.
  4. Click the File menu.
  5. Select Library then select Import Playlist.
  6. Find the .XML playlist file you just created. That'll rebuild the metadata associated with those files.
  7. Quit iTunes.

Choose your iTunes library

The final step is to relaunch your old library and delete those files. Right now those music files in your New iTunes Library folder exist in two locations: there, and the old iTunes library.

To delete the new library files from the old library

  1. Open iTunes while you hold down the Option key.
  2. Click the Choose Library... button and find your original iTunes library (again, probably in your Music folder).
  3. Click on the New iTunes Library playlist you created.
  4. Click on the first track in the list.
  5. Type Command-A to select all.
  6. Hold down the Option and the Delete keys.
  7. iTunes will ask you if you're sure you want to delete these copies of the selected items. Click the Delete button.

Delete your old iTunes library

It's a really convoluted process, but Apple doesn't give us a good way to handle it when our iTunes libraries get larger than the authorities decreed we should be able to have. I expect this isn't Apple's doing as much as the music publishers it has licensing arrangements with.

Whatever the situation, it's ugly. I've ranted about iTunes before - I think it's a fat, bloated pig on the Mac, and having to jump through hoops like this just to manage my music library and a service I pay Apple for besides certainly isn't making me change my mind. But whatever. You do what you have to.

Have you had to split your music library? Or did you decide iTunes Match wasn't worth the hassle? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

More Posts



← Previously

Will Apple's hardware focus cause them to fall behind Google and Facebook?

Next up →

Pebble firmware updated with some good fixes for bad problems

Reader comments

iTunes Match Limit: What to do when you hit 25,000 songs


"It's a really convoluted process, but Apple doesn't give us a good way to handle it when our iTunes libraries get larger than the authorities decreed we should be able to have. I expect this isn't Apple's doing as much as the music publishers it has licensing arrangements with."

Well, Apple is not even doing what they could do without the music industry's approval, and it bugs me much more than the 25k song limit... Being able to handle libraries on multiple volumes. Why can't I have my music on my laptop, but movies and tv shows on an external disk without duplicating stuff, manually managing libraries etc. Why can't I split my humongous library (9.2 TB) over multiple reasonably cheap disks. As is I run 2 12 TB Promise RAID systems in the closet ( 1 live, 1 backup), just to avoid the need to split my library...

Also, why can a Mac still not work as a device, a sync client like a iPhone or iPad? I don't want or need a managed library on my MacBook Pro, the one on the Mac Pro in the study should suffice.

I am actually not one of the iTunes hating crowd. I like the app, it has never failed on me, everything is in one place and since I first used it, in 2003, it has not really forced me to learn a lot of new things all the time. I like that. The lack of multiple volume support is a biggie for me, the fact that there is still no solution for an "iTunes Server / Appliance" worth a dime (e.g. an enhanced Time Capsule) that is always on and not tied to a computer running with iTunes open is a biggie for me. The 25k limit does not really bother me, as most of my music was purchased (or repurchased, as my CDs and vinyl records were mainly in less than pristine condition) from iTunes anyhow. IMHO Apple should simply offer to lift this limitation for a fee the labels agree to.

"Why can't I have my music on my laptop, but movies and tv shows on an external disk without duplicating stuff" - in fact you can. When you add a movie, for instance, to the library and option-drag it inside, instead of just dragging, iTunes doesn't copy the file, instead it just references. I have my music on the computer, and movies on an external drive. Works perfectly, but yes, has to be done manually.

Yes, thanks, that's correct. For stuff I have filmed or ripped myself that would work fine, unfortunately it gets more cumbersome with iTunes purchases, which go to the library only... And nowadays almost 100% of my movie and tv show purchases are from Apple – I really only buy physical media if the stuff is not available from iTunes at all.

It's still easy to accomplish what you're looking for.

Note that iTunes organizes items within the "~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/" folder via several sub-folders within, according to media type.

So, just symlink the "TV Shows" and "Movies" folders to locations on your external volume. iTunes thinks it's saving everything to its own logical folder, but the actual physical location is elsewhere.

Works like a charm, and allows me to have those larger filetypes stored on my massive external desktop drive, while retaining the items I want to keep with me at all times (Music, Audiobooks, etc.) on my MBPro's built-in storage.

I forgot all about the 25,000 song limit so thanks for reminding me haha. Currently sitting @ about 20,000 so I'm sure this will be an issue for me before 2014 is over (or close enough). I may just add another cloud service like Google Play so I don't have to worry about the above. Hopefully Apple will offer tiered plans in the future?

