Can I Delete my Music Library after using iTunes Match?

Delete Music Library After Using Itunes Match
Categories: Apple

Download Music using iMatchThe quick answer is yes. But there are some things you need to know before you delete your iTunes music library after initiating iTunes Match.

Let’s start from the beginning. iTunes Match is a new feature from Apple that utilizes iCloud to store all of your music. For $24.99 per year, you can upload all of your music to the cloud and then access that music any time you are connected to the Internet. You can also use your iPad, iPod, iPhone, or other computer with iTunes to access your entire music library at any time.

When you upload your music, you actually don’t upload your entire library, you only upload songs that iTunes does not have in their library. If iTunes has it in their library, you will be hearing that copy. Why have a million copies of a song when one is all you need? What’s great is that the iTunes version is in 256-Kbps AAC DRM-free quality, which may be better than the version you have on your computer. So think of iTunes Match as matching your music library to the existing library in the cloud. If you have music that is not in the library, it is added.

What you need to know before you delete your music

Second, after you have completed the iTunes Match process, and before you delete all of your music, be sure you back up your music library to an external drive. If you are using Time Machine to back up your computer, your music library will be on that backup. I’d even suggest doing another backup of your music to be safe. You can usually find your entire library by clicking on these folders Music > iTunes > iTunes Media > Music.

Second, if you delete your songs, they will not be available when you are not connected to the Internet. You can always easily add them back, but just know that you won’t be able to listen to these songs when you are on your international flight with no Internet connection.

Deleting your music

When you are ready to delete your music, highlight the songs you’d like to delete (do a command + A to select all), and then simply press the delete key. You will be given the option to Delete the Song with a checkbox to also delete the song from iCloud. Don’t check the iCloud box unless you want that song to disappear. If you just push the button to “Delete Song,” the song will be deleted from your computer, freeing up space.

Delete Song in iTunes Match

After you click the Delete Song button, another option will come up to Keep File or Move to Trash. Keeping the file will keep the file on your computer within your files. It will remove it from iTunes, but it will still be in your files. Moving the File to trash will remove the file from your computer. It will still be in the iCloud where you can access it from any devices, but it will not be on your local computer.

iTunes Match Keep File or Move to Trash

You can delete your entire music library if you plan to access all of your music in the cloud. That’s what I did because I use a MacBook Air with limited hard drive space. I was able to remove all of my music but still access all of it through iTunes Match and the cloud.

iMatch DownloadOnce you have deleted your library and you decide to add some of that music back to your local computer, simply click the cloud-looking icon next to your song and the song will begin downloading immediately.

To use iTunes Match on your mobile device, enable iTunes Match under the Music settings on your iPod, iPad, or iPhone. For your computer, initiate iTunes Match within iTunes to access the library associated with your Apple username. You only pay for iTunes Match once per account no matter how many devices will access that music.

One incredible feature is that the music is instantly available in the cloud once you purchase it or burn it to your computer. For instance, I just burned a new cd to my computer and was able to access that cd from my iPhone immediately after it loaded on my computer. I was pretty impressed with that.

74 Comments. Leave new

  • […] with iTunes Match, any CD you have loaded into your iTunes account immediately becomes available on any of your […]

  • Thanks so much for your article. I was just trying to look for an answer on wether I could delete my library after signing up for iTunes match and couldn’t find an appropriate answer on apple’s website. Your article completely answered all my questions. Thank you!

  • Alistair Taylor
    December 26, 2012 4:52 pm

    Hello I was wandering could somebody help me, I have recently just purchased itunes match from apple. I uploaded my entire music collection to it, which was’nt a problem. It was then I thought It was safe to delete all my music of my pc, not before I backed all of it up on a external hard drive though. But after that I added my devise to itunes match and I have been doing everything that apple have been telling me to the letter and I still ca’nt listen to my music on the cloud through my pc.
    Somebody help please, kind regards.

    • Hello Alistair – once you have uploaded your music to iTunes Match, you must be connected to the Internet to be able to listen to the music. Are you connected when you are having this problem?

  • Thanks so much for this, very clear. One difficulty I’m having – I just bought Celebration Day by Led Zep and ripped it using iTunes. It appears in iTunes on my PC and in my iCloud (iMatch? – I have that service and get confused about which is which). So I tried deleting track 2 from my hard drive and now iTunes won’t find it. My iPhone can still download it from the cloud but iTunes wants me to “locate it”. There is no icon in the little “cloud” column” in the column browser, and there is no icon against any of the other tracks on that album. The rest of my library has the little download-cloud icon so that all worked somehow in the past. I did Store / update iMatch and restarted iTunes. What am I missing? Many thanks.

