Why are some albums not available on Apple Music?

Apple Music is a popular music streaming service with access to over 75 million songs in its catalog. While the library is extensive, some users have noticed that certain albums are missing from Apple Music. For example, albums from The Beatles and Taylor Swift have been absent from the service at various times due to licensing restrictions. The goal of this article is to explore and explain the key reasons why some albums fail to appear on Apple Music.

Licensing Issues

Music rights and licensing are complex. For a song to be available on a streaming service like Apple Music, the service needs permission from the copyright holders of the musical composition (typically the songwriter and publisher) as well as the copyright holders of the sound recording itself (usually the record label and featured artists) [1]. This means Apple must obtain the proper licenses to be able to reproduce, distribute, and publicly perform the songs in their catalog.

Apple negotiates these licenses with music labels, publishers, collecting societies, and individual artists. However, some copyright holders choose not to license their music to streaming platforms or prefer to sign exclusivity deals with other services. Ultimately, the licensing decisions lie with the rights holders. If certain labels, publishers or artists decline to license their music, then Apple cannot distribute their content without permission.

Exclusivity Deals

Some major artists sign exclusive deals with specific streaming services, which can result in their albums being unavailable on Apple Music. For example, rapper Jay-Z signed an exclusivity agreement in 2015 making his catalog exclusive to his artist-owned streaming service Tidal for a period of time (https://www.wsj.com/buyside/arts-entertainment/best-streaming-services-3039a858). Similarly, Kanye West initially released his 2016 album The Life of Pablo exclusively on Tidal. These types of exclusivity deals prevent Apple Music from making certain albums available, even if it would like to, during the period of exclusivity.

Other streaming services like Spotify have also signed exclusivity deals for certain artists or albums, again restricting their availability on Apple Music. While the details of these deals are not always made public, their existence underscores how licensing and business decisions between artists, labels, and streaming platforms can impact which albums ultimately end up on which services.

New Release Windowing

Some major artists negotiate exclusive release agreements with streaming services like Spotify, leading to their new albums being unavailable on competitors like Apple Music for a period of time after release. This practice is referred to as “new release windowing” (source).

For example, an artist may agree to have their new album available only on Spotify for the first few weeks or months after release. During this exclusivity window, the album cannot be streamed on platforms like Apple Music, even though the artist’s full back catalog is available. Once the exclusivity window passes, the new release is then rolled out to other streaming services. This creates a frustrating experience for users of services like Apple Music, who are unable to access new releases from major artists until the exclusivity window passes.

The practice of new release windowing has become increasingly common as streaming services compete for exclusive content. Major artists use these exclusive new release agreements as leverage in negotiations with platforms. Meanwhile, services like Spotify use exclusive new releases to drive subscriptions and retain users. However, this windowing practice ultimately fragments the streaming landscape and creates availability gaps, especially hurting competing services like Apple Music.

Catalog Availability

One of the main reasons certain albums are not available on Apple Music is that the streaming service does not have the full catalogs of some record labels and artists. Unlike some competitors, Apple Music does not have licensing deals to include the entire back catalogs of every label and musician.

For example, The Beatles did not allow their music on any streaming services until late 2015, when their catalog was added exclusively to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and other select services (JustWatch). That meant albums like Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band were unavailable for streaming on many platforms for years.

Bands like Tool, King Crimson, Joanna Newsom, and Garth Brooks have also kept much of their back catalogs off streaming services due to licensing restrictions. Brooks, for instance, did not make most of his classic country albums available on streaming until late 2016 (Streaming Availability API).

Therefore, any albums and songs outside an artist’s specific licensing deals with Apple Music will remain unavailable on the platform. Unlike download stores that carry an artist’s full catalog for purchase, each streaming service has to negotiate availability for their catalog.

Geographic Restrictions

Some albums and songs are not available in certain countries or regions on Apple Music due to licensing restrictions and regional rights deals. Record labels negotiate separate licensing agreements for each country or region, which determine where an album or song can be distributed.

