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How to get iCloud Music Library to use your own metadata

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Warning: this is a long post aimed at people who, like me, are obsessed with the organization of their iTunes music library. I’m talking borderline OCD here. :)




Something I’ve wanted to do and have had problems with since Apple Music’s launch is to have all my Apple Music tracks blend seamlessly with the rest of my carefully curated iTunes library (iTunes Store-bought and CD-ripped music), and have this “blended library” available for streaming on all my devices. That’s actually how Apple has set things up to work, and which is the promise of iCloud Music Library, if only it did in fact work. For now however, iCloud Music Library is a mess. That’s an understatement. Kirk covered a lot of what can go wrong when migrating an iTunes library to iCloud in his informative article earlier this week and as he also mentions, there are seemingly random problems that can creep up, and which seem to defy all logic as to why they are happening.




One of the main issues is that iCloud generally insists on enforcing its own metadata on tracks. I want to use my metadata, certainly on my pre-existing tracks, but also on albums that I add from Apple Music. For example, artists are by default sorted by first-name/last-name by Apple, while I’ve long used the “sort as” field to sort them by last-name/first-name. There’s all sorts of other reasons why you might want to change or add your own metadata to Apple Music or iCloud matched files, if only to correct possible mistakes in Apple’s provided metadata. You can always try modifying the tags after adding an album from Apple Music, and then go to “File -> Library -> Update iCloud Music Library” to refresh iCloud and hope that your tags will “stick”, but that’s very hit or miss. I’ve had it work on some albums and not on others, and even had some tracks of an album that got updated with my metadata, while other tracks of that same album reverted to Apple’s idea of what the metadata should be. I haven’t been able to find any logic as to why it sometimes works and other times doesn’t. Once the tracks are in iCloud Music Library (which happens as soon as you add an album from Apple Music to “My Music”), there’s a good chance that iCloud will enforce its own metadata.




I’ve been (more than) a little obsessed trying to see if there would be a way to force iCloud to use my own metadata. I’ve fiddled around a lot, ran a lot of tests, and even wiped out and restored my iOS devices a few times in an effort to understand how this whole thing works. I haven’t been able to figure everything out yet, but I do understand one or two things better than I did before, in great part thanks to Kirk’s article. In particular, I’ve been able to make iCloud use my own metadata (and stick with it), even on tracks added from Apple Music.




Please note that this method won’t fix problems with mis-matched tracks (when the music playing is actually different from what you expect); it only fixes problems when you have incorrect tags on the correct music. Also, I’m a subscriber to iTunes Match and have no idea if this trick will work for non-subscribers. I think it should, as it follows the same logic explained by Kirk in his article, but I can’t test it as there is no way that I can see to temporarily turn off iTunes Match without turning off iCloud Music Library altogether.




You can use this method to repair tags that may have been modified on a few albums when you first activated iCloud Music Library. If your entire music library of several thousand tracks got screwed up by iCloud, there are probably faster ways to re-start from scratch than this method. However, this is the best way to modify tags as you go along when adding albums from Apple Music.




It may seem a little convoluted “on paper”, but it’s really pretty simple after you’ve done it once or twice. Here are the steps:




- Add the album or track(s) from Apple Music to “My Music” by clicking on the + button. You can do this either in iTunes on the Mac or in Music on an iOS device, it doesn’t matter. You can skip this step if you want to modify tags on a pre-existing iTunes track(s) from your library that was previously uploaded to iCloud.




- After adding it, the album is now in iCloud Music Library and should appear on your Mac as well as on all your iOS devices.




- Go to “My Music” in iTunes and download the tracks to your Mac (if you just added them from Apple Music) by clicking on the cloud icon with the arrow (you do have to download to your Mac for this method to work, although you can always remove the downloads later on).




- Now go in Music on one of your iOS devices, click on the ellipsis icon at the right of the album or track title, and select “Remove from My Music”. There are cases where you will see a “Delete” menu item instead, you can just select that and it will do the same thing. I haven’t been able to figure out yet why it’s sometimes one or the other, but I haven’t really tried to figure it out either. :)




- Now the album or track(s) has been deleted from iCloud Music Library, which is what we want.




- Go back to iTunes on your Mac and select “File -> Library -> Update iCloud Music Library”.




- Now you will see a small cloud icon with an “x” to the right of all the album’s tracks (you may have to wait several seconds even after the iCloud Music Library refresh has ended before these icons appear). This is iTunes telling you that the tracks have been removed from iCloud on another device. The good thing for us is that the tracks don’t get automatically deleted from iTunes (but they would have if you hadn’t first downloaded them to your Mac).




