An iTunes bug, not Apple Music, may be to blame for disappearing music libraries
After an article went live last week accusing Apple Music of deleting your local music and replacing it with Apple Music DRM-protected copies, we put out an explainer detailing how Apple Music works — TL;DR: It's not designed to remove anyone's local library.
We weren't ruling out a bug, however; after a very helpful chat with designer Robert Etropolsky, whose library had also seemingly disappeared, along with several other reports, we kept digging. And after enough digging, we may have discovered what happened here.
- Update: Apple has confirmed that an extremely small number of users have lost files; the company is currently investigating and plans to release an iTunes update next week to help safeguard against potential user error.
I will reiterate: Apple Music is not automatically deleting tracks out of your Mac's library, nor is it trying to force you to stay subscribed to the service. In this instance, it appears that Apple Music is an unfortunate scapegoat: The real problem may be a bug with the subscription service's container application, iTunes.
Based on several Apple Support threads (opens in new tab), it appears that the most recent version of iTunes 12.3.3 contains a database error that affects a small number of users, and can potentially wipe out their music collection after the update. The error has been mentioned a few times, primarily on the Windows side (opens in new tab), in the weeks since the 12.3.3 update, but appears to be rare enough that it hasn't previously received major press. Apple did put out a support document (opens in new tab) shortly after the 12.3.3 update that walks you through some fixes if you find that your local copies of music are missing.
I can't state for certain that Etropolsky and Pinkstone fell victim to this bug, but based on their descriptions and screenshots, it seems likely that the following happened:
- They subscribed to Apple Music.
- At some point after March 21, they updated to iTunes 12.3.3. Etropolsky sent iMore screenshots from his Time Machine backup that show his tracks disappearing between April 7 and 12th.
- The update appears to have wiped parts their music library due to a database error; however, because Apple Music had already uploaded and matched their collection to iCloud, it still presented to the user as a complete library — one that was now cloud-based, as you would see if you were on a secondary Mac.
- When the user tried to play a track, the track would present as missing, and prompt to either locate the track, or download a copy from iCloud.
- Because both Pinkstone and Etropolsky only subscribed to Apple Music, any re-downloaded matched tracks would download from the Apple Music catalog — even if the match was incorrect, and connected to the wrong file.
As a result, it appeared to both users as if their library had been automatically replaced by Apple Music-sourced files. Unfortunately for Apple Music, the service's prior problems with metadata-based matching and DRM-encumbered files made it an easy target for blame.
I don't want to incite mass panic, here: This bug appears to have affected a very small number of users, and if you didn't have local files disappear after updating to iTunes 12.3.3, your library is likely just fine. You can check to see if your library is locally-stored by turning on the iCloud Status and iCloud Download icons; if you've been affected, I suggest restoring from a backup or following Apple's Support document (opens in new tab).
But these kinds of bugs — however few people they affect — emphasize just how important it is to keep physical backups of your content. Both Pinkstone and Etropolsky were lucky enough to have full backups of their iTunes Library, but there may be users out there who weren't so lucky. Digital software can always fail, and if it's managing something as precious as your music, it's vital that you back up your information before upgrading that software, turning on music subscription services, or anything that affects your data.
Regardless, it doesn't reflect well on either of Apple's music properties for the company to stay radio silent about potential bugs. Even if it's a one-off aberration that affects as few as five people, the amount of potential panic inherent in "Apple Music deleted my library" is dangerous; it scares current users and gives the service a terrible reputation — even if, as in this circumstance, Apple Music wasn't to blame: It interpreted the missing library as a secondary cloud-based library and delivered tracks accordingly.
Unfortunately, Apple Music is intrinsically tied to its container applications: If there's a bug with iTunes, confidence in Apple Music is adversely affected. When the Music app on your iPhone automatically cache clears your saved tracks to try and make storage space, confidence in Apple Music is adversely affected. And when iCloud Music Library doesn't match tracks to their correct versions, confidence in Apple Music is adversely affected. Now is the time for the company to recognize that without stable base applications, Apple Music will always be plagued with accusations and problems — even if it doesn't always rightly deserve them.
Apple on Friday confirmed that a very small number of users have seen disappearing music files in their libraries, and the company is currently investigating.
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Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.
Look, it's fine for buying movies, music etc (I don't use Apple Music so don't know that bit works), but the last thing Apple should do is combine the Apps, Books, Music, etc apps into one clunky festering pile of santorum like on the desktop. I'd rather live with malaria than have iOS like that.
There were tunes that are labelled as purchased that I thought, “I’m sure I own and ripped that from CD”.
Nobody at Apple, whether it's Genius Baristas or Apple Care Senior advisors, has any clue what to do. A few have even suggested that I'm using the app wrong. Really? I'm the only one in 13 million users with the problem? Tough to be told over and over that you're imagining things.
2. Original files are still on hard drive, just not listed in iTunes... until...
3. iTunes syncs with Apple Music - iTunes tells AM that a bunch of files aren't there.
4. Apple Music responds with the user's full list of synchronized songs, including the "missing" files.
5. iTunes notices what it thinks are "new" iCloud Music Library tracks.
6. One of two things then happens: a) iTunes looks at the "new" iCloud stored files, looks locally, and removes what it has assuming AM is the one who has it right, or b) it downloads the iCloud files, again assuming iCloud has the "official" versions, removing whatever it may be replacing.
I have a basic free iClo(u)d account that does not include music storage. This occurred after I synced my iPhone with my Mac book pro to get images. Nothing to do with Music of any kind. I have tried the Apple support restore options - replacing .itl etc and it didn't work. I have discussed this with phone support 3 times and today they couldn't help me as 'their system was down', taking with it all history of support cases (know how they feel....) so I had to repeat my issues.
I disagree that it's only a small number. Reason behind that could be that their own Support system looses all client phone in information, plus it's difficult for individual occurrences to be noticed and acknowledged on a large scale via numerous Mac forums of continually growing disgruntled customers.
I've been a Mac product supporter for over 20 years in Australia and on a corporate buying level fighting to have them placed into large organisations such as News Corp.
BUT, this is about the 5th major issue i've had with their products in just a few years.
Where's the UAT? And most importantly, how dangerous is an unacknowledged 'bug' that can infiltrate and eradicate personal and valuable (purchased) information in your folders?
No, it's not an Apple Music problem, or an iTunes problem - it's an Apple problem! And a big one.
I am beyond angry and want to know What Apple plans to do to rectify this?? Do they expect us to repurchase all the music they deleted from our accounts?? I suggest that we bombard them with emails and phone calls demanding them to FIX THIS NOW!!!!!!! or give us some compensation for our losses and the frustration and anguish it is causing us, It is not right that we are losing the music that we paid for. We Must Let Them Know How angry We Are.