MacMost Now 372: Moving Your iTunes Library

If you have a large iTunes library, you may want to consider moving it to an external drive. You can also have some of your media on an external drive without having to move the library. Take a look at three methods of handing an iTunes library on an external drive.

Video Transcript
Hi, this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode let's look at ways to move your iTunes library. So this is a very common request. Say you have a very large iTunes library and you want to move it say to an external drive, to save space on your internal drive. But you can do this one of many different ways, lets look at three of them. So first lets take a look at your music library now by default its stored in your user folder, MacMost in this case, under music. And then you'll a folder called iTunes, this is your iTunes library. Now inside of it you have a whole bunch of different folders, iTunes media is where all the good stuff is. All your mp3 files, videos, everything. If I look in there I can see that its been organized into downloads, music podcasts etc. I look under music and I can find all my music organized by artist. Now if I go back here I see there's also a file for album artwork. And I can see there are several supporting including your iTunes library database and a few others.
So the very easiest way to move your iTunes library is to grab this folder this iTunes folder under your music folder and copy it your external hard drive then once you've copied it, you take this copy and throw it in the trash. And once you've done that you've basically moved it over to the new external drive. That's step one. So Step two is to launch iTunes but with the option key held down and when you do that you will get this dialog, choose your iTunes library. And you want to select choose library and that will open up a file dialog and you can go in and find that iTunes folder here its showing me the one I have in my internal drive. but you would go and browse to your external drive select that iTunes library click choose and now its looking at that new copy of your iTunes library, you don't have to do this again it will automatically look in the same location next time you run iTunes.
So the advantages of this method is its fast its easy and it takes everything into account including your podcasts, your podcast subscription. But its not the only way to go. SO lets take a look inside of iTunes. In iTunes preferences under advanced you'll see two checkboxes here one is the keep the iTunes media folder organized which means it will rename folders and files depending upon what the music is keeping everything well organized inside the iTunes library. and the other one is this one copy files to iTunes media folder when adding to library. This means when you drag and drop things into iTunes it actually makes a copy and its that copy inside the iTunes folder that its actually referring to in iTunes. However, you can turn this off, and when you turn this off what will happen is that you can have you music stored in another folder and yet referenced in the iTunes library so using this you can actually put some music files on your external drive. Say about a huge collection of music files there. Drag and drop them into iTunes and those files will remain on the external drive even though your iTunes library shows them as if they were on your internal drive this way you can split your media you can have a large collection of albums on your external drive and yet your iTunes folder on your internal drive with all your podcasts along with other music and videos.
The advantage of this method is that you can split things up.So if you have a very large library of music you can basically put it all on the external drive. This is useful for backing up purposes lets say you have a thousand albums and you don't to back those up to Time Machine, you already have them archived somewhere else. You can put them on an external drive have iTunes access all of these and then you can not have to worry about having them backed up again to Time Machine and save that space on your internal drive. It also is great if you have a macbook because you can have say a large music collection on your external drive for when the macbook's sitting on your desk and plugged into it. And you can have just the basics actually on your macbook when your travelling. And of course you won't be able to play those songs, it will show you an error when you try to access music that on the external drive when its not plugged but as long as your remember that, it won't be an issue.
A third method is to recreate your entire iTunes library from scratch this is so easy to do I can't believe people don't do this more often. Its a great way to get rid of errors especially if you've got files that you've deleted from your hard drive but iTunes thinks they're still there. You simply create a new iTunes library by holding down the option key and starting iTunes. And then just drag and drop all of your media, all your music all your videos everything you can just put it in one big folder and drag it on to iTunes and it will copy it into the new library and organize it for you. Now then your going to have to resubscribe to your podcasts, and also your going to have to get album artwork and things like that again and if you have customizations in there like you've been specific to change the information in some songs. Then you may lose it but if you don't this is a great way to move you iTunes library around and get a fresh start at the same time. So one word of caution make sure if you move your iTunes library to an external drive that's also getting backed via Time Machine just like your internal drive I would just check a day or two later just to make sure that the stuff is there in time machine, it should be there automatically. I hope you found this useful, till next time this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.