- Now change or add metadata to your heart’s content. Go ahead, now’s the time to do it! :)




- After you’re done editing tags and everything is the way you want it, select all the tracks, right-click on one of them, and choose “Add to iCloud Music Library”. The command will apply to all your selected tracks.




- That’s it! After your tracks have been uploaded to iCloud, they should appear with your preferred metadata on your Mac as well as on your iOS devices, and iCloud should now stop messing with your tags… for this album. ;)




Of course, in order to save time, you can use this method with several albums at the same time. In particular, it’s easy to remove an entire artist’s work from My Music. Also, this all doesn’t change the fact that Apple really has to fix iCloud Music Library, but this can be a workaround for the moment.




If you’re still interested after this long post, read my second longer post for two instances where this method will unfortunately not work. :)

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The method described above unfortunately won’t work in two special cases. It took me a long time to comprehend why it didn’t work, but I think I now understand.




1- This won’t work if you try to change an album title’s capitalization or accented letters without applying other modifications to the title. Your modified caps or accents will appear correctly and remain intact in iTunes on the Mac, but will revert back on iOS devices. This is only for album titles; the method will work for track titles.




I’ll spare you the details of all the tests I had to perform in order to understand what is going on, but here’s what’s happening: the first time an album title is communicated to an iOS device (in our case, via iCloud Music Library), it stores the title’s information *on the device*. And remembers it. Forever. There’s no amount of deleting the album from iCloud Music Library or the device itself that will make it forget that original title. This is true even if the tracks were never physically on the iOS device, for example if they always lived only in iCloud Music Library before you deleted them. The album title info was communicated to Music on the iOS device and it will remain there.




If you make a major modification to the title (like adding or deleting a word) using the above method, the device will take it into account and will display your modified title. Great. However, letter caps and accents don’t register with the Music app on iOS devices. It just doesn’t take them into account. So an unaccented or accented letter is the same to Music. Same thing for a lowercase or uppercase letter, Music makes no difference between the two, and as soon as it sees a title that it considers identical to the title that was provided the first time the album was added, Music will go back to its internal database and display the title as it was first provided.




Let’s say Music first saw the title of an album when you added it from Apple Music by clicking on the + sign and stores it internally. The title provided by Apple is “Scene d’Amour”, which is a french title accented and capitalized with english rules (a frequent occurrence on the iTunes Store and Apple Music). You want to correct it by adding the proper french accents and capitalization using the method in the first post. That would be “Scène d’amour”. iCloud Music Library will actually store the corrected title on the iCloud servers, but when the iOS device sees that corrected title, it sees it as no different than what is already in its internal database and will display it using the information it already has, so you’ll never be able to correct the original title on an iPhone or iPad. Bummer.




I’ve tried to find a way to delete the album title info that is stored on the iOS device, but haven’t been able to, short of erasing the device and restoring from a backup. Not very practical…




You can work around this issue in one of two ways:




- You could add a space at the end of the title and Music will see that as a big enough difference to use the new title instead of the one originally stored.




- The other way is simply one of planning. If you see a title on Apple Music where you notice an accent or caps mistake, turn off iCloud Music Library on your iOS devices before adding the album to “My Music” in iTunes on the Mac. Then make the corrections using the method from the first post, and only then turn on iCloud Music Library on iOS devices. Not very practical either, and it doesn’t allow you to correct titles that were already transmitted to your iPhone or iPad.








2- This method won’t allow you to correct an artist picture that was associated with the wrong artist by changing artist tag info, for reasons similar to the album title problem. At least, this is true for one case of misidentified artist which happened to me. I believe there may be more than one reason that iCloud Music Library misidentifies artists, but I’ve only had one of those reasons happen to me and can’t test the others.




In my case, here’s what’s happening. I had two artists that were identified with an incorrect Apple-provided custom picture in Music on iOS: composer John Williams appeared identified with a picture of Yo-Yo Ma, and composer Ennio Morricone with a picture of Italian singer Mina. After a lot of head scratching, I figured out why that was happening. I have many albums that are tagged with “John Williams” as the album artist, although individual tracks can be tagged with a different “Artist” tag. For example, I have an album of John Williams concert music that has his cello concerto as the first track on the album. Although John Williams is the “Album Artist” for this album (as he is the conductor on all the tracks), Yo-Yo Ma is tagged as the first “Artist” on the first track, as he is the soloist in the concerto. The tag goes something like this: “Yo-Yo Ma, John Williams & Los Angeles Arts Orchestra”. This allows me to have all tracks of that album arranged under “John Williams” in iTunes, but also see who is the soloist, or main “artist” on each of the concertos on the album. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have his tags arranged that way on multi-artist albums.




