Manage a large iTunes library

Some Mac users suffer from a serious disease—it’s called libraryitis. The first symptom is that you have problems finding what you’re looking for. Next, you can’t fit your iTunes library on your iPod. As the disease worsens, you’ll find that even your hard drive seems a size too small. But there is a cure, in the form of proven strategies for corralling all the songs, videos, audiobooks, and podcasts you’ve collected.

Sort smarter

If you’ve got a lot of music and video files, many probably get lost in the crowd. Luckily, iTunes is a database and is great for sorting files—but it needs your input. One good way to stay organized is to create smart playlists that let you sort your music by genre, artist, year, or custom tags that you add to the Grouping or Comments field of each song.

The right tag To get these smart playlists to work well, you need to tag your music correctly. For example, make sure an artist’s name is spelled the same way for all of that artist’s music, and make sure your genre names are consistent. The databases that provide tags for content from the iTunes Music Store or for CDs that you rip on your own aren’t always accurate or consistent, especially when those databases include user-submitted tags.

Change tag information for multiple tracks by selecting the songs and then selecting File -> Get Info (or pressing Command-I)—the Multiple Song Information window that appears lets you alter any of the tags (except the Name tags) for the selected tracks.

Using the Multiple Song Information window, you can create new genres or add comments to groups or files.

Find with smarts Once everything is tagged correctly, I suggest adding custom comments or genre information. Doing this adds personalized data you can then use as part of a smart playlist that finds specific types of music—select File -> New Smart Playlist, and then adjust the parameters accordingly.

Slim down your collection

If space is at a premium on your hard drive or your iPod, you’ll need more than just a better way to find your files. Figure out what you haven’t listened to or watched recently, or don’t give much of your time to—then you can decide whether to keep the material around.

Smart playlists can help you isolate songs you don’t listen to much anymore, so you can decide whether to keep them around.

A quick way to do so is to sort your music by Last Played or by Play Count. A more permanent approach is to create smart playlists for this purpose. Select File: New Smart Playlist, and create a playlist with this condition:Last Played Is Not In The Last Number Months. Try three or six months; you may be surprised at how many songs you haven’t listened to recently. Do the same with Play Count Is Less Than Number, and choose a low number to find songs that get very little of your attention.

You could also create a smart playlist for the songs with the lowest ratings, or for specific genres that you might not want to listen to all the time, such as holiday music. You can make similar smart playlists for video files, podcasts, audiobooks, and so on.

Keep or delete Once you’ve found files you don’t need on your Mac, you’ll want to back them up before you delete them. The easiest way to do this is to go to iTunes: Preferences, click on the Advanced icon, and then click on the Burning tab. Make sure Data CD Or DVD is selected, and click on OK. (A data CD contains the actual music files; music CDs have to be reripped and don’t hold as many songs.) If you really don’t want these songs, videos, and so on, consider getting them off your Mac. After you’ve refined your smart playlist to include only items you want to back up, select that playlist in iTunes, and click on the Burn Disc button at the top right of the iTunes window to burn the original files to CD or DVD. You can then delete items from within the playlist by selecting them and pressing option-delete. For more backup methods and strategies, read “Back up your iTunes library” from the June 2006 issue of Macworld .

Dump the dupes Another way to trim some fat is to look for duplicate songs in your library. You may have ripped an album twice, or you may have multiple versions of the same song from different albums. Select Edit: Show Duplicate Songs, and iTunes will display all duplicate tracks (those with the same track name and artist name). Not all files will be actual duplicates—for example, look in any Deadhead’s library, and you’re sure to see a dozen versions of “Dark Star”—but you may find songs you can delete.

iTunes’ Show Duplicate Songs feature isn’t perfect, so you might want to try the free Corral iTunes Dupes AppleScript, from Doug Adams, which finds duplicates and puts them in a playlist. You’ll then be able to go through that playlist when you have time to decide which songs you want to delete.

Put the right stuff on your iPod

You love your big music library, but even after you’ve sorted it and trimmed it down, the mightiest iPod still couldn’t hold everything. To make sure that you end up with what you want, take control of the process. First connect your iPod, open its preference pane (click on the iPod button at the bottom right of the iTunes window), and make sure the Music tab is the active window. If you want to leave the default auto-sync settings in place, an easy way to whittle down your library is to select Only Update Checked Songs. If you do this, any songs you deselect will remain on your Mac but won’t be moved to your iPod. Choose multiple files at once by holding down the Command key. Be careful—this deselects all currently visible files, so don’t do this when viewing your entire library. (iTunes will skip these songs in playlists and in the Party Shuffle list, and if you select an album from the browser and play it.)

Another option is to select either Automatically Update Selected Playlist Only or Manually Manage Songs And Playlists. The first lets you pick only the playlists you want to sync; the second requires that you drag files and playlists to the iPod’s icon in the Source window. (When you manually update your iPod, Play Count numbers, Last Played dates, and ratings don’t get copied from the iPod to your library.) The other tabs—namely, Podcasts, Photos, and Videos—let you decide what other items are also copied to the iPod.

When one library Is not enough

If you have lots of music or video, or if you have more than one iPod, a single library may not be enough to meet your needs. You may want to split your library into different parts for different users or different moods.

One not-so-simple method is to create a second user account for another library. But there’s an even better solution—the $5 iTunes Library Manager, from Doug Adams, lets you switch between as many libraries as you want, so you can have all the personalities, iPods, or moods you want, and easily manage them from a single account. Check out “Multiple iPods and computers for more information on syncing several iPods with one Mac.

Sidebar: Time to make a move

If your library is getting too large to fit on your hard drive, it’s probably time to relocate to a different drive. Here’s how.

To move your library, first copy your entire iTunes Music folder from your user folder /Music/iTunes to the new drive. Then select iTunes: Preferences, select Advanced, and then select the General tab. From here, click on the Change button, navigate to the new location of the iTunes folder, and click on Choose. iTunes will now look for your files in the new location, and it will also put new additions there.

Once you’ve made sure that iTunes finds all the files, you can delete the originals—don’t worry, you won’t lose play counts and ratings. I recommend moving only the iTunes Music folder, not the entire iTunes folder; this keeps your iTunes Library files on your Mac, making them easier to back up. Remember, if you’ve moved everything to an external drive, you’ll need to mount it whenever you want to access your files.

[ Kirk McElhearn is the author of several books on the Mac and the iPod, including iPod & iTunes Garage (prentice Hall, 2004). His blog, Kirkville, features articles about OS X, the iPod, iTunes, and more. ]

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