If your internal drive is getting full and you want to move your iTunes music to an external drive, you can do so by using functions built right into iTunes. Keep your iTunes Library on your internal drive, but move your music to an external drive. That way you move the bulk of your files to your external drive, but keep all of the primary functionality of your iTunes Library on your internal one.



Video Transcript (Click to Expand)
Hi, this is Gary with ‘MacMost Now.’ On today’s episode let me show you how to move your iTunes music library to an external drive.
So if you have a large music library and your internal drive is getting pretty full, then you may want to consider moving your music to an external drive.
Now the key is not to move your iTunes library there. Your iTunes library is your catalogue of all the things you have in iTunes including apps, videos, all sorts of stuff. And you want to keep your iTunes library on your internal drive.
But the music files, the things that actually take up a lot of space, you can move those to an external drive and have the best of both worlds. Have your library on your internal drive while the media itself sits on an external drive and frees up lots of space on your hard drive.
You can do this all on iTunes using some functions in there that will allow you to keep all the settings for all the songs. Let me show you.
So here in iTunes I have a small music library but I want to move it onto an external drive. I’ve even got some specific things like a Rating Setting for some songs. Like this song here has a Rating. It has even some options of volume adjustment. There’s the Rating, I’ve got some lyrics.
So you can see this is all going to remain intact as I move things.
Now if I look on my hard drive in my User folder which in this case my user name is MacMost, I can see that I have a music library. In Music Library I’ve got iTunes and that’s my iTunes library.
And there’s a bunch of stuff in it. There’s album artwork, there’s all these special database files and there’s an iTunes Media folder.
Now the Media folder is where the actual media files are like say the mp3 or AAC files for my music. And this is the one that’s taking up a lot of space.
As a matter of fact if I looked in the music folder I see there’s a bunch of subfolders in there. There’s all the different albums. And there’s all the files taking up the space.
So I’m going to move only this folder. Not the whole iTunes folder which is the library but the iTunes Media folder.
But I’m not going to do it here in the Finder. I’m going to use iTunes to do it. What I’m going to move it to is I’ve got an external drive and I’ve already initialized the external drive, it’s completely blank and I’ve named it External Music.
Now in iTunes I can go to iTunes Preferences. And in Preferences, under Advanced, I can see here’s my iTunes Media Folder Location. Notice this doesn’t say iTunes Library. It’s the iTunes Media Folder Location. And there it is. It shows in iTunes there’s the iTunes Media Folder.
Now I also have checked off Keep iTunes Media Folder Organized. That means iTunes can control the folder name and where the songs are. If I move a song from one album to another or change the name of a song in iTunes, it’s going to reflect that in the folders which is what I want.
I also have Copy Files to iTunes Media Folder When Adding them To my Library. That means I drag and drop a file into iTunes and it will then move that file into my iTunes Media Folder. That’s all set up great. It’s just that the Media Folder is in the wrong location.
I can change that. Click on that and I’m going to select that External Drive and I’m going to create a folder for it otherwise it’s just going to put all the stuff at the main level of the external drive.
I want to name it iTunes Media. Now I can name it anything I want, but I like the fact that I’m naming it what it really is. It makes it very simple to see what’s going on in the future. Now I’m going to Open after I create it and now you can see it’s set to External Music/iTunes Media.
So now anything I add in the future is going to go over to that folder. But I still have to take care of the stuff that’s already still on my internal drive.
So I’m going to dismiss that. It’s going to ask me to make sure I want to do this. I’m basically giving permission for iTunes to control the contents of that folder. So I say, ‘Yes,’ and it’s now time for me to move my library.
I go to File, Library and Organize Library. And now I click Consolidate Files. And what it’s going to do is it’s going to copy all the files from my old library on my internal drive to my new library. You can see the progress.
And it may take awhile if you have a large library.
Now while it’s doing that if I look on that external drive I can see there’s my iTunes Media folder I created and you can see it’s added some folders to it.
Remember iTunes has control of this iTunes Media Folder now, I gave it permission.
Under Music you can see it adding each artist as it goes through my library. And what I’m going to end up with is a complete copy of everything in this iTunes Media Folder. You can see there’s all the same music there and it’s going to add each one there.
And to complete the transition, what I would need to do is delete the stuff on my internal drive because I’m no longer going to use it.
After it’s all finished copying. You can see it’s still in progress there, I can delete material.
Now it’s important not to delete your iTunes folder. That’s your iTunes library. You want to delete your iTunes Media Folder, throw it in the trash.
As a matter of fact a good thing to do to confirm is you quit iTunes of course. Throw the iTunes Media Folder from your internal drive, the old one, in the trash re-launch iTunes and everything should work fine.
And then you can know that you’ve done the right thing and empty the Trash later on. I’m going to do that. I’m going to throw that away.
In iTunes now I’m going to take a look and I can see that I’ve still got the Rating set for the song , I’ve still got the lyrics there, I’ve still got options set, number of plays. Everything is still in place because the library hasn’t changed.
I can even Control, Click on the song and say show in Finder, and it will correctly find it there in that External Music hard drive.
So I know that I’ve done everything correct and now I’ve cleared off that space in my hard drive and I have all my music on my external drive and I haven’t lost any data and it’s been a smooth transition.
Now while you can only pick one folder where iTunes organizes everything, if you want to store your files in different places. Like say have some stuff in your internal drive, say in your MacBook and have some stuff on your external drive that you don’t take with you when you travel, you can still do that.
You have to turn off the options that I showed at the beginning where iTunes is going to control everything and put everything in that folder.
And then you can put your music files in one location or another. When you drag them to iTunes, it won’t try to consolidate them it will just take those files from wherever they are and leave them there and you’ll have them all in your library.
So, there is a way through a little more manual management to have some music on your internal hard drive and some on your external.
Hope you found this look at moving your music to an external drive useful.
Till next time, this is Gary with, ‘MacMost Now.’


