Can I still use iTunes instead of Apple Music?

iTunes and Apple Music are two services offered by Apple for managing and playing digital music. iTunes debuted in 2001 as a media player app for organizing music libraries and syncing music to the iPod. Over the years, iTunes expanded into an online store for purchasing music, movies, TV shows, apps and more. In 2015, Apple launched its on-demand streaming music platform called Apple Music, which allowed unlimited access to songs for a monthly subscription fee.

With the launch of Apple Music, some key features of iTunes became integrated into the new streaming service. However, iTunes did not completely go away. Many users still rely on iTunes to manage their personal music libraries and sync to devices. While there is overlap between iTunes and Apple Music, they are not the same thing.

iTunes Overview

iTunes originated in 2001 as a media player for Mac that allowed users to import and organize music from CDs and manage an iTunes library. Over the years, it evolved into a comprehensive media application that provides music playing, device syncing, content purchasing, podcast hosting, and more. Some of the core features of iTunes include:

Media Library – iTunes can import and organize your music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, audiobooks, and more into a searchable media library. The library allows you to browse and play content as well as view metadata like album covers and playlists.

iTunes Store – The iTunes store, launched in 2003, allows users to purchase and download music, movies, apps, and other content. iTunes became the number one music vendor in the US in 2008.

Syncing – iTunes can sync content between your iTunes library and iOS devices like iPhones and iPads. This includes media like music, podcasts, photos, as well as device backups.

Playlists – Playlists allow users to create customized and shareable collections of songs. Smart playlists can be generated automatically based on rules like genre or play count.

Podcasts – In 2005, Apple added support for podcasts, allowing users to subscribe, download, organize and play podcast episodes from within iTunes.

Over nearly two decades, iTunes became the premier destination for purchasing, organizing, syncing and playing media on Apple devices. However, with the advent of cloud and streaming, its relevance has diminished in recent years.

Apple Music Introduction

Apple Music is Apple’s subscription-based music streaming service that was first released on June 30, 20151. It allows users to stream over 90 million songs on demand, create playlists, share music with friends, listen to radio stations, and more.

The launch of Apple Music was a major strategic move for Apple to compete in the music streaming market against services like Spotify. Initial reviews of Apple Music were mixed, with some praising the smooth integration with iOS devices but others critiquing issues around usability and personalization2. However, Apple Music quickly gained traction, reaching over 10 million subscribers within 6 months of launch.

Using iTunes Without Apple Music

Even without an Apple Music subscription, iTunes users can still access much of the program’s core functionality. You can continue to purchase and download songs and albums à la carte from the iTunes Store without a subscription (Source). Any previously purchased music will remain available to download again on new devices at no additional cost.

iTunes also lets you sync and manage an existing local music library between devices without a paid Apple Music membership. You can connect iPhones, iPods, and iPads to iTunes to transfer over tracks purchased on iTunes or uploaded from CDs (Source). The software provides options to automatically sync selected playlists or your entire music library when connecting devices.

Beyond syncing, iTunes offers a robust suite of library management tools for organizing music and creating playlists. You can rate songs, edit ID3 tags, add album art, and leverage the search tools to easily find artists, albums, or tracks in your library. iTunes remains a capable media player and library manager without the need for a paid subscription.


iTunes has some key limitations compared to Apple Music that are important to consider.

Most notably, iTunes does not offer any streaming music access. All music must be purchased and downloaded to your device. With Apple Music, you can stream over 90 million songs on demand. iTunes is restricted to only the music in your personal library.

Additionally, iTunes has less social integration than Apple Music. Apple Music shows you what your friends are listening to and gives recommendations based on your tastes and playlists. iTunes lacks these social features that can help discover new music.

According to some users, iTunes also has limitations with longer file names and certain functions like advanced search options. Overall, while iTunes works fine for purchased music libraries, it lacks key features for music streaming and discovery.

Alternatives to Apple Music

Many streaming services provide similar functionality and libraries as Apple Music. Some popular alternatives worth considering include:

Spotify ( – Spotify has over 70 million tracks available and advanced recommendations through its Discover Weekly playlist. The free version has ads while Spotify Premium removes ads and enables offline listening for $9.99/month.

