After signing up for iTunes Match iTunes will match your songs to the songs in Apple’s library. Then if you your songs are “matched” you will see that indicated in your iTunes (if you have iTunes Status turned on in your view settings that is.) What it means is that if your song is “matched” then Apple already has that song in their library and your version will not be uploaded to their servers. If a song is not matched, for instance the songs that I have recorded sitting in my basement messing around in my studio, then my song will be uploaded to Apple’s servers.
This process serves two purposes. After this happens I can then go to my iPad for instance, and then access those songs that have been matched or uploaded WITHOUT having to hook up a cable to my computer and drag and drop them onto my iPad. Secondly the process of getting your iTunes library into the Cloud is so much faster than uploading every single song in your library to Apple. (Trust me – Google does this and it took FOREVER (as in more than a week!))
More importantly, Apple will upgrade your songs if they are matched but are a lower quality on your computer. I have taken my old cassette tapes for instance and recorded them onto my laptop. I know that when I did this the quality was not that great for some of those files because I had worn out those tapes long ago! Maybe I had even saved those files as mp3. Now we are talking two things that have degraded my files. If Apple matches those songs their version is much better than mine! So after matching I simply delete the file off my computer, iTunes asks if I also want to delete the file from iCloud, I do NOT check that box and then I also have iTunes move the file to the trash on my computer. I then get a little iCloud icon with a download arrow in it. That indicates that my song is sitting in iCloud waiting to be played or downloaded.
Here is where it gets interesting! After doing this you can play the song anytime you want from iCloud. It is fast (depending on your service I suppose of course – I experience about a second delay at home) In the past when I would play a song like this it would be automatically downloaded to my computer again. I would then have the newer, better file sitting on my computer. NOW that song is NOT downloaded anymore – the file STREAMS! I will have to play around with this on my iPad because this could be HUGE news to those of us trying to save space on our iOS device by not having every song stored on our iPad for instance. If I want to actually download that file I simply click the iCloud icon with the little download arrow in it and the file is downloaded.
Also, in answer to the original question Aaron asked, play counts do not get se-set. So if you are tracking how many times you have played a song you will not loose that info. If the song is on your computer and you have played it three times, then you delete it from your computer so that the file is only in the cloud and you play it again (stream it again) the play count will say 4. If you then download it by clicking that icon and play it then the count turns to 5.
If you are like me and you don’t TRUST the process then try it out with only one or two songs first.
Check out my screenshot. In it you can see the iCloud icon, you can also see in the play bar at the top where the song is playing and streaming to my computer all at once.