Comments: 28 Responses to “MacMost Now 372: Moving Your iTunes Library”

    9 years ago

    Your instructional videos are great. What I need to know is how do I move my itunes library from my HP desktop to my new MacPro laptop?

      9 years ago

      That’s a tougher one. I’ve never tried to move a library from Windows to Mac. I would probably go with the complete rebuild option. Just drag and drop the media files in to iTunes on your Mac and let it add them to your new library. Then add any podcasts manually.

        9 years ago

        I have the same question as Dean, but I have a Dell. I need to move all my pictures, documents and music. I am wondering if I use a Firewire for this?

          9 years ago

          As for the hardware you need, the best way is just to copy them over the network if they are both sharing files on the same network. I’ve never seen a Mac and PC connect via firewire.
          My next best option would be to simply use an external hard drive to transfer the files. Maybe a USB Flash drive — even if you have to transfer in segments, it might still be faster than the network.

      Rich O
      9 years ago

      Prior to switching to Mac I used iTunes to manage my CD collection on my PC. I just copied my iTunes Media folder to an external HDD, initially as a backup first. Later, when I transitioned to a MAC I came across this site and this PodCast–perfect timing! I did what Gary said about unchecking the box in advanced for making copies to the iTUnes library and then told iTunes where to find the Library on my EXT HDD and it worked! I spared time and HD space on my iMac.

    Ian Mayman
    9 years ago

    Hi Gary, I was recently in a position of having two back up drives completely full and backing up each other, and with just 300mb free on my Mac, at one point it was literally zero (and still able to open web pages). I’ve now bought two 500GB drives which will also backup each other so I don’t need the files on my computer.

    I decided I want all my music and some HD video podcasts on the two drives, but most podcasts subscriptions and the iTunes library on the computer itself because I listen to that a lot more, and I may not always have the hard drive available.

    I decided the best way was to move all the music, except for the “Podcasts” folder, to the new hard drives, add the music folder so as to play it in iTunes from the hard drive. Unfortunately what I found was that this also deleted all my ratings, which messes up some of my smart folders. That is something that people really need to be aware of if, they have rated a lot of things and are moving their iTunes library.

    8 years ago

    Why when I did my time machine backup I did not see some of my music i imported myself in time machine?

    8 years ago

    In my time machine on my external drive in music media folder. I do see some but not all. Also when you said to create a new libray from scratch do I delete the media folder from internal drive. I created a new itunes library on my external drive.

      8 years ago

      Not sure. Maybe you are looking in the wrong place. TM backups are not meant to be browsed like normal folders. It doesn’t re-copy files that haven’t been changed so you may be looking at the wrong “time.” Hard to say what you are seeing.
      What happens when you actually RUN Time Machine and browse it as you should be browsing TM?
      You can delete the old iTunes library if you are sure you have all of your music files, etc., copied over.

    8 years ago

    I want to move Itunes from a PC to a Mac, can you help direct me to some instructions

      8 years ago

      You can try moving the entire library. Maybe put it on a USB drive and bring it over. But I’m not sure if it will work.
      If you only have music, then why not just take your mp3/aac files and bring them over. Then drag and drop them into iTunes on your Mac. It will import them and essentially re-create your library.

    M Harris
    8 years ago

    We want to move our master IT library to our new Time Capsule. We also want to be able to access the library from multiple macbooks and have local copies on each macbook so that we can use IT when not at home. (is this advised?) I usually sync my iphone, ipad, itouch, ipod and shuffle from my one macbook. What is the best scenario to accomplish this? Can I sync these devices from either macbook? Thank you for your advice.

    M Harris
    8 years ago

    Followup: If we have local copies on both macbooks and turn TM on, will it duplicate the local libraries? How do we keep it from duplicating the locals? (We are new to time machine as of yesterday…)

      8 years ago

      If you have local copies on each, then there is no point having a central copy.
      It sounds like what you really need is iCloud. I would wait for that to come out, instead of trying to come out with a pieced-together imperfect solution.
      TM backs up everything, so you would have a copy of everything on the local drive, on that machine’s TM drive. So you would have lots of duplicates, yes.

    7 years ago

    my entire library (except for one song) is empty! what happened? i tunes was downloading the last time i used it and there was a power outage. the next day, all my media files are gone and the library was automatically renamed coz apparently my library is damaged.

    is there anyway to salvage them, i have quite a collection of podcasts and music?