" I expect this isn't Apple's doing as much as the music publishers" - Of course you would :)

Anyway, since things get "weird", as descibed above, I suspect it is Apple's doing. Perhaps a database or some other systems limit. If it was contractual, it would just throw a clear error, and not those inconsistent problems.

I passed the limit just a few months after iTunes Match went live. I can tell you from personal sucks. Once you are over the limit you can expect serious problems with iTunes Match and Radio until you clear things up...if you clear them up. Reducing your DB size after the limit does not solve the problem as Match already has uploaded (presumably) all that it can. You actually have to remove the offending tunes you cull from the DB from all devices and the cloud....big PITA.

The idea of splitting the DB is useless in my opinion as you can't have both used with Match and therefore you can't easily manage your music across devices. The split DB assumes that you have a lot of music that you just don't want or you believe you have no near future need to access.

I'm not sure if the limit is short sightedness by Apple in their design, some negotiated ceiling defined by Apple's agreement with the record industry or someone other than Apple holds the patent on how to manage music in the cloud effectively. The end result is that Apple provides the end user with no means of managing items that are consumed by Match. I can only assume that a user controlled boolean flag to exclude a song from Match was much too complicated to code.

Sadly, I would pay double to have all my music available through Match as the idea is actually quite wonderful. But Apple doesn't provide that option. Having read many forums on the issue I get the sense that I am not the only one to leave feedback with Apple on the short comings of Match and suggestions for solutions. So far, no hints of movement from Apple's side.

I failed to cancel my Match subscription last year out of stupidity. Not a mistake repeated this year.

I've always found the way apple manages music files, the actual files, is really weird, confusing and illogical. All these steps? Wow.

Ever since the first time you tried plugging your iPod into a friends computer, right? Yep, me too, completely agree with you.

Not unexpected of Apple to enforce a limitation and not do any QA to see what happens when that limit is reached.

I am confused. This article stated that the songs purchased in iTunes didn't count against your library size, then proceeded to show a way of moving all songs that were purchased through iTunes.

Sent from the iMore App

You are confused. :)

I gave instructions to build a playlist to show how many songs in your library were purchased from iTunes, so you can gauge how close to the limit you really are. I then provided instructions for splitting your iTunes library to reduce the size to under the 25,000 song limit.

I've found iTunes Match to be increasingly unreliable of late. I haven't been able to upload any new music to Match for about a week now (the progress bar in the iTunes Match tab is stuck at the end of Step 1), and despite trying everything from signing out, de-authorising, and un-installing, it refuses to work.

With the music that I've already uploaded some time back, fetching that content from the cloud is painfully slow. Songs take a minute or more to start, if they start at all, which they often don't.

So I tried Google music, which I must say works flawlessly by comparison. Apple still don't get this whole cloud thing.

Apple "doesn't" get, not "don't" get. A company is singular, not plural.


" It's an existential dilemma for me. "

Give me a damned break. Probably the most idiotically dramatic thing I've ever read. Needing more than 25,000 songs (a ridiculously high #) in the cloud, instantly accessible at all times, is an "existential" dilemma. Wow. Maybe look up the definition of that word, because I've never seen it so abused.

The issue isn't "needing" 25,000 songs in the cloud--it's that the way iTunes match is implemented, you can't choose which song are in the cloud. If your library has more than 25,000 MP3 (comedy, whatever) that aren't purchased from Apple, iTunes works wonky, and iTunes Match really breaks. That's what Apple needs to fix.

with close to 50K songs (hey . . . I happen to like Iranian folk music!) I never bothered to try iTunes Match. Besides, I'm sure it would try to "fix" all the metadata I have painstakingly edited over the years.

I wish there was a way to purchase iTunes Radio without joining Match. I'd love to look all the Nissan ads - I'm wearing out the mute button on my keyboard. Yes I know there are other radio services, but Ive never been impressed with any of their limited playlists if you don't listen to top 40 songs.

You can absolutely pay for Match and not use it... Every library needs to be added manually to Match. If you only want ad free iTunes Radio, that is possible.