But herein lies the problem: iCloud Music Library looks at the first name in the “Artist” tag in order to assign a custom picture to an artist, but then will arrange albums together using the “Album Artist” tag in Music and iTunes, if that tag has been filled in. What’s more, just like with the album title, Music will store that photo link internally and will never forget it. So, if you were unlucky enough that the first track provided to Music for a given artist had an “Artist” tag that was different from the “Album Artist” tag that will eventually govern the arrangement of all albums for that given album artist, then you will end up with the wrong picture associated with that artist in Music. I don’t know if that’s clear; it’s a little difficult to explain.




Since Music will never forget that original photo association, there is no amount of retagging artists and album artists or deleting tracks that will ever get you to see the correct picture for a misidentified album artist. I tried changing the “Artist” tag on that problematic track from Yo-Yo Ma to John Williams, and also tried deleting the track, nothing would do. Music will always remember that first association. It seems to be stored somewhere in an internal database. The only way to fix the problem was to erase and restore my iOS devices, and make sure I was avoiding tagging those tracks in a way that was problematic for Music on iOS. Which is not really a solution, as it forces me to tag my tracks according to Apple’s ways.




I don’t know, maybe some people would actually want to have the photo associated with the “Artist” tag instead of the “Album Artist”. The only long term solution that I could see to satisfy everyone would be for Apple to provide a way to manually override the picture that it provides for an artist.




Well, that was quite long, but I hope it can be informative to at least one person. Haha!

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Martin, thanks for the detailed info. I'd given up on spending the time to try and figure it out. With iTunes Match in the past, changes to metadata would sometimes stick, sometimes change back. They're quite fickle.


As for artist photos, there's one way to ensure you get the right ones on an iOS device when syncing, but this won't work with iCloud Music Library:


Radical Approach Fixes Many iTunes Sync Problems with iOS Devices


As you say, there's a database where there are Artist IDs together with photos.

I write about Macs, music, and more at Kirkville.

Author of Take Control of macOS Media Apps

Co-host of The Next Track podcast.

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  • 3 weeks later...

There is an .sqlite database on the device. The only way to get rid of it is to wipe the device, or use an app that gives you access to files on the device, such as iExplorer:


Access all the Files on Your iOS Device with iExplorer


That's what I've used in the past to both copy and delete that database, and other things like caches.

I write about Macs, music, and more at Kirkville.

Author of Take Control of macOS Media Apps

Co-host of The Next Track podcast.

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  • 1 month later...

Hey @kirk ,


So I went though the arduous process of combing through my iTunes library and changing all the "sort" fields to standard alphabetization, (i.e. Last Name, First Name.) I used this opportunity to "scrub" all my files making sure all the track and album data was correct, cover art etc. It took over three weeks to do, but damn I wasn't proud of my tidy library! Now the vinyl and digital matched.


But then came the big test ... iCloud Music Library. I've been a long time iTunes Match subscriber, and I'd read the horror stories so I made a copy of my tidied library in case something went awry. I went ahead and completely blew away any possible data that might have existed in iCloud Music/iTunes Match so that I was starting with a clean slate. And I took the plunge and turned on iCloud Music on my Mac. It did it's thing and after many hours ... I was up and running. So excited!


That was until I turned on iCloud Music on my iPhone. Much to my dismay, all those sort fields that I'd spent weeks correcting were (largely) ignored. Elvis Costello was listed under "E", Dexter Gordon under "D." :mad: I say largely because SOME of the sorting DID stick, but it's largely random from what I can tell. Maybe 40% of my tags stuck. And why two different Donald Byrd albums are mixed on their sorting (one in B, one in D) I have no friggin' clue.


I hopped on the phone with Apple support, but they were of little help. They suggested I tether the phone and see if syncing that way held my metadata. Not helpful ... the point is to take my entire collection with me. I don't have space for all my music on my phone.


So that's where I'm at. I read your post @Martin Nadeau and see how you suggest correcting things added via Apple Music, but I wasn't sure if you had an idea of how I can make my tagging stick on the files that are going from my Mac to iCloud and then on phone.


I understand why iTunes works the way it does. There's no way it can tell what a person's last name and what's the start of say a band title. But it's ultra frustrating that iCloud Music won't hold custom metadata. Hoping you might be able to shed some light.



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Thanks @kirk I'll take a look at that further.


The most odd behavior that's been happening today is the artist sorting appears to be actively changing. For instance, those Donald Byrd records I was talking about being listed under "D" on my iPhone? Well they suddenly changed to the appropriate sort metadata of "B" not long after I posted here. However, just now I double checked on my phone and those albums have reverted to "D."


I give that a hearty WTF. So strange.


Thanks again for your reply.

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