Why won't iTunes sync my music to iDevices? Difficulty level: Aneurysm.
September 23, 2014 3:33 PM   Subscribe

Why won't my music sync and play properly?! I have been struggling with this since iOS 5? 6? Feels like forever - I am so beyond frustrated. So much so that I am ready to just stop using music on my iPhone and iPad completely. Which was the reason I got an iPhone in the first place.

History: I've been using iTunes with iPods, iPhones and iPads since 2005. So I know how syncing is *supposed* to work. This didn't used to be a problem!

I have a mixed library of about 30gig of music, accumulated across many years. I have a smart playlist which randomly picks about 10g of music. I would like to sync this to my iDevices.

I have a personal iPhone 5, a work iPhone 5S, a third gen iPad and a latest gen iPad mini. I have a single iTunes library and a single iTunes/iCloud account. All are logged into the same account and I have only ever used the devices on a single account.

THE PROBLEM: no matter how I sync, about 30% of music either
-doesn't play (iPhone or iPad will either quickly skip to next song or just silently stall at 00:00)
-OR will play partway through and then abruptly skip to next
-OR sound garbled like an old tape cassette being chewed.

This does not happen when played in iTunes on my laptop. The music is not corrupted, nor is the library. This happens with both iTunes purchased AAC and other-sourced MP3s. This has happened with devices restored from backup and new devices. This happens with iPhones and iPads, both new and used.

The only device this has not happened with is my work phone - because I've never synced it with iTunes.

-Syncing over wifi
-tethered syncing
-Manually managing
-Syncing to "empty" my music, then resyncing
-deleting suspect songs from library and redownloading from itunes, then resyncing
-as above, but on iPhone/iPad (this often results in duplicates and/or "ghost" tracks which aren't actually there)
-restoring from backup
-rebuilding playlist
-turning iCloud on/off
-converting MP3 tracks to AAC
-downloading past purchases to phone via iCloud and then syncing
-nearly every "solution" I've been able to google

-abandon iDevices
-streaming services

Please, please, please help. I'm at the end of my tether. My iPad mini is new, and I had hoped that it would Just Work as it's supposed to. But I've spent all day with duplicate tracks, ghost tracks, incorrect syncing, and frayed nerves.

I dream of being able to just sync a single random playlist over wifi at night so I can go to work in the morning with some new tunes and a smile. If the hivemind can't solve this, then all hope is truly lost.
posted by wayward vagabond to Technology (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried or are you open to considering subscribing to iTunes Match?
posted by JackBurden at 3:51 PM on September 23, 2014

Response by poster: sorry, forgot to mention:

a) all devices are on latest iOS and iTunes on latest update. this has been happening for quite a while now though.

b) I refuse to pay for an alternative on principle
posted by wayward vagabond at 4:24 PM on September 23, 2014

I apologize if you've already done this but I don't see it above: have you tried uninstalling and reinstalling iTunes? I have no idea if that would fix it, but seems like the software equivalent of our modern world fix: turning it off and turning it on again.
posted by purple_bird at 4:25 PM on September 23, 2014

I had the same problem and will say that you will find as many solutions that worked for someone - but not everyone - online as there are people struggling with this. Keep trying until you find the one that matches your problem. I fixed my issue this week like this:

In Finder, I went into Music, then iTunes. All your music should be under the next folder called iTunes Music, but I had fragments of music stuff that somehow was outside of this folder. I saw artists listed outside the iTunes Music folder that when drilled down into, contained the album but not the songs. All of this was duplicate information that also existed inside the iTunes Music folder with the songs where it should be. So I deleted the fragmented folders and found my syncing worked after I cleaned everything up.
posted by cecic at 4:37 PM on September 23, 2014

Is it the same 30% of your library all the time, or different based on wipe/re-sync?
posted by tomierna at 7:15 PM on September 23, 2014

Seconding tomierna -- is it the same material that consistently has problems? If so, is there any common factor that you can identify?

Also, are you running iTunes on Windows or MacOS?
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:54 PM on September 23, 2014

Response by poster: just to answer queries:

a) not always the same 30%, but there are a few songs that seem to recur. but no pattern that I can find.

b) it's been a while since I uninstalled iTunes - mostly because based on diagnosis above, it seems it's not the library that's corrupt, and moving or rebuilding the library of 30g of music seems like asking for more trouble.

c) iTunes for Windows. music is kept on an external hard drive.

thanks all.
posted by wayward vagabond at 10:31 PM on September 23, 2014

Part of me is thinking it could be the external drive. Maybe the USB bus is getting overloaded pulling in and pushing out data at the same time and it is borking the files.

Do you have enough space to move the library (or subset) to the internal drive and see if the problem persists?
posted by johnpowell at 12:39 AM on September 24, 2014

Response by poster: In theory, yes - but I am reluctant to because I will probably have to upgrade my laptop sometime in the next year or so and copying across seems to take ages. But that might be worth testing, even on a small scale.
posted by wayward vagabond at 4:33 AM on September 24, 2014

Yeah, very frustrating and it seems it can't be the devices since they all exhibit the same issue.

Did this problem start with the Smart playlist? I know you have rebuilt it, but I'd think about ditching it for a few days and using other non-smart playlists.

Another thing to try is using some other free software to move music to a device, like MediaMonkey or MusicBee.

duplicates and/or "ghost" tracks
Are these in iTunes, on the device, or both?

Lastly, what parameters are you using for your Smart playlist? I had to change one of mine to only use files that are local and not in the cloud.
posted by soelo at 7:49 AM on September 24, 2014

Usually when I see problems like this it's because the decoder on iOS supports a different subset of decoding options than the desktop machine.

In other words, you need to narrow down which tracks are problematic, and re-encode them with iTunes. If you have any codecs on the host machine which might be taking over, you'll need to disable them when you do this re-encode.

This was especially apparent on video recently, when there were Quicktime Components like XVID and DIVX which were silently taking over MPEG-4 or H.264 encoding, and generating files which iOS didn't like at all.

The same thing applies to music files though - if your encoder (in the past, perhaps) generated marginally compliant files, iOS will have more problems with them than your desktop machine because you can install a wide variety of codecs on desktop operating systems, but not on iOS.
posted by tomierna at 9:40 AM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

After my answer above I started having the same problems again. I found this blog post that references that a fix should be coming in the next iTunes update. Hope it's true. In the meantime, maybe his fixes will help?
posted by cecic at 12:28 AM on October 14, 2014

I read everything you've tried (piles!) and I don't think I saw this yet. Have you tried deleting the iPod photo cache? The name sounds unrelated, but it stores temp files for syncing music. If there's something busted in there, resetting the cache (by deleting that folder as the Apple support link describes) may help.
posted by deciphermedia at 9:29 PM on February 12, 2015

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