    • Hi Quentin, that seems strange that just the one song is causing problems. My advice is to delete that song completely and then re-upload that particular song within iTunes. Maybe there was a glitch the first time.

  • Sorry, I wasn’t clear – that was the only song I had tried. It happens with any song. I am deleting through explorer not iTunes- is that the mistake?

    • Yes Quentin, you will need to complete the task of deleting the song within iTunes. You will then be provided the option either to delete the song file or delete the file and from iTunes Match. Just choose the option to delete the song file.

  • Awesome! That was it – thanks so much. I’d been struggling with this on and off for a while and finally got it with your help. It seems everyone says “then delete the song” and they assume – “in iTunes” and I assumed “from your computer”. (Even when you actually laid it out above!)

  • I’m having a problem where iTunes with Match enabled uploaded about 300 songs which I didn’t want on there without me realising. After deleting all these songs from my computer, I’ve noticed they are still showing up on both my iDevices with Match enabled, it’s frustrating because if I had the original files, I could just use the “delete from iCloud” option, but other than that, I’m not sure how to get rid of them? Any help? 🙂

    • Hi Daniel, have you deleted the songs from within iTunes? You will need to delete them from there and choose to delete from iCloud when prompted. Then they should be removed from your other devices as well.

  • Hi Erik

    Many thanks for a great informative article. I was wondering, I use different playlists for different devices. E.G. My iPod Nano only has 8Gb and my iPhone has 32Gb, as does my iPad. I can’t sync all of my music to any of my devices so in theory, iTunes Match is ideal for me. However, I don’t want to have to stream all of my music to my iPhone because that has an effect on my mobile data limit and the mobile reception is not always as good as it could be. A good example is when you are on a flight, as you said. So I see two scenarios:

    1) Download all of the songs I want from iCloud on to my iPhone for offline access (time-consuming?) and stream others as and when
    2) Do not use iTunes Match with my iPhone – simply continue to sync to a Playlist

    It seems that either way there is still merit in using iTunes Match because all of the songs will be of consistent quality and in the event of a disaster, my iTunes library will be recoverable even if my Time Machine backup fails. Obviously this excludes those songs/files which Match will not allow to be uploaded

    One other thing which occurs to me…people have been asking about deleting their iTunes library after turning on Match. What happens to Videos, Films, TV Programs and the likes if the iTunes library is deleted?


    • Hi Bob – iTunes Match just covers music for now so if you plan to delete items from your computer after you are sure they are in your Match account, only delete the music and not videos or tv programs.

  • Hi Erik,
    I read quite a few posts on this subject before finding your easy to follow instructions. I had already deleted my iTunes library from the Finder and was unable to play the songs from the cloud because iTunes thought that the files were still on my hard drive. Thankfully I did have a backup. I reinstalled my songs and then followed your advice and deleted them from within iTunes and now not only will iTunes play the songs from the cloud, but I’ve freed up some much needed space on the MacBook Air’s hard drive.

  • Hi Erik

    Thanks for your advice. I have enabled iTunes Match. It’s pretty good other than the thing about not recognising some tracks on an album despite them being ripped at the same time as the rest of the tracks it does recognise. I’ve done much googling on this and I understand why it happens

    iTunes doesn’t always get the album tracks in the correct order which can be disappointing and requires manual correction. It also mis-identifies Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy as The Song Remains The Same and has the wrong artwork. I have corrected this but the ipad version still has the wrong name and artwork. I must be able to sync that somehow to correct it. Not figured out how

    I also couldn’t find Disk 1 of Physical Graffiti under Led Zeppelin but Disk 2 is there. I found that iTunes had classed Disk 2 correctly but had put Disk 1 in Compilations so it was in my library but not under Led Zeppelin. This is a fault with iTunes and not iTunes Match of course
    Match is a bit cumbersome with more than one Apple ID too. I wish Apple would make it possible to merge my two accounts
    Apart from that its really good

  • If I have iTunes Match can I create playlists using songs from both iTunes purchases and from burned CDs? I mean in the one playlist. I am right aren’t I that iTunes itself will only create playlists from songs purchased from them?
    Thanks for anyone who can answer what must seem a very basic question to some users.

  • I bought iTunes Match. My computer was recently reset and there was no music on it. All of it was on my iPod. A lot of the music on my iPod was not downloaded on iTunes, but from CD’s. When I turned on Match, the music from the CD’s was taken off of the iPod. Can you explain to me what happened and if it’s possible to reverse it?

