iTunes, iCloud, iTunes Match and Amazon MP3s

Fly From HereWe don’t often post about services and content not specifically intended for use with the Kindle Fire device here, but let’s face it: when it comes to all things retail digital music, Apple was there before Amazon and still holds the majority of the digital music market by a pretty comfortable margin. So most of the people reading this probably own at least one Apple device and have a sizeable iTunes music library.

Along comes Amazon, with its many discounted and free MP3 singles and albums (such as the latest from Yes, which is on the list of MP3 albums being offered for just $5 in the month of May – get ’em before the calendar turns to June!), and you think, “That’s great, but I’m already locked into Apple and iTunes.” Well, actually…you’re not.

Amazon MP3s Work With iTunes, iCloud, and iTunes Match

Any Amazon MP3 content you purchase and download will automatically import to iTunes if you’re downloading it on the same computer where iTunes is installed (make sure iTunes is open before you download, for a totally seamless experience—this is not really required, the Amazon MP3s will be automatically imported to iTunes anyway, but it seems to make the import to iTunes go faster), and I can now tell you from personal experience, Amazon MP3s are totally compatible with the iCloud and iTunes Match services, too—with no extra steps required on your part.

If You Didn’t Download Your Amazon MP3s Where iTunes Is Installed: Manually Importing Your Amazon MP3s to iTunes

Mylo XylotoIf you download Amazon MP3s directly to your Kindle Fire or to a computer/device without iTunes, you can still import the files to iTunes later by downloading your Amazon music from Amazon’s Cloud, where a copy of every piece of digital media you purchase from Amazon is stored by default at no extra cost to you. Just install Amazon’s Cloud Drive app to the computer where iTunes is installed (it’s free and easy), use it to download your Amazon MP3s to your iTunes music library, then import desired songs using the File > Add File to Library (for individual songs) or File > Add Folder to Library (for albums) functions in iTunes to add the content to iTunes.

Amazon’s Cloud – What’s It All About?

Amazon has been storing its customers’ digital content in the Amazon Cloud ever since it started selling digital content. The Amazon Cloud is basically a huge collection of huge data servers that contain every piece of digital media Amazon sells, from apps to music, from videogames to movies and TV shows. These data servers are constantly maintained and backed up on Amazon’s end to ensure you will always have access to a copy of your purchased digital media.

When you buy any piece of digital media, the purchase is recorded in your My Account file, along with a pointer to the location of the file on Amazon’s data servers. When you want to download your purchase, you click a link that says “download”, but that link actually sends a command to access the file on Amazon’s data servers and download a copy—Amazon does not store a full copy of every customer purchase in a separate media library for every customer; this would be very inefficient, and it’s not necessary.

Cloud Advantages

The Wall (2011 - Remaster)First, you never have to back up your purchased digital media to disc or an external hard drive, because Amazon’s industrial-strength data servers already have industrial-strength maintenance and contingency plans that far exceed the reliability of anything you could purchase and install yourself. So long as Amazon exists, so too will your digital media purchases. If you feel better keeping local backups anyway, you can still do that, too.

Second, mobile devices necessarily have limited on-board storage, but if your digital library is stored in the Cloud, ALL of it is readily accessible to you, through your device, just the same as if it were already loaded to the device itself. All you need do is get within range of a wifi hotspot, browse to the content you want and download it. If your device’s onboard memory is full, no problem! Delete some of the digital media you don’t need at the moment to free up space—deleting from the device does NOT delete it from the Cloud—and download the new stuff. Downloads will be very speedy if you’re running them from your home network, but may be slower from a public wifi hotspot, especially if many others are already logged in.

iCloud and iTunes Match – Apple’s “Me Too!” Answer to Amazon’s Cloud

Apple introduced its MobileMe cloud service for iPhone customers some time back, but has now superseded MobileMe with iCloud, which is a cloud service that’s available to users of all Apple devices. iCloud works pretty much the same as Amazon’s Cloud, but you have to opt in by turning the service on in iTunes. iCloud storage of all your iTunes purchases is free and automatic when you have iCloud enabled, and just like with Amazon’s Cloud service, you get another 5GB of iCloud storage at no charge for backing up any other digital files you have that weren’t purchased through iTunes.

Greatest Hits: 1974-1978So far so good, but Apple realized many people have imported a big chunk of their iTunes library from CDs they already owned, or from other digital music services, and the only way to get those customers using their iCloud service was to make it easy and affordable to get all of that content into iCloud, too. Otherwise, the convenience aspect of iCloud would be lost; if only some of your music is available there, you’ll probably just continue using iTunes the old way, transferring your digital media to and from your locally-stored iTunes media library.

Along comes iTunes Match: a $24.99/year service that will:

1. Scan your iTunes library for music you didn’t purchase from iTunes

2. Figure out if the same file is available on iTunes

3. If the same file is available on iTunes, add a pointer to that iTunes file to your iCloud library

4. If the same file is not available on iTunes, upload it from your computer to the iCloud servers and add it to your iCloud library

Steps #3 and #4 work for ALL music you didn’t buy from iTunes (provided it meets minimum quality standards, and anything you bought from Amazon or imported from CD using iTunes’ default settings should easily clear the quality bar—all of my stuff did), and that includes Amazon MP3s. I just went through this process myself recently, and every MP3 I got from Amazon—even the free MP3s and MP3 albums—were matched to iTunes files and the iTunes copies were added to my iCloud library. Every one of those files now works exactly the same as if I’d bought it in iTunes to begin with, except for one thing: DRM.

iTunes Match Doesn’t Impose DRM That Wasn’t There To Begin With!

When iTunes Match matches your non-iTunes file with a file in its library, the matched file it provides back to you does not have iTunes DRM on it. So for example, anything you imported to iTunes from a CD will have no DRM restrictions on playing, downloading, moving or copying the file, even if it’s been replaced in your iCloud library by a matching file from iTunes. The matched file will have your AppleID and email address included in its metadata however, so don’t take this as a license to take up music piracy!

Save Some Money, Kiss iTunes Music Purchases Buh-bye

So feel free to take advantage of all the great MP3s Amazon has to offer, especially all the great free stuff! Even Amazon’s paid MP3 singles and albums are often much less expensive than the same content in the iTunes store and they’ll still work just fine with iTunes, and if you opt for the iTunes Match service, iCloud too!

If you’re balking at the cost for iTunes match, look at it this way: if you’ve got a lot of non-iTunes music, isn’t it worth two bucks a month* to add all the convenience and functionality of Cloud storage for that music? I sure think so.


*Note: this is the cost as of this posting on 5/28/12. Prices are subject to change.


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