MacMost Now 773: Storing iTunes Music On a Shared Drive

By making one change in your iTunes preferences, you can use music in iTunes that is stored outside of your Music folder. This allows you to collect and organize your music on a shared drive and still have it play within iTunes. You can then have those same music file available to other Macs on your network.

Video Transcript
Hi, this is Gary with MacMost Now. On today's episode let me show you how to share your iTunes Media with other users on your network.

So this is one of the most common questions that I get asked. People have lots of music stored on their Mac and they want to save it, say on a network drive in their house and have those same files be used by multiple Macs. In other words you have one copy of an MP3 file and you can use that on two or more Macs in your house.

So the way to do that of course is to put the music on some sort of network drive. It could be a drive attached to an iMac or some computer that is always on. It could be a drive attached to your airport extreme, it could be some sort of network server that you've got. You have that drive accessible to all the Macs in your house.

Now you can put your iTunes music on that drive and have it used in iTunes libraries on all the different Macs as long as you check one little box in iTunes.

So in iTunes I am going to go to iTunes preferences and I want to go to the advance tab. There I've got the option, "Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library." This is the critical one. When you add something to your iTunes Library it will then appear there in the music folder. So a physical copy will be made and put there. This means that all your music, everything you add to iTunes, is going to be in this one location available to the one user on your one Mac.

Turn this off it will stop doing this. Which means that you can add music that will then stay where it was and be available in iTunes. It will just link to the file externally. So you can have one copy on a shared drive and you can have two users on your network linked to that same file and it won't copy to either one of those. You have got to turn that off on every copy of iTunes that you are going to do this.

So now if I look in my music in here I can Control/Click on anything that I want and go Show in Finder. It will bring up a Finder window. In this case I can see that this song is in a sub folder inside my music folder inside my iTunes Media folder inside of iTunes inside my Music folder inside my User folder. So this is exactly where I don't want it because it is available just to me. I want to share this.

So what I want to do is if I go up here to this level I can see that I've got four different artists here in my music folder. I want to take these and I want to move these, copy them somewhere else.

So in this case I have this other drive here. It can be a shared drive or an attached drive. Let's pretend it is a shared drive and I'm going to move all this. I already have an artist there and some music stored there. I'm going to copy all the music to it. So now I've got copies on this shared drive here as well as my original still in place. The originals here are what is linked to iTunes.

So now if I go over to iTunes once this is done copying then I can select all of the songs here, Command A, and I'm going to hit the delete key and I'm going to make sure, of course, that it is finished copying them all over, and I'm going to hit Delete songs, and this is going to clear out my iTunes library. I'm going to say Move to Trash because I actually want to clean these out of that music folder.

So now when I go back to the Finder here I can see that the iTunes Media folder all that stuff is gone. So I've nothing in there and I have nothing in iTunes but I have the copies that I made here on the shared drive.

Now since I have actually turned off the check mark for copy I can now select these and drag them back into iTunes and watch how quickly it adds them because it is not making a copy of them. It actually added them without copying them to the music folder. That is still empty. So each one of these is a link to the location here and this can be a shared drive. So I can do the same thing on another iTunes on another Mac also connected to the same network drive, add all the files, and the actual files will only be in one place even though I can see them in two different iTunes libraries.

Now if you buy new music in iTunes it is going to of course put them in your iTunes Media folder. But what you can do is just repeat that process. Just move them to the shared drive, remove them from iTunes, and then add them back from that shared drive. So that way you can keep all your music in one location.

You can, of course, actually divide things up. You can keep some things in a shared location and let some things be in your local user folder.

Now the big question is what happens to that drive isn't connected. I've disconnected that drive now and I'm going to run iTunes. So it is not going to be able to find any of these songs. Nothing will seem wrong at first but what is going to happen is if I double click to play it is going to say it can't find it. Now I've reconnected that drive and let's see what happens when I hit cancel and then I try to play it. You see it will still work.

Now I've always had great success with that. With just reconnecting the drive and everything links back fine. But there are plenty reports of people having trouble once it says it can't find it and even if the drive becomes available they have to relink each individual file. Maybe that's just with older versions of iTunes and that is something that just doesn't happen if you have everything up to date. But it is something to keep in mind.

Of course one thing to consider is that by removing everything from iTunes and adding it back from another location you are going to loose all your star ratings, all you number of plays, and even the playlist won't work quite right anymore. So you are going to have to recreate all of those.

Now if you are starting from scratch this is great to do and of course if you need to implement this then you are going to have to do it. It is something to keep in mind.

