UPDATED: iTunes In Cloud Might Not Recognize 80% Of Your Music, Says Expert [Exclusive]



UPDATE: I totally screwed this one up. When my contact, TuneUp founder Raza Zaidi, told me iTunes in the cloud has only 20% of the all the music listed in Gracenote’s big database of music, I interpreted it to mean that the upcoming iTunes Match service would mirror only a fraction of most music libraries. What I failed to realize was that 20% of music in iTunes represents the most popular 20%. The remaining 80% is all the music in the long tail. So when Apple rolls out iTunes Match in the fall, it will indeed likely mirror most music libraries, just as Apple claims. In a clarifying note, Zaidi says matches will likely be 95% or higher. In addition, the Get Album Artwork feature in iTunes isn’t powered by Gracenote, as the post implies. Sorry for the mistakes. Teach me to post before my morning coffee.

When iTunes Match goes live in September, Apple promises to instantaneously match any of the tracks in your iTunes library to the iCloud… as long as it already has your music in its mega music library. What Apple hasn’t said is that as much of 80% of your music might not be recognized by iTunes Match… and the only way to get that music into the iCloud will be to spend days manually uploading gigabytes at a time.

Earlier this week, we revealed that Apple’s upcoming iTunes-in-the-cloud service will use Gracenote’s MusicID technology to match your music library with songs in the cloud.

Apple has said its upcoming system will match songs with millions of tunes already online. “Since there are more than 18 million songs in the iTunes Store, most of your music is probably already in iCloud,” Apple says.

But the service may actually recognize a lot less of your music library, says one digital music expert, citing numbers that are already publicly available.

Raza Zaidi, the founder and former CTO of TuneUp Media and now a Digital Media Consultant with Jadugar, says the 18 million songs in the iTunes Store represents only 20% of all the music in the Gracenote database that MusicID can recognize.

Zaidi says this subset of songs were either released on CD (and GraceNote has gathered the fingerprints) or are newer digital releases, and the record labels have provided digital fingerprints to Gracenote.

So when Apple rolls out the iTunes Match feature in the fall, it should do a good job of matching your tunes: if your library is made up of newer digital releases and mainstream CDs.

Gracenote’s MusicID is already built into iTunes. It runs iTune’s Genius sidebar, the music recommendation system.

“All this is public knowledge,” said Zaidi. “It is not very well known that Gracenote powers the Genius sidebar but it is public.”

Zaidi said iTunes Match should be able to recognize just about all the music it has a fingerprint for, regardless of the source — CD rip, file-sharing network, or vinyl LP.

“The fingerprint of a vinyl rip and a CD rip is very similar and MusicID does surprisingly well on vinyl rips,” he says. However, he adds, “I’ve never done a large enough sampling to get a real percentage rate.”

“Recorded streams may be harder because MusicID needs the first 6-15 seconds. If the recorder didn’t capture a song (from the radio, say) from the beginning, or a DJ is still talking, the fingerprint can be a mismatch.”

Overall, Apple will be able to host your entire music collection in the cloud, but depending on how you procured your music, the difference between iTunes Match and competing cloud lockers like Google Music and Amazon Cloud Locker might not be as dramatic as you think.

Try it now. Open iTunes and try to “Get Album Artwork.” (Note: Get Album Artwork isn’t powered by Gracenote). If iTunes doesn’t recognize any of your music enough to pluck album art from its servers for it, it probably won’t automatically mirror those tracks to the iCloud. Instead, when iTunes Match is launched, you’ll have to upload those tracks physically to Apple’s servers… and depending on how much music you have, that could take a very long time and use up a lot of bandwidth.

Are the limitations of Apple’s iTunes Match technology likely to affect you? If so, how badly? Let us know in the comments.