Why are some songs on iTunes not on Apple Music?

There are a few key reasons why certain songs purchased on iTunes may not be available to stream on Apple Music. The music industry is complex, with multiple parties involved in the distribution and licensing of songs. When Apple launched Apple Music in 2015, they did not secure the rights to stream every song in the iTunes Store catalog. Additionally, rights holders can choose to remove specific songs or albums from Apple Music over time, even if they were originally available on the service. Let’s explore the main factors behind why the Apple Music catalog does not perfectly mirror iTunes.

Different Content Licenses for Downloads vs. Streams

One of the central reasons boils down to differences in content licensing for digital downloads compared to streaming. When you purchase and download a song on iTunes, Apple has secured the necessary rights from labels, publishers, songwriters, and other rights holders to sell you that permanent download. However, different licenses are required for Apple to also offer that song for streaming on the Apple Music subscription service.

The rights surrounding streaming are more complex compared to pure downloads. With downloads, royalties are paid out on a per-sale basis. For streaming, royalties are calculated based on the number of times a song is streamed. There are separate licenses required from publishers for the composition rights and from master rights owners for the sound recording itself.

Apple may have obtained licenses to sell downloads of a particular song but not the additional streaming rights. So even though you purchased it on iTunes, the content owner has not given Apple permission to include it in the Apple Music catalog.

Exclusive Agreements Between Competing Streaming Services

In some cases, rights holders have exclusive streaming agreements in place with other services that prevent Apple from offering certain songs or albums on Apple Music. For example, some major artists have exclusive distribution deals for new releases with competitors like Spotify or Tidal.

These periods of exclusivity mean that the artist’s new music is not authorized for streaming on Apple Music until a later date, even though you may be able to buy it on iTunes during the exclusivity window. So until that exclusive contract expires, those purchases will not be available as streams.

Music Publishers Opting Out of Streaming Services

Some music publishers or independent labels choose not to license any of their music for streaming at all. They may do this for financial reasons, believing they generate more royalties from download sales compared to tiny per-stream payouts. Or they think that having their songs locked down to paid purchases only increases the value and distinction of their brand.

Whatever the reason, publishers can explicitly say that Apple does not have the rights to make their music available on Apple Music. While you may have bought those songs on iTunes before, the publisher has veto power when it comes to streaming.

Regional Restrictions on Content

In some cases, Apple may have the rights to distribute a song on iTunes and Apple Music in certain countries, but not others based on geographic restrictions imposed by the rights holders.

For example, a record label may have only given Apple the streaming rights for a album in the U.S. and Canada. So while you can buy it on iTunes internationally, that purchase would not enable you to stream in a country where Apple does not hold the streaming rights.

Songs Removed from Apple Music Over Time

Another scenario where iTunes purchases may not be streamable on Apple Music is when rights holders decide to remove content that was previously available. Just like how movies and shows disappear from Netflix all the time based on expired contracts, music can be removed from Apple Music if licensing deals change.

Publishers may want to re-negotiate terms, need rights back to license to other parties, or have other business reasons to pull content. While disappointing when a favorite song vanishes, it highlights the complexities of maintaining a vast licensed catalog of content. Media licensing is always evolving.

What About iTunes Match?

iTunes Match is an Apple service that allows you to sync your personal iTunes library across devices via iCloud. One might assume that enabling iTunes Match on an Apple Music subscription would solve the problem of songs purchased on iTunes not transferring over for streaming.

Unfortunately, iTunes Match has some limitations of its own. Any song not officially available on Apple Music will still be inaccessible after syncing libraries. The song may still live in your personal iTunes collection, but won’t surface for streaming in your Apple Music catalog. Only songs properly licensed for Apple’s streaming service will become available that way.

Pushback from Rights Holders

Given all these restrictions, you might wonder why Apple doesn’t just license all the same songs for streaming that are available for download on iTunes. Wouldn’t rights holders want their content available across all of Apple’s services?

In some cases, yes. But licensing content for streaming requires adhering to increased rates, royalty payout schedules, and other stipulations that some publishers bristle at. Apple has incredible market power to set terms given the popularity of their platforms. Some publishers accuse Apple of bullying tactics when it comes to negotiating streaming rights.

These publishers prefer to avoid streaming entirely or license to other services under more favorable terms. So Apple cannot always get full parity between downloads and streaming due to pushback from industry players.

The Root of the Problem: Fragmented Music Licensing

Ultimately, the disconnect between iTunes downloads and Apple Music availability comes back to the complicated and fragmented nature of music licensing. There is no single database of song rights. Ownership is spread across publishers, PROs, labels, artists, songwriters, and more. Licenses must be individually negotiated and accounted for.

So while Apple aims for full synchronization, holes exist between iTunes and Apple Music because the necessary deals could not be struck for certain songs. Given all the moving parts, it’s unlikely this problem will be fully solved anytime soon. The best Apple can do is minimize gaps through ongoing licensing efforts.

Workarounds for Fans

As a music fan, this fragmentation between downloads and streaming can certainly be frustrating. You bought the song, so why can’t you stream it too? Here are a few potential workarounds if you run into this issue:

Download the song to your device

If you’ve purchased a song on iTunes that’s not streamable on Apple Music, you can still download it to your device as part of your iTunes library. This allows you to listen offline wherever you go. Not as seamless as streaming, but at least provides access.

Utilize iTunes Match

As mentioned, iTunes Match has limitations but can sometimes allow you to stream inaccessible downloads. It’s worth enabling to see if it resolves any missing songs.

Listen on Desktop

The iTunes desktop app integrates both downloads and Apple Music. So songs are often still playable here, even if not on mobile. Not convenient, but usable as a backup option.

Use a Separate Streaming Service

It’s always possible the song may be available on a competing streaming service like Spotify. Search around to see if that provides an alternative streaming option.

Purchase the Full Album

On occasion, an individual song may not be available but the full album is. Buying the full album then nets you streaming access. Not ideal just to get one song, but can work.

Request the Song

You can always contact Apple customer support and request they add a specific song you purchased to the Apple Music catalog. No guarantees, but doesn’t hurt to ask.

The Landscape is Improving

Despite the current gaps between iTunes purchases and Apple Music streaming, the situation is improving. Apple has made huge strides licensing more songs for streaming after initially lagging competitors in available catalog size.

Many exclusivity agreements that locked down content have expired, opening up access. The value proposition of streaming continues to bring more recalcitrant publishers on board. So while the systems are still disconnected today, the gap is shrinking over time.

Looking Ahead

Ultimately, Apple wants their media ecosystem to provide seamless access across downloads and streaming. Combining the power of Apple Music subscriptions with owned iTunes content makes the platform stickier and more valuable for consumers.

We can expect Apple will continue negotiating aggressively to expand their streaming catalog. However, challenges remain due to complex industry dynamics. Until music licensing modernizes, rights simplify, and stakeholders unify terms, gaps will persist. But with patience and perseverance, Apple is moving steadily toward the unified nirvana users crave.


While Apple aims for parity between iTunes downloads and Apple Music streaming, limitations in rights, licensing terms, publisher participation, and geographic restrictions mean the two catalogs are still misaligned. As frustrating as that is for users, the situation arises from the complicated patchwork of ownership and agreements that underlie the modern music industry. Until infrastructure improves, gaps will remain between the downloadable and streamable content. But Apple has made significant progress unifying access, and that work continues. Understanding the factors underlying this issue provides perspective on the challenges faced in perfecting seamless access across platforms and media types when rights are fragmented.

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