Another thing that you've got to deal with here is that if you are using this then iTunes is giving up on helping you to organize your files. So as you create this music folder on a shared drive it is up to organize it. It is up to you to actually have good file names, good folder structure, put it all together and have it make some sense.

So I hope you found this useful. Until next time this is Gary at MacMost Now.

Comments: 14 Responses to “MacMost Now 773: Storing iTunes Music On a Shared Drive”

    James
    10/12/12 @ 7:07 am

    What about file locking ?
    Can two users play the same song at the same time?
    Thanks

      10/12/12 @ 7:16 am

      Sure. File locking should only prevent moving and changing of the file. But even so, you would naturally have a shared drive set to ignore permissions if you are using it as a shared drive. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work very well for that purpose.

    Daniel Bula
    10/12/12 @ 9:41 am

    Gary,

    I’m enjoying you’re shows, thanks for the hard work. A comment thou, with iTunes, I have an external drive with all my apps, music and videos stored. I only use one Mac, but there are different users profiles on it.

    In iTunes the media folder location is pointing the ext drive and I have both check marks on (keep iTunes folder organized and the copy files options). So all users access the media folder having their own iTunes Library. All files are in a common folder.

    Question, when I download an app update in my library it’s copied on the ext drive. Say my wife login to her profile and iTunes, the app starts downloading the update again. So iTunes is not capable to see that we own the updated version of the app on my drive.

    Is there a way to avoid having to download these updates more than once?

    Thanks in advance.

      10/12/12 @ 10:10 am

      OK, so you aren’t using the method in the video, but another method where you have a shared media folder, like in episode 631 (just pointing that out for others reading the thread).
      So apps are not stored in the iTunes Media folder. They are stored in the Mobile Applications folder. I believe you can do it two ways: have your entire iTunes folder (iTunes library) stored on another drive, or have just your media folder stored on another drive. The first involves moving the iTunes folder to the external drive, then starting your iTunes app up with the option key held down to point it in the right direction. The second involves just setting the iTunes media folder to the new location using iTunes, Preferences, Advanced.
      It sounds like you have done the second, meaning that each user has their own Mobile Applications folder.
      And that is what you want. I assume that you and your wife have separate devices with separate iTunes accounts. So you will have different things in your mobile applications folder. Trying to combine them will lead to trouble, I’d expect.
      Needing to download common app updates isn’t that big of a deal and I wouldn’t try to force that as it could lead to other issues.

    Jonno v w
    10/15/12 @ 8:02 am

    Gary, sincere thanks for all the work you have done on this site. Your teaching style is really accessible and intuitive.

    Keep up the good work.

    Best regards

    Jonno

    Nick
    10/18/12 @ 10:08 am

    Is it possible to just move the entire existing iTunes folder/library to an external drive that’s always available to all Macs in the house?

      10/18/12 @ 10:14 am

      The problem then is you have multiple machines competing to update the iTunes folder. Could lead to conflicts. Plus, it would only allow for one iTunes account, not sharing media between multiple people with multiple iTunes accounts.

        Nick
        10/18/12 @ 2:17 pm

        Gotcha. Thanks!

    Mark Southee
    10/18/12 @ 11:46 am

    Real shame that 3rd party music players (on iPad, iPhone) can’t access shared iTunes libraries, due to API restrictions

    Brian
    10/19/12 @ 2:17 pm

    Gary, this is such a great idea as I used this for years but had to stop in the end because the file links would constantly (practically everyday) become unlinked so I’d have to go and double click each file (thousands in my case) to get them back. In the end I had to put them back on my Mac and have had no problem since! Too bad iTunes can’t do an auto-find to connected drives. And yes I constantly kept my software up-to-date!

    Tom
    12/28/12 @ 10:52 pm

    Gary,

    When I buy iTunes songs from the store, and my iTunes Media folder location is pointing to the shared folder on my NAS, will this not avoid the steps of copying to NAS, deleting from local hard drive, and dragging from NAS to iTunes?

    thanks,

    Tom

      12/28/12 @ 11:26 pm

      Yes. But you would still have to add it to the other iTunes library.

    Stuart
    1/22/13 @ 2:30 am

    Great work as ever Gary – keep it up ;)

    I would love to see the next side to this and it as a show. as stated in one of the comments above when:
    multiple users on the same MAC
    One account linking to a NAS drive as per this episode
    other users creating their own library but not duplicating the the tracks.

    Thanks

    stu

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