    • Hi Brennan – I’m not completely sure what your question is, but I think you need to somehow get all of the songs from your iPod to your computer. Once there, initiate iTunes Match and it will pull all songs whether they are from CDs or the iTunes store. Then, those songs will be available within your iTunes Match account.

  • Kelly Hendershot
    March 17, 2013 11:43 pm

    “Once you have deleted your library and you decide to add some of that music back to your local computer, simply click the cloud-looking icon next to your song and the song will begin downloading immediately.”

    My external hard drive crash so I’ve lost my library back up. When I open iTunes on my MacBook Pro, not all of the songs have the cloud icon. However, all of the songs are retrievable on my other devices. Any tips for accessing them on my computer again?

    • Hello Kelly, before your HD crashed, had you synced your entire music library with iTunes Match? If so, all of those songs should be there, especially if you see them on your other devices. You may consider turning iTunes Match off and then back on again on your computer. Also, if you see the song listed on your computer without the cloud icon next to it, that means the song is already on your computer as well as in the cloud.

  • Hey there,
    So I downloaded iTunes Match to free up space on my computer.
    Once all my songs were matched I erased them from my hard drive (a copy is kept on an external just in case)
    I want to sync up my iPod Classic, but have a sneaking suspicion that since technically my music is no longer on my hard drive it will in turn erase my iPod.
    Does anyone know if that’s true or if there is another way to update my iPod without downloading ALL my music back again to my computer?

    Any ideas would be lovely – Thanks!

    • Depending on the kind of iPod you have, you should just be able to turn on the option for iTunes Match on your iPod and then you’ll have the ability to add all of those songs to your iPod wirelessly.

  • Kelly Hendershot
    March 19, 2013 8:36 pm

    Yes, before the crash I had synced my entire music library with iTunes Match.

    All the songs are on the Cloud, so I can access them from my iPhone and iPad. However, I can’t access them from my MacBook Pro anymore.

    I did try turning iTunes Match off and then back on again on my computer, that didn’t help.

    I do see the song listed on my computer without the cloud icon next to it, but they have an error that the files can’t be located – because the originals are on the crashed drive.

    • Hi Kelly, this doesn’t seem right to me because with iTunes Match, your MBP is no longer the source of which music you have or don’t have. iTunes Match is now the source. I’m not sure why it is working on your mobile devices but not your laptop.

  • Kelly Hendershot
    March 20, 2013 7:53 am

    Well, thanks for your help in trying to figure it out. If I find a solution I will post it back here.

  • Kelly, sounds like a visit to the Genius Bar is the best way for you to proceed. Take your MBP in and get them to sort it out for you

  • James Furness
    March 23, 2013 8:27 am

    If I delete all my music off my phone to gain memory will it stay on my I tunes library which is on my computer . Thanks

    • Hello James, as long as you have iTunes Match set up and the program has completed “matching” all of your songs from your computer, you will be able to delete all of the music off of your iPhone and then be able to listen if you are connected to a network.

  • Great article, Erik! I matched my music and then deleted from computer. All cloud devices (phones, iPad, computer) work great. But I have old iPods that I want to add music to and now when I try to do that, I can’t drag songs in…says the songs are only on cloud. Do I really have to re-import them to computer in order to add to iPod?? Thanks!!

  • Is there a way to get iTunes to match songs right off the CDs? It seems like a time waste to rip the CDs, then immediately turn around and delete the rips after iTunes matches them.


  • Thank you so much this article was lots of help.

  • Can you tell me what happens if you let your iTunes Match subscription subsided and then renew it later. Through a variety of hardware failures or change of computers I had only about half of my library on a hard drive and the rest in iCloud but then didn’t automatically renew my subscription. So now it looks like I have lost half that library as it seems to be creating a completely new account with the renewed (new) iTunes Match account.

    • Hello David, I have not run into that situation yet but would assume that Apple would keep your iTunes Match information on file. Remember, they don’t upload your actual music files unless they don’t already have the song in their library. Therefore, it’s a simple matter of them having a list of songs that you own so that you can access them. I would think you would be able to renew your iTunes Match account without losing any of that information, but again, I have not experienced that situation.

  • Greetings!
    I have Match and must turn it on everytime i sign out of itunes and allow the same computer access to it that had previously been linked up. Any suggestions? Am looking to removed music off of HD to free up space.
    Additionally I have a back up on EHD and CrashPlan, as an old HD crashed and I lost a ton of photos…..lesson learned back up your back up…
    Help please? Many thanks, jibi.

    • Hi Jibi,

      Hmm, I haven’t heard of that problem of having to sign in and out. That’s odd. Why do you sign out of iTunes? You should be able to just stay logged in.

