Apple Music - Practically speaking how does it work

I’m seriously considering making the move to Apple Music - after years of never considering subsctiption music of any variety because I never listen to new music and already have digital copies of everything I like, I’ve found myself listening to new music again.

My concern is over the circa 3000 songs and heavily curated playlist that I already have - all of which are sync’d to my ios devices.

Does my existing library effectively merge with Apple Music, so I see one repositorary, or is it separate in the apps - for example can I add new tracks to my existing “non apple music” playlists.

Also, can apple music tracks be used in other apps on the device eg soundboard type apps?

I find that my personal music and Apple Music are quite sequestered, so I have to sometimes search in both to find what I’m looking for - Say I want to Listen to “Substance” by New Order, or my Deluxe “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd - those are only available in my Library, but if I want to listen to the new live New Order Album, or the new Pink Floyd box set I need to switch over to Apple Music.

I suggest you just try it - you can get a free month or three, see what you think.

I went in to Apple Music under the same circumstances — tons of music I’d already collected and ripped from CDs over the years and wondering how I merge my own library with what I bring in from Apple Music. It all goes into one library. I’ve found it to be pretty seamless.

When you find a song or an album in Apple Music that you don’t already have, you click/tap an “Add” button to add it to your library. It’s then available to put into any of your playlists or smart playlists, and you can download it to any of your devices for those times when you don’t have wi-fi and don’t want to use cellular data to stream it. But you don’t have to download it to any devices. You can leave it all in the cloud. Even when you don’t download it, it’s “in” your library and you can put it in your playlists. And even if you never hit that “Add” button, you can listen to it whenever you want. It doesn’t have to be in your library for you to be able to listen to it. But it’s easier to find and mix in with all of your music when you do add it.

I’ve just made a very minimal attempt to answer your question about using the Apple Music files elsewhere, in other apps. My guess would be you can’t. I just tried to drag a few Apple Music files (files I didn’t already own before joining Apple Music but have since added to my library) to my desktop, and Music wouldn’t let me. (I can still do whatever I want with files that I own. It’s just the ones I’m “renting” from Apple that are restricted.)

One point you’ll want to consider is just how irritated you’ll be if Apple Music messes with the metadata of the music you already own. I don’t know how true it is today, but I know in the early months of Apple Music, people were finding that once they put their own files into Apple’s cloud, some of the tags and album artwork got changed. You can go back and change it all, but that’s a hassle. I’m not all that concerned about that, though, so it never really bothered me. I fix it where I can, but it’s not a big deal for me.

Before you join, you’ll want to make at least one backup of all of the music you already own.

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I really like Apple Music: For a family of four, it is so very welcome for everyone to just grab whatever music they want to listen to, without my having to buy it for them. However, I’ll second the advice to make sure that you’ve backed everything beforehand up and made sure you can recover that backup.

The way in which Apple Music decides what should be in your library and how it should be organized is sometimes very quirky. Songs may not be in the same albums as they were in your iTunes library, and sometimes songs will be missing or duplicated. Another issue for me has been that Apple Music has substituted what it thinks are identical versions of songs or albums for the ones that were in my personal library, but the ones it substituted were either incorrect or inferior.

When your try to fix these issues, you can sometimes do Very Bad Things. For example, in one case, I attempted to remove a duplicate song from my device but ended up deleting it from my whole Apple Music library instead. That song belonged to a special edition of an album that was not in Apple Music. Had I not had a good backup, I’d have lost that song completely.

I subscribe to Apple Music but I no longer sync my music to iCloud. I second the warnings @tonycraine and @ACautionaryTale have voiced.

IMO, it’s not a matter of “if Apple Music messes with the . . . music you already own” but when. Starting with iTunes Music Match until today, syncing my music has invariably lead to artwork and other metadata being changed, albums being rearranged, and various other problems. I rebuilt my library multiple times over the years but some problems continued. Unlike @tonycraine this really irritated me.

A couple of months ago, I created a new blank Music library to use with Apple Music, deleted all my synced music, and moved my digital music collection to my Plex Server.

However, as long as you make a backup of your music there is no reason not to try Apple Music. It has a lot to recommend it and only you can decide if its various quirks are a problem. Enjoy.

This is by far my largest and only substantive frustration with it.


Thanks everyone, that’s been helpful.


I would definitely make a copy of your current library on a separate disk, and then unplug it and leave it on a shelf somewhere in case you need it later.

I spent years trying to organize my music library, and finally just gave up when Apple Music arrived. I’ve never looked back, but I’ve heard lots of horror stories of people’s personal libraries getting FUBAR’d.

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Here are some takeaways from my experience. Theoretically, Apple Music (see special note about iCloud Music Library below) should do no harm to your existing library. All your current library titles should be sequestered in a folder in your finder called Music, which is a subfolder of iTunes Media. Any Apple Music tracks get saved in a separate subfolder under iTunes Media called Apple Music. I have not had the kind of sequestration issue that @Cbales is experiencing regarding access and playback.

Apple Music did not cause any problems with the sound files in my library. The tricky issue was activating iCloud Music Library, which syncs your library with the cloud. I did have some minor issues with that, but at the end of the day my library “owned” music files remained intact.

I did make a back up of my entire library before activating Apple Music, but I have not had to go back to it.

The biggest problem I deal with with was having my album artwork changed (as others have mentioned) and having to fix some metadata. I did not have massive metadata changes to deal with, but some. I did experience some of the substitution problems that @ACautionaryTale mentioned, but the main result of that was a change in the album artwork, not a change in the music itself. For the most part, I’ve had smooth sailing.

I’m also deep into this because this Christmas season, I decided to clean up all the metadata and reorganize my music library. (Not because of any problems with Apple Music, but because my musical garden needed much tending.) So, I’ve had a good look at what is in my library that I own vs. what I’ve added from Apple Music. I have not found a single piece of music that I owned outright that was damaged, lost, or coopted by Apple Music.

Your milage may vary, but I’ve had a reasonably easy experience as I transitioned over and I’ve been on Apple Music since December 2016.

As far as using Apple Music tracks outside of Apple Music, my experience is you mostly can’t but sometimes can. For example, I’ve tried to use clips of Apple Music tracks in iMovies. Sometimes a track is available, but often it’s not. Not sure about access to Apple Music tracks in other apps/tools.

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I started using Apple Music about a year ago with a sizable library. Had some metadata issues until I cut and pasted all my music elsewhere, started from scratch, and added it back to iTunes/Music. Somehow, I can now add music manually to and it respects my metadata and uploads it to Apple’s cloud. No idea what I did except start from scratch.

I made a copy of my iTunes library on an external HD before I switched to Apple music just to be sure. I’ve never had any issues since. It’s a fairly seamless experience, and my kids especially love having everything they want just a click away,

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Did this keep / restore custom playlists when you moved the music back?