What happened to the music I bought on iTunes?

Launched in 2001, Apple’s iTunes software and store revolutionized the way people purchase and listen to digital music. At its peak in the early 2010s, iTunes boasted over 800 million accounts and had sold over 25 billion songs worldwide, according to Wikipedia. However, in recent years, streaming services like Spotify have largely replaced digital downloads as the primary way people consume music.

This has left many wondering what happened to the music they purchased on iTunes over the years. With iTunes no longer emphasizing music sales, some have found it difficult to locate and access their previous purchases. The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of what happened to iTunes digital music purchases, where that content is now stored, and how to still access music bought on iTunes should it seem to have ‘disappeared’.

The Rise of iTunes and Digital Music

The iTunes Music Store launched in 2003, allowing users to legally purchase and download digital music for $0.99 per song or $9.99 per album [1]. At the time, illegal file sharing was rampant, so the iTunes store provided a convenient alternative to download music legally. The iTunes store quickly grew to dominate the digital music market. By 2012, it had a reported 64% market share of online music and 29% of all music sales worldwide [1].

Transition Away from Downloads

The peak of digital download sales was around 2012, when platforms like iTunes dominated music consumption. According to Statista, digital track sales in the U.S. reached their highest point in 2012 at 1.34 billion units [1]. However, revenues and downloads started to decline after that as streaming services like Spotify and Pandora gained popularity. By 2017, download revenue had fallen to $1.26 billion from a high of $2.8 billion in 2012 [1].

As downloads decreased, iTunes began shifting its focus to subscriptions and streaming. In 2015, Apple Music launched, offering subscribers access to over 90 million songs. According to Metal Injection, 2022 marked the lowest revenue from digital downloads, which fell 20% from 2021 to $495 million [2]. As consumer listening habits changed, iTunes adapted its offerings, contributing to the decline in digital download sales.

iTunes Purchases Remain Accessible

Music purchased on iTunes is still available for download through a user’s Apple ID account and the Apple Music app, even though iTunes downloads are no longer offered. Apple has ensured previous music purchases are not lost when transitioning away from the iTunes store.

To access previously purchased music from iTunes, users can follow these steps:

  • Open the Apple Music app on a Mac, PC, iPhone, or iPad
  • Go to Account > Purchased to view your purchase history
  • Find the song, album, or playlist you want to download again
  • Select the download icon next to it

Downloading previously purchased music requires an internet connection and signing in with the Apple ID used for the original purchase. As Apple states, “Make sure you’re connected to the internet. In the Music app on your device, choose Account > Purchased. Find the music that you want to redownload, then tap Download.”

Challenges Finding Purchased Content

Many users have difficulty locating music they previously purchased on iTunes. This is due to a few key factors:

First, the interface for iTunes and Apple Music can be confusing. It’s not always clear where purchased music is stored compared to subscription tracks in Apple Music. The layout has changed significantly over time as well.

Second, auto-sync can cause local copies of purchased music to disappear. If you don’t closely manage your sync settings, downloaded music can be removed from a device when connecting to iTunes. This can give the impression purchases are “missing.”

Finally, finding a complete purchase history can be a challenge. You need to log into reportaproblem.apple.com to view your full iTunes purchase history. There is no easy way to access a centralized list from within iTunes or Apple Music directly [1].

Best Practices

There are a few best practices to ensure you don’t lose access to music purchased on iTunes:

First, regularly back up your iTunes library locally. Apple provides instructions for backing up your iTunes library on Mac or PC so you have a copy of your purchased content.

Additionally, periodically review your purchase history in your iTunes account. This allows you to see your full list of purchases and re-download anything that may be missing from your library. Instructions for finding your purchase history are available for iPad and iPhone.

Finally, understand the difference between iTunes Match and regular music downloads from iTunes. iTunes Match stores your library in the cloud but does not include all purchased content. So relying solely on iTunes Match for your library can result in missing downloads if you don’t also back up locally.

What If Music Is Truly Lost?

There are a few potential reasons purchased music from iTunes may be lost or unavailable for download:

DRM (digital rights management) protection can cause issues accessing previously purchased music. Songs bought before 2009 were sold as protected AAC files that only played in Apple’s ecosystem. If you’ve upgraded devices since then, authorization can fail silently in the background (1).

Licensing agreements also change over time. If an artist or label pulls their catalog from the iTunes Store, prior purchases may disappear. There’s no guarantee purchased content will remain available indefinitely (2).

If your music purchases are well and truly lost, there are a couple options:

– Contact Apple Support to see if they can recover or replace missing purchases.

– Consider alternative sources like CD rips or files from the original artist. While not ideal, this may be the only way to recover lost music.

Losing downloads due to DRM or licensing changes is an unfortunate reality of digital music ownership. While purchased content is not future-proof, contacting Apple and exploring alternatives can potentially help recover lost music.

Apple Support Options

If you are unable to locate purchased music in your iTunes library, contacting Apple Support is one of the best options. You can reach out to Apple Support via phone, chat, email, or Twitter to report missing purchases and inquire about refunds.

To contact Apple Support by phone, call 1-800-275-2273 in the United States or check the Apple Support website for international numbers. When connected to a representative, explain the situation – that you previously purchased songs or albums on iTunes that you can no longer access. Provide any details you have like purchase dates, artist names, album titles, or iTunes order numbers.

You can also reach Apple Support via chat or email on their Contact Us page. Explain that you are missing music purchases and want to recover your content if possible. Based on their policies, Apple may be able to redownload purchased music, offer credit, or approve a refund in certain situations.

Finally, you can tweet @AppleSupport to explain missing iTunes purchases. While phone or chat support are better options for resolving issues, tweeting can help escalate the request faster.

Alternatives to Recover Purchases

If you are unable to recover your iTunes library directly through Apple, there are some other options you can try:

File recovery software like Yodot is designed to scan your hard drive and find deleted iTunes files that may still be recoverable. This type of software can help retrieve individual songs, albums, videos, and more that were purchased on iTunes.

Dedicated iTunes library recovery tools like Yodot for Mac are optimized specifically for recovering iTunes content after data loss or corruption. They dig deep to find iTunes purchase information that standard file recovery tools may miss.

Some third party data recovery services like DriveSavers and Kroll Ontrack offer advanced recovery of lost or deleted data. For a fee, they can attempt to recover missing iTunes content using proprietary tools and techniques. This option makes the most sense for recovering a large iTunes library.

With persistence and the right tools, you have a good chance of being able to recover at least some of your lost iTunes purchases.


In summary, while Apple has transitioned away from selling music downloads through iTunes, previous purchases have not disappeared. Your iTunes music library still exists in the cloud and can be accessed through Apple Music or the Apple Music app. The key is making sure you are signed in with the same Apple ID used to originally buy the songs.

With proper access, previous iTunes purchases remain available for streaming or downloading. However, the interface has changed, making it less straightforward to find your library. Using best practices like consolidating Apple IDs, enabling iCloud Music Library, and organizing your collection can help avoid losing track of purchased content.

Going forward, it’s wise to download copies of purchases you want to preserve indefinitely. But with the right approach, the music you bought on iTunes should still be available as long as you stick with Apple’s ecosystem.