I actually use a completely separate user on one machine called "music" that is the only copy of iTunes where I have Match turned on. You can leave iTunes open in both your normal account and this secondary account and use home sharing to transfer files back and forth. My main iTunes is everything, all new files get put here. Then if I want that music added to Match, I go to the Music account, and home share those files over. I can also delete anything I want from Match without any worries about deleting my tracks, as those are all safe in my main iTunes library. The downside is that track info that you edit, as well as play count and more don't transfer over.

I've been dealing with this issue since the very first day iTunes Match was available as I had about 35,000 songs in my library at that point. It's very frustrating if you have a larger library. I'd gladly pay more to have a 50,000 song limit so I wouldn't have to constantly be moving stuff to another library to make room for newer stuff I want matched. The service hasn't been perfect I'll say, but despite all the issues I and many others have had to deal with over the time it's been around, I can't imagine going back to having to sync my music again. The service really is a dream come true in so many ways.

I suspect the limit has a lot more to do with iOS device capabilities than anything when it comes down to it. While the A6/A7 devices have had absolutely no issues running my always-maxed out iTunes Match library, A5 devices weren't always so smooth, and the A4 devices were practically unusable half the time. I know friends with smaller libraries who didn't have such issues with the older devices though, so I'm suspecting there just wasn't enough power to handle anything past 25,000 on too many of the devices once launched. But by fall, the free device tier for iPhones is going to be running an A6 and the new devices will be on A8s. Perhaps it's time to allow for bigger libraries now that more people will be running devices that can handle it. I really hope so, because it's just one of those things that really takes a lot of the "it just works" out of another Apple service that could immediately be better if the limits were increased.

You do realize the 25 k limit only applies to songs itunes could not match right? So while your library may be close to 25k you may only be using 5k or so, it all depends on how much random music you own

I was always over the limit as I started buying CDs regularly in 1991 and have never stopped since then. It can't be a licensing problem as Amazon manges to set the limit to 250,000! I use Amazon's service, but sadly their import program is a mess. Importing all iTunes music to Amazon cloud is a painful process and in the end all track sequences are messed up. Of course I would be happy to pay more to get iTunes Match for my large collection but for some reason Apple is not interested in customers like me.

Why do you have to make duplicates of those files, then remove them from the original library?

Just leave all your files where they are, make a new blank library add the music you want into this new library, all be it, not all the music, just enough to get you to the limit. You might have to add them artist by artist and see how it adds up. But just add them leaving them where they are located. Multiple libraries can point to the same music files without ever having to copy them or delete them etc...

All my music sits on one drive, and my 2 libraries point to the same music. So I have a regular iTunes library with well over 25,000 songs, and then I have an iTunes Match library which has around 10,000 songs right now. All pointing to the same music. Without ever having to move or delete music.

Make sense?

I have 65,000+ songs in my iTunes library. Very few were purchased from itunes, i RIPped CD's, my old vinyl, tapes and downloads. I do not listen to 'streamed' music. No Pandora or Spotify. I do not use iTunes Match and will not, certainly until and unless that foolish limit goes away.

I use itunes to listen to my music and made a mistake years ago in moving my original WAV files after itunes 'converted them, they are now lost, but the AAC and MP3's sound fine to my over 60 ears. I even use headphones and the sound isn't awful, this from a guy that grew up on vinyl and AM radio...

I do keep backupS now.

The best part is I do not pay Apple $24/year!

Had already hit 25K songs shortly after I had subscribed. This is how I manage. It is not optimal but works pretty reliable.
I have a NAS drive in my cellar with plenty of space. When I noticed the 25K overrun, I created a "Intelligent Playlist of Useless Songs" => Music added five years ago never played. That had generated a list of approx. 3000 songs. Out of those, I copied everything that I thought was really under this category to the NAS drive into a "External Music" folder. For good measures, I added the collection of Christmas songs (about 250), that are usually only played two days a year. Then I deleted the copied songs from iTunes with the ALT-CMD-Delete option, removing it from iTunes AND the cloud.
This brought me down to about 23K songs again. Room for a few more years of new purchases.
Nice thing is, the NAS shows up automatically as an external music collection on my iTunes AND Sonos, so I can call up those unimportant or occasional songs easily, but they do not clutter anything.
And believe me, how many Grateful Dead concert MP3s do you need to have ready at your fingertips day-in-day-out?

I didn't set up anything. The NAS I am using is simply "publishing" all music on its drive to anyone that is listening (I think the technology is called DNLA). In my case it shows up on iTunes in the section labeled "Freigaben" (I am running a German system, which probably translates into something along the lines of "Released Music" or "Published Music".)