78 Responses to “MacMost Now 631: Moving Your iTunes Media To an External Drive”

  1. Ron says:

    Definitely not a very intuitive process.
    Thanks for showing us how to do it, Gary.

  2. Russ says:

    Thanks. I did this a few months ago, but you reminded me to delete the original iTunes Media folder on your hard drive. Do you think this is a better alternative to iTunes Match?

  3. Russ says:

    Sorry if this off topic, when I do a “Get Album Artwork” in iTunes for some albums, it say’s it can’t find it. This is usually for a not so popular band/group. I have some of the original albums on CD or vinyl. If I take a photo with my iPhone or digital camera of the cover, is there a way to import that into iTunes to use as the album artwork? Thanks.

  4. Jim Thomas says:

    My external HD is used for Time Machine backup. If I move the music to the external HD, will it no longer be backed up, as it will only be in one place?

    • Do not use a Time Machine backup drive for anything other than your Time Machine backup. If you want to store your music externally, get a second drive.

      • Arthur Crook says:

        Gary,

        You keep referring to “music” in iTunes, but the majority of my media is movies and TV programs. Does this work with the whole enchilada?

      • Karen says:

        I just finished moving everything to the external drive and was so happy to see it worked – then noticed this about not using the same external as used for Time Machine. Is there a reason?

        • Two. First, Time Machine needs to use the whole volume. If you stick other things there, it will have trouble accessing available space and maintaining your backup. I have gotten tons of emails from people who did this and now find that Time Machine chokes. So the only proper way to share a drive between TM and other data is to create two partitions, so TM has its own partition it can maintain.
          BUT — even if you do that, you are creating a single point of failure for that data. Whatever data you store there won’t be backed up on another drive. Even if you set up TM to back up the data, it will be backing it up to the SAME DRIVE. So that drive fails, and you lose the original and the backup.

  5. Bhirr says:

    iF the external hard drive storage is not connected then i-tunes won’t work=play or receive new purchases ???

