In a previous tip, I discussed how you could access Xbox Music’s cloud-based music locker service, Cloud Collection, to stream or download the music you previously purchased from Microsoft. But Cloud Collection also includes a music match component, by which you can make your other music available through the service to all of your PCs and devices. And while it’s a bit hard to use, it is available now.

I wrote about Cloud Collection previously in Windows 8 Tip: Use Xbox Cloud Collection. Please be sure to read that article before proceeding.

Note, too, that Microsoft’s fledgling Xbox Music is a bit of a mess and will no doubt evolve and improve over time. Case in point, the music match service. When Microsoft announced Xbox Music back in October, it noted that a “scan and match” service would be added to Xbox Music “in the coming year,” suggesting that this capability would not be available immediately. But as numerous readers have discovered, music matching is indeed available, though only in Windows 8. (That is, you cannot match music stored on a Windows Phone 8 handset, Xbox 360 console, or, I believe, a Windows RT device.)

So what is music matching (or what Microsoft calls “scan and match”)?

Various companies offer so-called online music lockers, services that let you upload your own music collection—however it was obtained, including CD rips, music purchased from numerous services, or even music obtained from file sharing sites—and then access it, via streaming, from PCs and devices. Examples of this type of service include Amazon Cloud Player (free for 250 songs or $25 a year beyond that) and Google Play Music (free for 20,000 songs), both of which offer excellent compatibility across Windows, iPhone/iPad, and Android devices.

The next step up from a basic music locker is a music matching service, like Apple iTunes Match ($25 per year). Here, the service scans your PC-based music collection and then makes those songs available to you from the cloud, using the service’s collection—which in Apple’s case is in pristine, 256 Kbps AAC format—instead of your own songs where possible. (If iTunes Match can’t match a song, it will upload your version to the cloud. The result is a higher quality cloud-based collection overall—face it, your own music is probably a mess anyway—where most of it doesn’t need to be uploaded before you can use it.)

Beyond the cloud matching, iTunes Match works just like Cloud Player and Play Music: Once the collection is established, it’s there in the cloud and you can now stream or download any of the songs in that collection to your PC or devices, as you choose.

In Windows 8, Microsoft is providing access to a new umbrella of services called Xbox Music, via an app with exactly the same name: Xbox Music. Xbox Music comes with many components, including a cloud-based music locker called Xbox Cloud Collection. And, as noted in that Microsoft announcement earlier, Cloud Collection has music matching capabilities. That is, you can scan music on your PC and have it be matched to music in the Xbox Music cloud collection and added your own personal cloud collection and thus be available for streaming or download from any of your connected devices. Currently, that includes Windows 8 PCs, Windows RT devices, and Windows Phone 8 handsets. But iPhone, iPad, and Android clients are coming soon as well.

Xbox Music’s music matching functionality is a bit rough at the moment, but it does have one huge advantage over iTunes Match. It’s free. You just get this capability for using Xbox Music, and matched songs are not held against your SkyDrive storage allotment online.

But as noted earlier, music matching only works in Windows 8 at the moment. And it’s not very obvious.

To match an album or song to the Xbox Music cloud-based collection, and thus add it to you own personal cloud collection, locate the item in Xbox Music (in the Albums or Songs views, respectively.) As I discussed in Windows 8 Tip: Use Xbox Cloud Collection, music listed in Xbox Music can have one of two icons associated with it: A small radio icon indicating that the music is available in your cloud collection and thus can be streamed or downloaded, and a cloud icon, indicating that the music has been downloaded to your PC and will thus be available for playback when you’re offline too.

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If a music item has no icon associated with it, that means it is from your local collection and is stored on your PC or device’s hard drive (or whatever local storage). This is the music you can match in Xbox Music and make available via your personal cloud collection to any of your other connected devices. (By connected devices, I’m referring to devices that are compatible with Xbox Music on which you’ve signed in with the same Microsoft account.)

To match music to Cloud Collection, select the item (right-click, using a mouse)—it can be an album or song—and choose Match album info from the app bar that appears. (You may need to access a “More” button first on smaller screens.) Here, I’ll use an album as an example.

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Xbox Music will now display a full-screen notification from which you can pick an album in the Xbox cloud-based music collection (30 million tracks and growing).

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Unfortunately, the choices here are often laughable wrong. If so, you can use the “Don’t see the right album?” link to find exactly the right item.

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When you make your choice, you’ll be able to click a Finish button if all is well. More often than not, however, you’ll get a track listing and a Next button instead, indicating that you still need to do some work matching individual tracks from your local music to the tracks in the online collection. I’m getting this a lot, most likely because I did a bit too much in the way of track name customization when I was creating my own music library.

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In the next screen, you can match individual tracks using a fairly obvious UI.

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When you’re done, click Finish.

Since the music match service doesn’t upload anything, your matched music will become immediately available on other devices. To test this, I’ve been using Windows Phone 8 to locate my matched music, which appears normally in in the Music + Videos app as expected.

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If you don’t see matched music on your other devices, make sure the app you’re using is configured to display your Cloud Collection. On Windows Phone 8, this happens in Music + Videos Settings, using the option “Xbox Music cloud collection.” For more information about this functionality, please refer to Windows Phone 8 Tip: Use Xbox Cloud Collection.

As a reminder, Xbox Music generally and Xbox Cloud Collection specifically are a bit rough right now. So you can expect errors, curiously- and improperly-match music and other issues. Hopefully this all gets cleaned up over time.