  • Hi,

    I’m sure this will be a couple of dumb questions for you iTunes Match vets, but here goes.

    I’m to the point where I want all my music off my iPhone and iPad. It’s taking up too much room. I know I could pair it down by syncing less, but I’m looking for alternatives.

    So, my question(s) are.

    *. If I pay for iTunes Match is all my music in the cloud?
    *. If I pay for it is there a way to tell iTunes or my iPhone to not sync anymore to my iPhone?
    *. Is this possible? To just stream my music that I want to listen to straight from iTunes Match to my iPhone or iPad?

    —-or, is this even the purpose of iTunes Match?

    — are there alternatives?

    Again, sorry for being so clueless about iTunes Match. I saw on Apple’s website that says music in iCloud will download to your iPhone or iPad when you play it….that is what I don’t want.

    Any help would be much appreciated….sorry for being so long!

    • Hello Robert,

      I’ll try to address your main questions here:

      • Yes, with iTunes Match, all of your songs would be in the cloud.
      • Once you have iTunes Match set up, you can remove the physical music files from your computer, iphone, etc. and then decide which of those songs you would like to re-download back to your device. In my case, I don’t have any of the actual files on my phone, I only stream them.
      • You may want to back up your music files to an external hard drive before starting iTunes Match just to have a backup of everything.
      • You have the choice on which songs you would like to download and which ones you would not like to download to your phone, etc.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

  • Awesome. So, how do you stream only? That’s exactly what I want to do. I thought once you played a song it re-downloaded song…is that not correct?

    Thanks so much!

    • Once you have removed the songs from your device, the only option is to stream. You will open your music player on your iPhone/iPad like you normally do and play the song like you normally do. There will be an icon next to the song, artist, or album with a cloud that will allow you to download the song, all songs by artists, or full album. Otherwise, it will stream from iTunes Match.

      You have to push the cloud icon to download the song to your iPhone. It does not re-download when you play the song.

  • i uploaded my songs to icloud, but after i delete them in itunes, the itunes search – in the music library – does not find them.

    however, if i create a playlist from icloud uploaded and icloud matched songs, there are all my songs. but i cant search them, only if im searching this smart playlist.

    is this normal?

    • Hmm – that’s strange. Have you quit iTunes and then re-opened it? Also, if you just uploaded your songs, it does take iTunes a little time to properly account for the new songs, so give it a little time. Let me know if that worked for you.

  • Hey Erik,
    I’m having issues with iTunes putting the wrong album artwork with albums. I’ve researched online that to correctly fix this, I’d need to have the music on my computer/hard drive, turn off iTunes match, put the correct artwork in the files, delete all the music i have in the cloud, then re-instigate iTunes match.

    My question is, we have 2 computers in our family with some on one and some on the other. If i’ve downloaded the “matched” files from the cloud, when I erase everything in the cloud…will i lose the “matched AAC files” songs in my library on my computer? Or are they on my hard drive once downloaded, and I won’t have to worry about it?

    Sorry so long! any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • After purchasing iTunes match and backing everything up I deleted every music file on my computer. I had files all over the place, multiple copies of most. As a result my memory was full. I tried to use a ehd but my pc was too full to even get everything copied to the iTunes folder. So…I deleted everyything and am downloading it all back so I can put it on a ehd. On a positive note I freed up a ton of room on my pc! How do I keep my music from getting put in other folders when I rip or download from other sites?

    • Hi Kristi, once you add the new music to your iTunes library, and after it has been added to your iTunes Match account, you can remove it from your computer files.

  • THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I have freed up 30 GB of space by moving my music successfully – finally!

  • Clive Lawrence
    September 5, 2013 5:32 am

    Hi Erik,
    After purchasing iTunes Match and uploading my songs I located this article for help to subsequently delete my files.

    In iTunes, in the album window, I selected all the albums (using ctrl A) then used ‘delete’ – delete songs – moved to trash.

    A relatively small amount of space was freed up on my computer, but when I went into iTunes folder> iTunes Media folder> music folder, the song files were still there (!) which explains why I have not freed-up the expected space on my computer.

    I am probably doing something wrong (!) Can you help?


    • Hello Clive – after deleting the files, did you then delete them from your Trash as well? You will not see the hard drive space go back up until they are also deleted from the trash. If that doesn’t work, try deleting one song to see if it is still allowing you to delete the file from your computer.

