Written by Nick Heer.

Apple Music Matches Based on Metadata, Not Audio “Fingerprint”

At least, according to Kirk McElhearn’s testing (via Michael Tsai):

I started with a random piece of music from a disc of Bach chorales.

I changed its tags to Can’t Feel My Face, by The Weekend. (I picked this track because it’s one of the best selling tracks on the iTunes Store; I could have picked any track in the Apple Music catalog.)

I waited for Apple Music to match the file, deleted my local copy, and then downloaded it from the cloud. […]

When I played it, it was not Bach.

There are some teething problems that are acceptable with any new service, but this is so half-assed, especially from Apple.

First off, it’s not even matching the tags correctly. The Weeknd’s artist name is spelled as such, and the replacement file given to McElhearn retains this incorrect metadata. If you have songs in your library with slightly incorrect metadata, it may match them or it may not, and if it does, it won’t correct your tags for you.

Secondly, it doesn’t even bother checking against the timecode. The Bach chorale McElhearn tested this song against is under two minutes long; “Can’t Feel My Face” is three and a half minutes long. This was already broadly proven by Simon Schellaert’s Spotify to Apple Music script.

But this is far more frustrating than it need be because Apple already has an audio fingerprinting system. They built it with iTunes Match. And for some infuckingexplicable reason, they’re not using it, even for iTunes Match subscribers:

I have an iTunes Match subscription, which is active on the computer I used for these tests, so, theoretically, my tracks should be matched using digital fingerprinting. So I’m all the more confused about what’s happened here.

This is a really big problem, and it affects music lovers’ more comprehensive libraries more than it does an average library. I have dozens of bootleg recordings from my favourite artists. I probably have ten copies of “Reptile” by Nine Inch Nails from studio albums, live rehearsals, live performances, and so forth. If all of those were determined by Apple Music to be the same track and consolidated, I would be furious.

A music library is sacrosanct and should be treated as such. Someone with a lot of music has probably worked really hard to maintain their library, and has carefully chosen everything about it. This matching system screws with that, yet it could have been broadly avoided by using iTunes Match.

While Apple has demonstrated great respect for priceless photo libraries by making iCloud Photo Library a fantastic service, they have not demonstrated a similar level of respect for music libraries. Until they do, you should keep iCloud Music Library off. It’s going to take a lot of trust rebuilding for me to ever allow Apple this kind of access to my music library.

Update: McElhearn has updated his post to state that he can no longer reproduce the issue where Apple Music overrides iTunes Match. That is, if you have an iTunes Match subscription, it now matches based on the acoustic fingerprint. That still doesn’t excuse the rest of this issue, though.