Why can’t I download Music on iCloud Music?

There are a few key reasons why you can’t download music from iCloud Music like you could with iTunes in the past. iCloud Music is a cloud based service, so the music files themselves aren’t stored on your device – they stream from Apple’s servers. This has some advantages, but also limits what you can do with the files compared to having them physically downloaded. Let’s take a closer look at why downloading isn’t an option with iCloud Music.

iCloud Music is a Streaming Service

The biggest reason you can’t download music from iCloud Music is simply because of the nature of the service. iCloud Music is a cloud based streaming service, similar to Spotify or Pandora. With a streaming service, the audio files themselves live on servers owned by the company, not on your device. When you add a song to your iCloud Music library or play a track, what’s really happening behind the scenes is your device is pulling down a temporary audio stream over the internet to play the song. It’s not downloading the file to save permanently like you could with iTunes purchases.

This allows Apple to save storage space on your device while still letting you access millions of songs on demand. But it also means you don’t actually have a permanent local copy of the song files. Streaming services are dependent on having an active internet connection to play music for this reason. Without that live connection, you can’t pull down the audio source to play it.

Streaming Focuses on Access Over Ownership

The switch from iTunes downloads to iCloud Music streaming is part of a broader shift in the music industry from an ownership model to an access model.

With downloads, you pay to own a permanent copy of the audio file that stays with you even if a service shuts down in the future. But with streaming, you pay for temporary on-demand access to songs over the internet. You don’t ever “own” the files yourself.

This access focus is great for convenience – you can play nearly any song at the tap of a button without filling up your storage. But it does limit what you can do with the music compared to owning it. Downloading a song allows you to transfer it to other devices, back it up, and listen offline whenever you want.

Streaming removes those options in favor of quick access. Apple makes that tradeoff purposefully to push people toward the access model. Allowing downloads would undermine the limitations that define a streaming service.

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The iCloud Music library relies on DRM protected files that can’t be downloaded without breaking their copy protection.

Here is a breakdown of why DRM prevents downloading from iCloud Music:

DRM Protects Streaming Content

DRM (Digital Rights Management) is a form of copy protection that media companies apply to their content to control how it is accessed and prevent unauthorized copying. Music purchased through Apple contains DRM that limits playback and copying.

iCloud Music Uses DRM for Streaming

Apple applies a version of their FairPlay DRM to songs stored in your iCloud Music library. This allows them to stream content to your devices without letting you permanently download the raw files. The DRM encrypted files can only be played back through Apple apps and services.

Downloading Would Break the DRM

If Apple let you download the raw DRM files from iCloud Music, it would essentially be giving you an unprotected copy that could be freely shared. So downloading is prohibited to preserve the copy restrictions. Circumventing DRM is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Streaming Relies on DRM Restrictions

Ultimately streaming services utilize DRM to limit your access to temporary playback. Downloading would undermine the restrictions that the music industry relies on to securely provide content. So across the major streaming platforms, downloading for offline use is very limited.

Licensing Limitations Restrict Downloads

Music services have to negotiate complex licenses to determine how songs may be used on their platform. The terms for streaming have different restrictions than downloads, which affects features like downloading from iCloud Music.

Streaming Licenses Are Restrictive

Streaming licenses tend to limit how those songs can be accessed and copied because access is provided on an ongoing basis. Allowing downloads would essentially turn a streaming license into an ownership license.

Downloading Requires Broader Licensing

Downloading generally requires a separate license authorizing permanent local copies of songs, beyond just streaming. Services have to negotiate download rights as Apple did for iTunes purchases.

iCloud Music Just Has Streaming Rights

Apple negotiated broad rights for streaming songs through iCloud Music. But the terms apparently don’t include permissions for downloadable copies.

New Deals Would Be Needed for Downloads

If Apple decided to add downloads to iCloud Music, they would likely need to renegotiate licenses with music companies to allow DRM downloads. The existing agreements are restricted to streaming only based on typical limitations.

Apple Discourages Downloads Strategically

While licensing and technical issues play a role, Apple’s streaming strategy is also aimed at moving away from local downloads in favor of cloud access.

Local Downloads Complicate Streaming Model

Allowing downloads from streaming services muddies the lines between ownership and access. Apple wants iCloud Music to be clearly positioned as a streaming product.

Downloads Undermine Cloud Library Benefits

Enabling downloads misses the benefits of cloud libraries like accessing your music on any device instantly without downloads. Local files that you have to manage defeats the purpose.

Apple Pushing People Toward Streaming

Apple wants to transition its users to the streaming model. Limiting downloads encourages the use of cloud libraries over local storage.

Future is Streaming, Not Downloading

Downloads are seen as the past while streaming represents the future. Apple doesn’t want to look back by blending streaming with local files. Their focus is bringing people entirely into the streaming experience.

Other Ways to Download with iCloud Music

While you can’t directly download songs from iCloud Music, there are a couple alternative options to get DRM-free versions of your music library.

iTunes Match Downloads

Subscribers of the iTunes Match service ($24.99/year) can download DRM-free copies of their iCloud songs by syncing playlists to iTunes on a computer. iTunes Match scans your library and gives you access to copies from the iTunes catalog.

Apple Music Downloads

Songs saved from the Apple Music subscription catalog ($9.99/month) can be downloaded for offline listening from your Library. These downloads are DRM-protected but playable as long as your subscription is active.

Purchase Albums and Songs

Of course you can purchase albums and songs outright from the iTunes Store which lets you download permanently. Purchases aren’t subject to the same restrictions as your iCloud Music library. Just keep in mind that purchases can’t be streamed.

Workarounds: Capture Audio Output

While not authorized by Apple, some users resort to technical workarounds to save offline copies of songs. For example:

Recording Audio

You can record the audio output from iCloud Music as it plays, saving it as an unrestricted file. But quality is diminished.

Software Cracks

Certain software tools claim to enable DRM removal from protected files. However this requires cracking Apple’s FairPlay protection.

Format Converters

Devices exist that can capture HDMI audio output and convert it to unprotected formats. But quality depends on converter used.

User Experience Still Limited

Despite potential workarounds, the user experience doesn’t allow simple downloading natively within iCloud Music. Most people won’t pursue tricky technical options.

Why Apple Should Allow Downloads

While Apple has understandable motives for restricting downloads, allowing limited downloads could make iCloud Music a better user experience.

Convenience of Local Copies

Having permanent local copies of your favorite songs avoids the need for a constant internet connection to stream. Playback is instant and more reliable offline.

Better Support DRM-Free Files

Downloading could be limited to songs uploaded as DRM-free files rather than those matched by iTunes. This avoids DRM issues.

Satisfy User Demand

Many users expect to be able to download their own music library for offline use. Allowing downloads satisfies demand.

Features Could Be Restricted

To prevent mass piracy, Apple could restrict downloads to personal devices signed into the same iCloud account, for example.

More Listener Choice and Control

Giving listeners more choice and control over access models may offset potential lost streaming revenue. The benefits of local playback remain for many users.


The streaming-focused nature of iCloud Music means you unfortunately can’t directly download songs like you could with traditional music purchases. While inconvenient for some users, restricting downloads helps push Apple’s streaming strategy forward into the future. However, allowing limited downloads could give customers more choice while still advancing their vision of cloud access over ownership. The ideal solution may be meeting somewhere in the middle by integrating the benefits of both models more seamlessly.