  • Tuneup Media
    July 24, 2014 1:59 am

    Nice blog Erik. Very informative. I have a large collection in my music library so will it help me to delete all the duplicates or you can suggest me other kind of software for removing duplicates song. As i recently read a article that was about duplicate song remover software Tuneupmedia

  • Thank you so much for this advice Erik. After struggling for months to find space on my MacBook Air, in the click of a few keys and in one minute, this has resolved my storage issue completely.

  • Eric, are my iTunes movies also downloaded into iCloud, or only the music?

  • How do I make iTunes on my computer use iTunes Match to locate files in iCloud, rather than on my computer. I have a lot of tracks that have the exclamation point beside of them. When you try to play the track, you get the “the original file could not be found, would you like to locate it” message. If you simply hit “cancel,” then the song is automatically found through Match and plays. But you have to do that for every song with the exclamation point. How can I make that happen for every song in my library at once?

    • Hi Keith – hmm, you might need to change the title of all of your tracks to remove the exclamation point. Then turn on Match. Perhaps there is a way for you to do a change all for the song titles. Let me know what you find out.


    • Was a solution to this ever found? It’s now 2017 and I’m using iTunes 12.7 and getting the same issue. Exclamation points by all my files. I ultimately want to move all my music files to a back-up drive to free up space on my computer, and just use iTunes Match.

  • You should be aware that if you cancel your Match subscription you will lose your entire library. I let my Match subscription expire then my local RAID died (yeah, it’s not supposed to do that when mirrored but the “RAID” enclosure was a POS). I resigned up for Match and none of my stuff was there.

  • I just bought a Macbook Air and have put all my music in the icloud as I have Itunes Match. I did keep all the music files instead of putting them in the trash. Does that keep them on my hard drive? I am trying to free up space on my Macbook. If I need to put all the files in the trash and empty trash, can you tell me how to do that. Thanks

    • Hi Bobbie,

      Yeah, in order to remove them from your hard drive, you’ll need to go into itunes, select the songs to delete, and then push delete. You will then see a box asking if you’d like to delete from your hard drive AND iCloud. Do not delete them from iCloud, but just delete them from your hard drive. My suggestion is to backup all of your music on an external drive before you delete them just as a precaution. It’s always good to have one or two backups outside of your computer. Let me know if that works for you.

  • Hey Erik, I have tried to do likewise yet what I ended up is a library packed with songs with an exclamation mark symbol that refuse to play automatically as each time the dialogue window pops up asking me whether I want to relocate the song or not. If I click cancel, the song starts to play. Did I do sth wrong? How do I get rid of this issue pls?

  • I tried uploading 120 gigs of music to imatch last year. After two days, it was still trying to upload. I lost about 5 gigs. POOF! Gone…I’ll never trust iTunes again. The WD MyCloud works in a similar way.

  • Chris Hernandez
    July 9, 2015 3:35 am

    Let’s say I’ve activated iTunes Match, deleted my music that was matched, and later decided I want to unsubscribe from Match. Would I still have access to all my previously matched music (as if they were purchases) or am I royally screwed?

    • Hi Chris,

      I would always have a backup of all of your music. If you turn off Match, you should still have access to the music that was originally yours. It would just need to be on your actual machine. You’d no longer be able to access it over wi-fi. But to be safe, I’d always have a backup of all of your music before turning off Match.

  • Linda Weseloh
    March 16, 2016 3:56 pm

    Hello Erik,
    I have about 35 gig of music on my computer. I purchased iTunes Match 2 years ago because my new phone had less memory and didn’t fit all of my music. I also kept my music files on my computer (and backed up). I now have a phone with more memory and want to cancel iTunes Match and have my library both on my computer and my phone. When I check in File Explorer, I see that the library and songs are there. In iTunes, most all of my songs have the cloud icon. In “preferences”, my iTunes folder location correctly shows the location on my hard drive. HOWEVER, when I uncheck the “general” preference of iCloud Music Library, all but a handful of songs are gone.and the ones remaining have the exclamation point.

    Here’s what I am trying to accomplish:

    1-Cancel iTunes Match
    2-Reroute iTunes to the files on my computer so they all show up in iTunes (without the exclamation point)
    3-Not lose my playlists that I have created.

    Any suggestions? I’m at a loss. Thanks!

    • Hi Linda – in iTunes, you should be able to select all and choose download. That will place all of the files on your computer. Then, instead of trying to click the cloud for each song on your phone, I’d just connect your phone to your computer with iTunes and then move all of the music files over to your phone. Let me know if that doesn’t work.

  • Peter Fraser
    April 27, 2018 5:52 am

    Very helpful postings! If I load my itunes to itunes match in the icloud and then delete the orginals, can I still access the tunes as playlists?


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