The Only Solution to Missing Album Artwork in iPhone Due to Catalina and Big Sur’s


Important: Please note, this post is mainly for people with curated offline music libraries, whose album artwork has largely gone missing due to Apple’s change in the work album artwork is stored and retrieve in the new in macOS Catalina and Big Sur.

The Unreliable macOS

With the removal of iTunes in macOS Catalina, it is no longer possible to reliably maintain a music library with correct album artwork showing, especially if your library has a large percentage of music ripped from CDs (and did not purchase from Apple). Every time you upgrade the operating system (say, from Catalina to Big Sur), or if you decide to wipe and reinstall macOS, when you load your music library for the first time, the new starts a process of populating your music library with album artwork by detecting embedded artwork from your music files.

This process is about as reliable as trying to stop the spread of COVID-19 without masks or vaccines.

The iPhone’s Failure to Load Album Artwork

Very often the process will fail to load all the album artwork. Sometimes it fails to load ANY artwork at all. But the most irritating problem is that even if the album artwork successfully loads in the macOS, it can sometimes go missing when your music library is synced to your iPhone’s This is because, for some weird reason, during the process of loading album artwork, the macOS sometimes deletes the embedded artwork in the first, or first few songs in each album. And for some other weird reason, album artwork will fail to load in the iOS if the first song in the album does not have any embedded artwork.

This all stemmed from the fact that the macOS is a half-baked modified iTunes, while the iOS is really a reskinned Beats Music app. The prior iOS Music codebase which was extremely stable and usable, has been thrown out for the buggy mess that was Beats Music.

Now, maybe the above paragraph has given you a hint of the one and only solution to the problem you are having right now. You are right.


The answer is iTunes.

The Solution, For Now

I have absolutely no idea why people claimed to hate iTunes. Maybe they don’t like to have a bunch of functions inside one single app, or maybe the complaining people are all Windows users, but iTunes was, and still is very mature and stable. If you just use it for your offline Music library, it is leagues more stable than the macOS is today. And given that Apple don’t give a fuck about fixing the macOS since Catalina, I think the plan is that they will rather inconvenient users with offline music libraries in the hope of driving them to pay for Apple Music subscriptions.

Screenshot 2021-02-27 at 8.01.07 PM

You cannot download iTunes for Catalina or Big Sur. For that you need Retroactive. You can read about Retroactive here and here, but basically by now it is quite stable and has a relatively big pool of users.

How to Restore Your Album Artwork to iOS Devices

The steps to getting your album artwork back on your iPhone are to;

  1. Install Retroactive
  2. Use Retroactive to install iTunes 12.9.5
  3. Hopefully, you still have your iTunes library file lying somewhere in your disk. If not, just open, and drag everything into iTunes, creating a new iTunes library file.
  4. If your music files still have album artwork embedded in them, all the artwork will load. If there are missing album artwork (due to the deleting a bunch), fix them.
  5. Sync your iPhone (using Finder/iTunes). Uncheck all music in the music sync settings so that your current music library in your iPhone is deleted once. Then click sync.
  6. Sync your iPhone again, this time using only iTunes. Recheck all the music you want to sync back in. If you have a large library, try syncing a few artists first.
  7. Check that everything is working now, then continue to sync all the remaining artists you want.
  8. Enjoy!

Step 5 is important because if you just sync with iTunes on the same settings for music you had on Finder, nothing will change as only music files that had been modified will sync over.

Syncing with iTunes will not create a new backup, both iTunes and the Finder are just an interface to access the system’s syncing feature. If you ask me syncing on iTunes is more clearcut and obvious than syncing on the Finder.

At least for now, iTunes syncing will be the only solution for this massive artwork problem, until Apple decides to fix the problem. To make that happen, file a bug with Apple. If enough people make noise Apple will likely nudge and fix the missing album artwork issue.


MacRyu is the Mac Blog by Singaporeans and for Singaporeans. It was started in April 2007 as a side project of the then President of the Official Mac User Group of NUS, Ryu, and grew to become possibly one of the most popular Apple-related sites based in Singapore. MacRyu hopes to provide you with more Mac-related info, thoughts and stuff, from the Singaporean perspective.

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