    • Not sure what would happen if you tried to make a new purchase and your media folder wasn’t available. If that is a possibility, you probably want to just keep your media on your internal drive, and occasionally store some of your files on your external drive (don’t let iTunes copy/organize).

  6. Bhirr says:

    likewise for timemachine backups does that new hard drive always have to be connected?

  7. Andrew says:

    Thanks for this. Very useful. Quick question though does it really matter if you want to move the whole iTunes file to an external drive. Are there disadvantages to that as that is what I would prefer to do

    Thanks

    • If you just move media to an external drive, then if you disconnect the drive you can still use iTunes for other things (iPhone/iPod/iPad syncing of apps and data, the iTunes store, etc).

  8. Brian says:

    This is great but I’ve already got my library on an external drive but in Preferences Advanced it doesn’t point to that folder. If I change it to point to that drive will it start to create double ups on my external drive once it starts to create the Music etc folders?

  9. Ryan says:

    Gary thanks for this – Is there a similar feature for iPhoto and moving all your pictures to an external drive?

    • No. iPhoto keeps all of the photos bundled into a single package. Using iPhoto is very different because you are actually editing photos. You can store the entire iPhoto library somewhere else, but you can’t store just the photos.

  10. Ricky says:

    I have recently got myself the basic macbook air which i love, however the 64 gb internal hard drive won’t be enough space for my music library. The though is that i will be taking the iTunes library off of my old pc laptop, so will i need to copy the whole iTunes library or just the media? :S
    Thanks for the help :)

    • I would just take the media files and start fresh. Not sure if copying an entire iTunes library from Windows to Mac will work. Put it on an external drive. Or, you could always sign up for iTunes Match and handle it that way.

      • Jim says:

        I can’t figure out how to keep my entire music library on an external drive, accessed only occasionally, and play the music via iTunes Match on my computer. I moved some music files (in Finder, not via iTunes) from my MacBook Pro to an external drive and deleted them from the computer. I changed the iTunes Media folder location to the external drive to start iTunes Match, then switched it back to the computer’s media folder. The matching worked in that I could play the songs on my iPhone via iTunes Match. The music files I deleted from the computer show as tracks in iTunes, but iTunes can’t locate them since they’re not on the computer. I also can’t access them via iTunes Match like I can on the iPhone. When I then delete the track names in iTunes, they no longer are available via iTunes Match on my Phone.

        Do you have any advice? I know changing the Media folder location is a problem, but I don’t know how to maintain two different libraries and have all the music on iTunes Match. Thanks.

        • Hard to give advice as you’ve got a lot going on and it is hard to follow without being there. Setting your iTunes Media folder to your external drive, and using iTunes Match is the right way to go. I would set it up that way again, and check and re-check how you have everything.

  11. Greg says:

    I’ve been battling with my Mini media centre always filling up and executing this process has given me 80gig, so thank you! Seeing it on video and being able to pause and step thru the, um, steps, really works for me. Appreciate it!

  12. Jen says:

    If I sign up for iTunes Match and I’ve moved my iTunes Media folder to an external drive as you describe, will iTunes Match still work? Thanks!

  13. Jen says:

    Great, thanks Gary!

  14. Martin says:

    Great video, but I am confused…
    Why not just move your ~/Music/iTunes folder to another volume, then hold the Option key when launching iTunes and select the new location via the “Choose Library” button? (This button appears when you hold Option when launching iTunes.)
    This way, iTunes will “see” your entire iTunes library content and (most importantly), the structure of your playlists, etc. (which can be found in the “iTunes Library.xml” file, inside of the root iTunes folder). This would be particularly useful should you wish to run iTunes entirely from an external volume.
    It just seems like this is a LOT easier and a lot fewer steps?
    Thanks.

    • That’s fine if you want your entire iTunes library on another drive. But many people would prefer to only have their music on another drive. Having your entire library elsewhere means you couldn’t even run iTunes when the drive is not connected. And if you use iTunes for managing your iPod/iPhone/iPad and its apps then you may want that. That way you can travel with your MacBook and still sync it to your iOS device.