For example, some albums may only have the rights cleared for distribution in the United States or Europe. So those albums would not be available to stream in other countries like Asia or South America. Likewise, there may be certain albums or songs available in Japan that have not been licensed for distribution in the U.S. yet.

According to reports, “Getting a VPN can help bypass regional restrictions on Apple Music, allowing access to songs that may not be available in a particular region.” Using a VPN to mask your location can sometimes provide access to albums restricted in your country.

So in summary, licensing agreements limiting distribution to select regions is one reason why some albums are not available to stream on Apple Music in certain countries.

Self-Publishing Challenges

One of the major challenges for independent artists is actually getting their music onto streaming platforms like Apple Music in the first place. Unlike major label artists who have teams handling distribution, independent artists need to self-publish and distribute their own music.

In order to get music onto Apple Music, indie artists must first distribute their music through an authorized third-party distributor like CD Baby, Distrokid or TuneCore. These companies handle the technical process of delivering music to streaming platforms and collecting royalties on the artist’s behalf. However, artists must actively opt-in to have their music distributed to each streaming service.

Many independent musicians simply may not know all the steps required or have the resources and skills to properly distribute their music for streaming. The distribution process can be complex and time-consuming, especially for artists doing everything themselves. This self-service challenge results in some indie music not making it onto Apple Music and other streaming platforms.

Sample Clearance Issues

One key reason an album may not be available on Apple Music is if it contains uncleared samples. Samples refer to any portion of an existing recorded song reused in a new track. According to Tracklib, the process of obtaining permission to use samples is called sample clearance. All samples require clearance for distribution on streaming platforms like Apple Music.

If an older album made liberal use of samples without clearing them, the artist may opt not to release it for streaming given the legal risks. As noted on Reddit, streaming services employ bots to detect uncleared samples and avoid potential copyright issues. Thus albums with uncleared samples often do not get approved for distribution on the major streaming platforms.

Clearing samples can be challenging, especially for independent artists without the resources or label support. But it is an essential step before any release hoping to reach streaming services like Apple Music. Any artist wishing to share their catalog on today’s digital platforms must do the due diligence of properly clearing samples first.

Explicit Content

Some albums or individual songs contain explicit content such as profanity, sexual lyrics, violence, or references to drugs, alcohol, or other mature topics. Record labels may choose to flag this content with an explicit marker, which can restrict its availability if a listener has enabled parental controls.

For example, Apple Music allows users to restrict explicit content in account settings. When this filter is enabled, albums or songs marked as explicit will not play. Instead, Apple Music will automatically skip to the next available track. This prevents children or other listeners from accessing inappropriate content against their preferences.

According to Spotify’s support page, the streaming platform also tags explicit releases with an EXPLICIT or E indicator. However, Spotify includes this content unfiltered because they believe in offering music as the artist intended it to be heard. Still, the tags help alert users about explicit material in advance.

So parental controls and individual listener preferences may prevent access to certain explicit albums on Apple Music or other services. Record labels have the ability to flag inappropriate content which can then be filtered out depending on the audience. This allows streaming platforms to restrict availability while still offering unedited albums to adult audiences.


In summary, there are several key reasons why certain albums may not be available on Apple Music, despite its vast catalog of over 90 million songs.

The main factors are exclusive deals that certain artists or record labels sign with competing streaming services, geographic licensing restrictions, issues around sample clearance or explicit content, and a lack of participation from some independent artists or smaller labels. Major album releases are also sometimes “windowed,” meaning they are available exclusively as a purchase before streaming availability.

While Apple Music does have agreements with the major record companies and many indies to supply their catalogs, there remain notable gaps, particularly in rap, electronic music, and other genres. The streaming service has made great strides in expanding its offerings since launch, but its collection is still not comprehensive compared to what is available for purchase or even on other streaming platforms.

The reasons illuminate the complicated business side of music streaming. But Apple Music users can rest assured that even with some missing albums, they still have access to a huge diversity of artists and songs for their listening pleasure.