      7 years ago

      Perhaps your old Library is still there, by iTunes is now using a new Library instead? Look in your Music folder and see.
      Of course, if you have a Time Machine backup (you do don’t you?) then you can just restore your Music folder from just before the problem happened.
      Otherwise, if you can’t make sense of what you see in the Music folder, I’d immediately take the Mac to the Genius Bar and get some first-hand help.

    7 years ago

    found my itunes media files – -not in another convenient library but in individual folders. had to go through several which were empty mostly.i just had to manually organize them back into just so thankful they weren’t lost.that time machine is next on my shopping list.

    thanks, gary! knowing you are just a click away makes me breathe easier. i appreciate your quick, reliable response.

    Donna Brooks
    7 years ago

    Hi Gary. Just want to make sure I understand some things so I don’t damage my computer or iTunes collection: I have an iMac running Snow Leopard. I used Migration Assistant to bring over everything except apps from a PPC G4 running Tiger. Back when I was using the G4, I made a zip archive of my podcasts b/c I needed the space, and I stored it on an external hard drive. The problem is that now my podcast library is chaos. (I had thousands of podcasts.) I’d go to listen to something & get the message that the files weren’t found. I finally created a Smart folder for “Podcasts after 1/1/11” just so I could FIND the podcasts that were actually on my iMac. 1) I don’t want to do anything to lose the customizations in my MUSIC folder! Is there any way to clean up *just the podcast* section of my iTunes library & have access to my podcasts on the external HD? 2) Are you saying in your video that if an external HD is connected to my iMac, Time Machine will also back that up? 3) Does it matter that the external HD is a clone of a PPC Mac & my current iMac is Intel (obviously)? And a general question: Is there a subscribe feature on your site here that I’m missing to get notification of replies to a particular thread? Or do we just need to keep checking back periodically?

      7 years ago

      Podcasts aren’t meant to exist outside of their “feeds.” So if you have them as plain audio files, then it is up to you to manually arrange them. I don’t have any tips. It is going to take a lot of work.
      Time Machine should back up any external drives as well as your internal ones. Unless you specifically select to NOT back a drive up. Shouldn’t matter where the drive originated, but I guess there could be quirks with very old drives.
      A subscribe feature would require everyone to register and MacMost to maintain a huge secure database of users, etc. So please just keep checking back.

    Kika Wai'Alae
    7 years ago

    Gary, I remember watching this video a while back and transferring my iTunes libraries. I re-watched this today and noticed that in my user/itunes folder only the Album Artwork folder is present. Did I mess up by deleting the iTunes folder completely from my main HD? I wanted to just store the music file to the external but keep iTunes on the main HD like you suggested. How do I correct this, or can it be done? Thanks

    7 years ago

    Hi is there anyway to transfer only my movies to an external drive ?
    Or is it a way to create an iTunes library on an external drive connect this drive to airport extreme and use it only with apple tv ?

    Merrin Campbell
    7 years ago

    Hi Gary
    I have loads of music on my external HD, but I want to have iTunes set up so that any song I place in one of my playlists is saved to my computers HD. At the moment I have lost track of which songs are saved on my ext. HD and which are on my computers HD. Some songs come up with the exclamation mark and some don’t. Sometimes when I press play, I get a message that asks me if I want to locate files so I say yes and it finds that file, but then I have to do the same for each track.

    I’m not sure if I have set the preferences correctly and which box to tick about keeping iTunes organised.

    I watched one of your videos that said to open iTunes holding down the option key and you can then chose where your music comes from, but my iTunes doesn’t ask me that when I hold down the option key when I open it. I have Snow Leopard and a Macbook Pro.

    I am so confused!!

      7 years ago

      Starting iTunes with Option held down will let you choose a library, but not where the songs come from in the library.
      It sounds like iTunes Match would be what you really want. Then you don’t need to worry about where you music is.

    6 years ago

    Hi Gary, I have a new mac book pro and I want to move all my muscic and apps, wich method is the best one for this?
    I also have music in my hard drive and other in my external drive, how I merge all in one folder? And some apps from my ipad and iphone are mixed in the external drive and the hard drive?
    What is the best way to fix all these.

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