  15. Jen says:

    Gary, I moved my iTunes to an external drive and it freed up tons of space on my hard drive. 83GB, to be exact. I’m very happy. Can I do the same thing with iPhoto? And if I upgrade to Lion, will PhotoStream still sync if iPhoto is on an external drive?

  16. Kelvin says:

    Hi Gary, thanks for the great tip to move my Music Media to my NAS drive. My family MacBook has 2 account namely; Mine and my wife’s. So the Music Media that I moved was from my account (where all the music is anyway). But I was hoping that when my wife log into her account in our Macbook, she would be able to go the NAS drive and the newly transferred Music Media and listen to the music from her iTunes and also do our iPhone music management.

    Sadly, from my wife’s account, she cannot even see the Music files from NAS at all (mine can of course). Pls advice how do I adjust the settings to make this happen for my wife’s account? (Btw, I only copied the Music media to my NAS not the full iTunes library).

    Thanks, Kelvin

    • You need to figure out why your wife can’t see that drive using her account. Perhaps your NAS came with some management software and you need to use that to set access?

  17. Kelvin says:

    Hi Gary, I meant her account is able to see my NAS drive, but her iTunes don’t have all the playlist like in my account’s iTunes. How do I make her iTunes look like mine?

    Thanks!

    • Playlists are part of the iTunes library. Media files are just the media files. You each have your own separate iTunes libraries, even if those libraries share media files. So you would each see your own playlists.
      If you want to share playlists then you need to share the entire library — but that means everything, which can cause problems. A better solution might be to have her create her own playlists.

  18. Kelvin says:

    Hi Gary, Another problem arises. Everytime, using my account, whenever I go back to iTunes, I noticed the under preferences for iTunes Media folder location, it always go back to the default local drive and not my NAS drive. I have reset it back to my NAS drive twice but every time after a reboot, the iTunes media folder location is reset to the default again.

    Do you know how to fixed the media folder location in Preferences to point to my NAS drive? (btw, I always ensure that my NAS is switched on first before logging into my Mac account)

    Thanks!
    Kelvin

  19. Chip says:

    I just followed the steps, but via Finder, do not see any of the music in my external hard drive folder that I created, and set in iTunes as the media library. There are a lot of asterisks by songs in iTunes now. Any help is appreciated.

  20. Hard to say what might be wrong without seeing it. Just check and recheck. Or find some firsthand help.

  21. Mike says:

    Gary, thanks for all of the videos! Just got my first Mac and your site has been very helpful. I bought a 64GB SDXC for some extra space on my MBA and now have my media folder on that. It worked perfectly. Thanks again and keep up the good work!

  22. Lloyd says:

    My Issue is that if something happens to my external drive, God forbid, then all my music is not backed up, correct?

    • Yes. You want to make sure it is backed up. One solution is to use Time Machine. It backs up external as well as internal drives.

      • Lloyd says:

        If I want to move the iTunes Media back to my internal HD is it just a reversal of steps?

        • Should be, yes.

          • Lloyd says:

            I can’t seem to make it work. Can you please give some instructions? It does free up a lot of space on my internal drive. But I want to give that external drive away, but not before I get my music back in place on my internal drive.

            Thanks for all your good work.

  23. Rh Houston says:

    Dude you are awesome! Great info here! I’m about to purchase iTunes Match and the only thing holding me back is a very basic question. My iTunes music is already stored on an external drive. When I enroll in Match will my externally stored music stay where it currently resides and be accessible as it currently is? Or stated another way, when the Match process is completed will I have to re-download all my music back into iTunes on my primary computer, in order to use my current (lots of them) playlists or will they play in iTunes directly from my external storage location?

    • iTunes Match doesn’t affect your music storage preferences. If you store your music on an external drive, then those preferences remain the same.

  24. Eric Suesz says:

    Just wanted to say thank you for making this video! Just what I needed after nosing around through a bunch of not-so-helpful forum replies. You’re good!

