How to shift iTunes libraries

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As I tool around the country talking to people about their iPods, I begin my talk by polling the audience to see how many tracks are in their iTunes libraries. Not so long ago, perhaps one or two people in the crowd had more than 5,000 tracks. That’s changing. Now I have to ask “More than 10,000?” before you begin separating the men from the boys (and yes, it’s always men).

While this speaks volumes for the popularity of iTunes and the iPod (or, at least, the acquisitive nature of men), it also poses a problem: Assuming you want to use your computer’s startup drive for more than storing and playing music, where do you put all that music?

Me? It depends on the computer I’m using. I’ve recently installed a high-capacity internal hard drive on my Windows PC, which I use largely for backup and music storage. For my Power Mac G5 I use an external FireWire drive for much the same purpose.

With all that storage at my command the only remaining issue is how to move the music on my startup drives to the archive drives. That’s exactly what I intend to outline in the next several paragraphs. Follow along if you’re just as keen to shift your iTunes music library.

Moving music: First Steps

There are a couple of ways to move your music from here to there. If you use iTunes’ Help menu to access the iTunes and Music Store Help command and enter “changing audio files stored” in the Search field, you’ll learn:

To move songs you’ve already imported to a new location (for example, a different folder on your hard disk, or a different computer), drag the iTunes Music folder (by default, inside your home folder at Music/iTunes/iTunes Music) to the new location. To make sure any future songs you import are stored in the same place, choose iTunes > Preferences, and click Advanced. If necessary, click Change to choose the location where you just dragged your files.

But there’s another way, which is:

1. Create a new location for your music files—in a folder on an additional internal or external hard drive, for example.

2. Launch iTunes and select Preferences from the iTunes menu (Mac) or Edit menu (Windows). Click the Advanced tab, click the Change button, and in the resulting Change Music Folder Location dialog box, navigate to the new location you just created and click Choose.

3. In that same Advanced preference enable the Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized and Copy Files to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library options and click OK to dismiss the preferences window.

4. From iTunes’ Advanced menu choose Consolidate Library. As the dialog box that appears indicates, this will copy all of your music files into the iTunes Music Folder—a version of that music folder that now exists on another drive.

When you click Consolidate, iTunes will copy not only your tracks to the destination you designated, but also your library’s playlists (ratings will be maintained as well).

Moving Music: A Step Beyond

The technique I just outlined is no big secret. However, taking it to the next level is less well known. It’s like this:

Suppose you have multiple computers and each one has a different collection of music. Wouldn’t it be desirable to coalesce that collection to a single location? Here’s how:

1. As with the first technique, create a new location for your music files from your main computer.

2. With your other computers networked to your main computer, mount the volume of each of these computers that holds that computer’s music files. For instance, if you have a Mac and a Windows PC and you’d like to store all the music on both computers to the FireWire drive attached to the Mac, mount the PC’s startup volume (which holds the PCs music) on your Mac’s desktop.

3. Launch iTunes on the main computer, open its Advanced preference and disable the Copy Files to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library option.

4. Select File > Add to Library, navigate to the music folder on one of the mounted volumes, and click Choose.

The titles of the tracks will be added to the iTunes library on the main computer, but not the tracks themselves . Rather, the track titles will point to the files on the networked computer (much like an computer’s alias or shortcut file) and, when you try to play them, stream the track across the network and play it from the speakers on the main computer.

5. Choose Edit > View Options and, in the resulting window, enable the Date Added option.

We’re about to separate the wheat from the chaff and we need an easy way to identify recently added tracks.

6. Select Edit > Show Duplicate Songs.

The reason we’ve unchecked the Copy Files to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library option is so that we can weed out duplicates before they’re added to your new centralized music library. The easiest way to identify these duplicates is to ask iTunes to show duplicate songs and then sort the tracks by Date Added.

Select the duplicates that were added when you added the networked volume to your iTunes library and delete them. This won’t delete any real tracks, just the titles.

Note: Some of these tracks may not be identical duplicates. iTunes identifies duplicates by title and artist only. If you have multiple versions of a track—the studio and live version, for example—keep an eye peeled from tracks that aren’t really duplicates.

7. Now that your library is cleaned up, return to the Advanced preference, enable the Copy Files to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library option, click OK to dismiss the preferences window, choose Advanced > Consolidate Library, and click Consolidate. The tracks from the networked volume will be copied across the network and placed in the central music library you created.

One more note: If you’re certain that there are no duplicates between your main computer and mounted volumes, feel free to skip from Step 2 to Step 7.

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