iTunes Match Up and Running - But not w/o some issues on the way
I spent a good deal of the day working on iTunes Match yesterday. It did not go smoothly but in the end it is working and working well. So here's a recap of how things went.
I should preface this by saying that all of this was done on a two-year old 24" aluminum iMac running OS X Lion 10.7.2 connected by Ethernet to my home network via an Apple Airport Extreme Router. My broadband is FiOS with 25Mbps download and 25Mbps upload speeds which is generally very reliable. Screen shots of the various stages of the process can be seen starting here:
iTunes 10.5.1 and iTunes Match Installation Screen Shots
Initially I downloaded iTunes 10.5.1 (which adds the iTunes Match feature to the "Store" options) because it wasn't yet available as a normal software update (which it is now). The download and install went fine. BTW, the only added feature in iTunes 10.5.1 is iTunes Match. If you don't plan on using iTunes Match there's no rush to update iTunes from v10.5.
I turned iTunes Match on by opening iTunes, clicking "Store" in the top toolbar and clicking on "Turn on iTunes Match". The iTunes Match screen opened and asked if I wanted to sign up for an annual fee of $24.99. I said yes, entered my Apple iTunes ID and Password and subsequently iTunes Match went to work. iTunes Match auto-renews annually however that option can be turned off in your iTunes account settings. I've read elsewhere that "early adopters" received 15 months of first-time service. I checked on my account and I only received 12 months but YMMV.
iTunes Match has three stages or "steps"; first it reviews your current iTunes library, then it matches the content of your iTunes library with the content available in Apple's iTunes Store and finally it begins uploading songs, cover art, etc. for songs that do not have a match in the iTunes Store. This includes music videos as well.
Step one, analyzing my iTunes library went fine, probably took about 30 minutes. Step 2 did not go so well. Although it progressed through a majority of my 7,500 or so iTunes library songs it hung repeatedly. This caused iTunes to hang and require a force quit as well. I had to restart iTunes (iTunes Match automatically restarts when iTunes opens if it hasn't finished) about six or seven times...lost count. That was very, very frustrating. Each time it would run for a while and then just hang. After reading numerous accounts of the same situation elsewhere I'm pretty sure this was due to Apple's servers being overloaded. I would have expected them to have learned a lesson from their similar experiences with iOS 5, and although their new server farm in N. Carolina is enormous (possibly the largest in the world) there are only so many servers to go around when millions of folks are trying to access them at the same time. In retrospect I probably should have just waited until today or tomorrow to complete this task but patience isn't one of my virtues.
It/I finally managed to get to Step 3, the uploading of songs that iTunes Match couldn't, well, match in the iTunes Store. I was surprised to find that iTunes Match could only match 20% of my iTunes library! I have some obscure music, but a majority of it is very mainstream and most of it ripped from CD's. None were ripped below 128kpbs (anything below that apparently will not work with iTunes Match), a majority at 256kbps and some at 320kbps. So iTunes Match had to upload approximately 5,900 of my songs. I'm almost certain that this wasn't necessary, however there's really no way to intervene. Step 3 went along fine until it hit about 1,500 songs to go...then it hung. I had to force quit and restart iTunes several more times. Each time more songs would upload and then it would hang again. Finally after several hours of this it boiled down to about 40 songs that were waiting to be uploaded. However no matter how many times I restarted iTunes, iTunes Match would not budge.
At the suggestion of an article I found online I added two columns to my iTunes library, "iCloud Download" and "iCloud Status". Open iTunes to "Song List" view then in the top toolbar click on View > View Options > check both items. This allowed me to see exactly what was matched, uploaded, waiting, etc.
After reviewing all of my songs (you can sort them by clicking on "iCloud Status") I found that there were about 40 that displayed "Waiting". No matter how many times I force-quit iTunes and tried to get iTunes Match to complete, those last songs in the wait-state would not be moved. I finally deleted all of them (they were odd, non-mainstream songs, a couple of custom made CD's I had ripped and albums that I can live without, plus I still have the original CD's). Once I deleted the the "Waiting" songs iTunes Match finished instantly. I'm not sure why those particular songs were causing trouble, but I was glad that it was finally able to finish.
Once completed I closed and re-opened iTunes to find that a lot, and I mean a lot of cover art was missing. I wasn't so much worried about the more common cover art that's available by using iTunes' built in-downloader but by the cover art that I had personally added over the years to the more obscure albums in my collection. I was not prepared to spend hours hunting this artwork down again. The good news is that eventually I was able to get all of my cover art back. Not any one task fixed it, but after a lot of trial and error, it was all there. Here's what I did:
1. Turned off iTunes Match - iTunes > Store > Turn Off iTunes Match.
2. Used the iTunes cover art retrieval option - iTunes "Advanced" (top toolbar) > "Get Album Artwork". (I received a notice that 21 covers could not be found).
3. Closed and reopened iTunes (several times)
4. Clicked on cover art that was missing (and it would appear)
5. Cmd+I/Control-click (right-click) on missing cover art to open the "Get Info" screen (and it would appear).
6. Turn iTunes Match back on and click on "Update iTunes Match" in the same drop-down menu
After doing those various things all of the cover art was back including the cover art that I had added myself.
So I've tested iTunes Match on my iPad, my iPhone and my Apple TV2. and it seems to be working well now...but what a nightmare it was to get there!. iTunes is once again behaving normally in both regular and full-screen mode.
EDITORIAL SUMMARY: This was not a good Apple-like experience. Overall it was a halting, kludgy, unprofessional and unpolished start to a service that looks very promising. Again, a majority of the issues can probably be attributed to server overload and I would fully expect the experience to be much better as time goes on. One of my concerns however is for folks that have average broadband speeds and have to upload a lot of music. That could take a long time and is probably a "leave it to run overnight" project. Windows folks should probably turn off their virus protection and make sure their network is running smoothly prior to doing this as well.
Again, I hope Apple will use this as a learning moment. This is a huge and expensive project and requires a massive amount of support. Could it have gone worse...assuredly. Could it have gone better? IMHO yes and I believe Apple should have rolled this out incrementally and taken the hit from customers that were anxious to get it but had to wait rather than incur the wrath of many more for which the experience was less than we've come to expect from Apple.
This was written only to recount my personal iTunes Match installation experience. There are numerous articles online about how iTunes Match works, options, etc. You're certainly free to post and discuss it here, but I'd also suggest putting Google to work if you want to learn more about it. Here's Apple's website info to get you started:
Apple - iCloud - All your music on all your devices.
Hope that helps others that follow, and again, once working iTunes Match is terrific and an enormous step into the future delivery of digital sound and likely video enjoyment in the years to come.