    E

  25. Alison Pr says:

    Hi Gary,
    Thanks for all these great video tutorials making it easier to understand how to get along with my new mac.
    I really liked your advice in video episode #372 where you made suggestions about what to do when you have something like a macbook pro but a massive music library – to keep most of it on an external hard drive, that you can listen to when you’re home and plugged in to your external drive, but your favourite albums on the internal drive (that you take with you everywhere you go). I’m keen to do this – do I need to make sure that i don’t have the “favourites” files duplicated on the external drive as well as the internal one? or is it ok to have a copy on both?
    thanks again,
    Alison

    • There is no reason to have them in both places. So just have them either on you internal drive, or on the external. But not both.
      BTW — now with iTunes Match.. that is a much better option. It costs $25, but then you can access all of your music from anywhere with a connection. As a music fan, I find it well worth it.

  26. john says:

    i followed the steps in the mac most guide to move all of my music from my mac to an external hard drive, while leaving the library in i-tunes. everything seemed to be working fine, but now my i-tunes library is unplayable, it’s telling me my music cannot be found. I do not know what to do. Is my music lost? it’s not on my external hard drive as far as I can tell, and it’s not accessible through i-tunes. not sure what happened here.

    • Where did you move it to? You moved it to a folder on your external drive, right? Look in that folder. It should be there. If not, you must have deleted it or moved it elsewhere.

  27. Joseph says:

    Thank you for the great tutorial. I will be traveling with a 2.5 year old 13″ MacBook Pro with a 500 GB HD and I sync my iTunes with both my MacBook and my iMac. However, the drive is now full on the MacBook, and I would love to keep some, but not all movies for my upcoming trip. How can you move a portion of the iTunes library while keeping the other portion on your internal drive?

    • It is difficult. You’ll need to move those files manually, then delete the references to them in iTunes. Then add them back to iTunes, having first turned off the “copy” and “organize” preference.

  28. Gregory Goldsmith says:

    Hi Gary, Thanks for this.
    On my Windows PC my iTunes folder for my iPhone is C:/Gregorys iPhone and my iTunes media folder and .itl etc all sit there.

    I’d like to call it C:/iTunes again. Is it a case of just renaming the folder at the top level?

    Thanks

    • If you just rename it, then iTunes may not know where to find it. So you may have to locate the library when you launch iTunes again.

  29. Ken says:

    Hi Gary,

    Thanks for the video. I found it as I searched for how to network all of my music to one drive. We have two iMacs, an old ibook, and a MacBook between my wife and I. I would like to free up disk space on all 4 machines by putting all of our music in one place. I just read all the comments and didn’t see this addressed. (I also want to do this with our pictures and it sounds like I’ll need to move the entire library for those – right?).

    If I have my home network set up – will your advice still work? Will I just need to find the external drive on the network and enter that into the “iTunes Media folder location” for each machine?

    • That’s different. What you want to do is share the files. This video is about one computer and one external drive.
      For sharing, I would use one central computer (no external drive) and store everything on it, then turn on sharing in iTunes and iPhoto. It will work well with iTunes, but for iphoto you would stick with editing and maintaining your library on that one machine, and just viewing it on others.
      Remember to also backup that main computer with Time Machine.

  30. Wade says:

    Hi Gary. Thanks so much for your help with this. Unfortunately I saw this video too late! My problem is I went into Preferences in iTunes and changed the location to the new hard drive but I skipped the step where you “Consolidate Files” in iTunes and instead, I did it manually and moved my entire iTunes folder to my hard drive in the Finder. Now, of course, when I open iTunes, none of the songs can be located. (they all have the exclamation point next to them) Should I go ahead and use that “consolidate” function now or is that going to create a duplicate copy of all of my songs? I’ve got about 3000 songs. What do you think is the easiest solution? Thanks again!

    • Hard to say. Lots of factors. You could “locate” the files. Or, move all of the songs into one place on your hard drive and simply clean out the library (but not delete the files) and drag them back into iTunes to start fresh.