YouTube Music ( – YouTube’s music streaming service provides ad-supported free streaming or YouTube Music Premium for $9.99/month. It offers official songs, albums, thousands of playlists and artist radio.

Amazon Music ( – Amazon Music provides access to 50 million songs with the option of an Amazon Prime subscription or Amazon Music Unlimited. Unlimited offers 70 million songs ad-free for $7.99/month for Prime members.

Pandora ( – Pandora radio’s free streaming tier offers ad-supported music stations based on artists or songs. Pandora Plus removes ads and adds features like unlimited skips and replays for $4.99/month.

These alternatives give you different feature sets and prices to consider if looking to move away from Apple Music. However, Apple Music still provides a seamless experience for those in the Apple ecosystem.

Making a Choice

When deciding between using iTunes or switching to Apple Music, two of the main factors to consider are cost and your music library needs.

Apple Music requires a paid subscription starting at $9.99/month for an individual plan, while iTunes lets you purchase and own music outright with no subscription required (source). If you have a large music library you’ve built up over time and want to continue growing it, iTunes may be the better option since you retain full ownership. With Apple Music, you lose access to any songs if you unsubscribe.

On the other hand, Apple Music offers access to over 40 million songs versus just what you’ve purchased yourself on iTunes (source). The streaming model is convenient if you want to discover and listen to new music regularly. So frequent listeners who value access over ownership may find Apple Music the superior choice.

Look at your listening habits and consider cost, library needs, and convenience when deciding between using just iTunes or subscribing to Apple Music.

Syncing Playlists

One of the key features of Apple Music is the ability to create playlists and sync them across devices. However, syncing Apple Music playlists to iTunes comes with some limitations.

By default, Apple Music playlists are stored in the cloud and synced across devices signed into the same Apple ID. This allows seamless access to playlists on iOS devices, Macs, PCs, and the web. However, iTunes relies on local music files and does not natively support Apple Music cloud playlists.

There are a few options to sync Apple Music playlists to iTunes:

  • Manually download each song in the playlist and recreate it in iTunes. This is time consuming but will allow full access when offline.
  • Use third party software like TuneFab to convert Apple Music playlists for use in iTunes.
  • Subscribe to iTunes Match which can match Apple Music songs to DRM-free versions in an iTunes library.

However, none of these options provide seamless syncing. Changes made to Apple Music playlists on other devices will not automatically update in iTunes.

The Future

The future of iTunes and Apple Music is uncertain as Apple continues to develop its services and platforms. There has been speculation that Apple may eventually converge iTunes and Apple Music into a single unified service (Is iTunes going away?). This could provide a seamless experience across Apple devices. However, Apple has not made any official announcements regarding the convergence of iTunes and Apple Music.

In the near-term, Apple seems focused on making Apple Music a premier destination for music listening and discovery. They continue rolling out new features like spatial audio, lossless audio, personalized playlists, and livestreams (If you see an alert in iTunes that says syncing contacts and…). So Apple Music may complement iTunes in its current form rather than replace it. However, iTunes’ media management and syncing capabilities have waned over the years.

Ultimately, the fate of iTunes depends on Apple’s long-term strategy. iTunes served an essential role in managing media libraries and syncing to iPods. With streaming services and cloud storage, iTunes’ original premise is less relevant. While Apple hasn’t discontinued iTunes yet, its importance in Apple’s ecosystem may continue to decline. The future remains uncertain, but convergence into a single app seems plausible.


In summary, iTunes and Apple Music serve slightly different purposes. iTunes is mainly for organizing and syncing your own music library between devices, while Apple Music is a streaming service for accessing a vast catalog of songs.

iTunes can still be used without an Apple Music subscription to manage purchased songs, ripped CDs, and downloaded MP3s. But certain features like Apple recommendations and unlimited streaming require an Apple Music membership.

For those invested in their personal music libraries, continuing to use iTunes to sync and play owned music across devices is a logical choice. But users wanting unlimited on-demand streaming will need an Apple Music subscription. Overall, the two can coexist and fulfill different musical needs.

The ideal setup for many users is likely subscribing to Apple Music while still relying on iTunes for core library management functions. This provides the best of both worlds. But opting out of Apple Music while sticking with iTunes remains a viable approach as well.