  31. Wade says:

    I did the second option you suggested. All good now. Thank you!

  32. Danielle says:

    ok, so I originally installed itunes on an external hard drive (G drive) because i didnt want any of that stuff running off my PC. Well over time the drive got full and I bought and moved everything over to a bigger 2TB hard drive (D). So I confirmed that all the media points to the new drive (D), but the desktop shortcut for itunes still goes to the G drive. So I have to keep the G external drive plugged in just to open itunes and then the d external plays everything. How the heck do I change that?

  33. Danielle says:

    Just to add a little more info to my earlier post: The itunes desktop short cut point to the original (G) external drive that it was installed on. I want everything to run off the new (D) external drive. I tried to move over the itunes.exe file but that didnt work. I get an error when I unplug the (G) and try to open up itunes without it.

  34. Jeffrey says:

    I have been doing this for some time with a NAS. The problem that I have is when I reset my computer it defaults back to the internal drive. This this a typical problem and is there a way to prevent this?

    Thanks

  35. Lorraine says:

    Hi Gary, Thank you for the clear video. Now I feel confident about moving my i tunes media files to an external drive. Before I do so however, I just have a question, which I am sure you have answered, but must have missed it!
    I have a MacBookAir, I am currently uploading my CD collection for the first time onto the Mac. I am about a third of the way through uploading and have run out of space on my internal drive.I have an external drive, already used for photos and time machine. Now after I have created a pathway to the external drive, am I able to carry on uploading, and save into the same media files, or do I need to go back to my internal hard drive and then carry them across separately. What will happen when I eventually want to synch to an Ipod/iphone? Thank you

    • I see two major problems. First: You should NOT use your Time Machine drive for anything but Time Machine. Very dangerous. Let Time Machine manage the whole drive. Otherwise, you are risking problems. Drives are cheap. Use one for Time Machine, and then get another for other things
      Second, do not put your photos and your backup on the same drive. This means your photos are not backed up at all. Think about it. For many people, the photos are the most valuable data you own. I can lose a 100-page document and recreate it with a few days worth of work. But I could never recreate the pictures from my daughter’s first birthday party.
      As for how you should handle your iTunes library, you can do it many ways. But why not set things up like you want right now while your library is smaller? Just move your entire media library to where you want it and continue from there. Just don’t do it on the same drive you are using for Time Machine!

      • Lorraine says:

        Thank you Gary, I have just purchased a new drive and will transfer files over to new drive. As for iTunes Library, it is good to know I can transfer it and then continue downloading to the external hard drive. Thanks again for the support!

  36. Karen says:

    Great video Gary thanks for taking the time to do this. I just purchased a macbook air and want my large iTunes music and iPhoto libraries on an external drive and understand that I need a second drive specifically for time machine backups (which will also backup my external drives). What I’m still unclear on is when I sync other iOS devices (iPhone/iPad) I obviously can’t sync my entire library of music…can I control this through manually managed playlists?

    • Sure. You can choose to sync playlists, artists, etc. Take a look at the screen in iTunes where you decide what to sync and you’ll see. Or, don’t use that at all and manually sync (drag and drop) songs. That’s what I do.

  37. Steven Dunn says:

    I used this tip for my desktop and it worked great. However, is it possible to connect this external media drive to my second computer, and have that iTunes use it there also? After setting up this drive for my desktop, I tried to have my laptop’s iTunes recognize it using the same process, but I only got a blank library.

    • You would need to drag and drop the media into iTunes to build a second library with it at the other computer. Both libraries would access the same files on that external drive. You would have trouble, though, if you tried to use iTunes on the Mac that didn’t have the drive attached.

  38. Laura Moffatt says:

    Hi Gary, Thank you for the link to #631. Another question, should I check “Reorganize files in the folders itunesmusic” locally before I transfer to an external drive? Should I update to the new iTunes media folder layout before?
    Thank you.

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