Large iTunes Icon | Brian NagelIt’s amazing how quickly we can amass large amounts of digital media.  iTunes – my digital jukebox of choice – is much more than just music these days.  Yes, I have over 23,000 songs encompassing 120+ GB, but that’s just the beginning.  With multiple seasons of TV Shows and 450+ movies in digital form, there is no way that my 250GB laptop’s hard drive can handle it all.  And I know I’m not alone.  Our iTunes libraries can easily become bloated with GBs worth of music, movies, television shows, apps, etc.  What is the best way to manage these large digital collections?


There are two schools of thought:

  1. Move the entire iTunes library to an external source.
  2. Have the main iTunes library in one location and reference your digital media collection.

The first method is an easy one, where you can simply head to iTunes’ Preferences, visit the advanced tab, and then change the default library’s location to an external hard drive.  There are a couple of issues that can develop with this method:

  • Your external hard drive will need to be plugged in anytime you want to do anything with iTunes.
  • If you forget the first point, it will create a new, blank library in iTunes’ default location.
  • iTunes will take forever to launch, as it is housing all of your digital files.

As such, I recommend the second option and have your media distributed in a couple of different locations.  While it takes a little bit of set up to make it work, it will balance the storage options and make for a more efficient retrieval system in the long run.

iTunes, by default, copies every item played or added into its default location.  If we’re going with Method #2, we will need to change that so we can control where are media is stored.  The screenshot below represents which iTunes Preference needs adjusting.

Large iTunes Library Advanced Preference | Brian Nagel

"Keep iTunes Organized" should be checked, while "Copy Files..." should be left unchecked.


With that change in place, we are ready to go!  All of our media can be stored wherever we like – networked storage, external hard drives, folders on the computer.  As such, we want to make sure we have a practical and consistent file management system in place to ensure our media stays connected.  For example, if iTunes looks for a movie file on an external hard drive, but we then delete the movie (or move it!) from that spot, iTunes will give us the dreaded “!” icon next to the file, letting us know we broke the link.  Just stay consistent with your organization, and all will be well!  I use my internal hard drive for music, one networked hard drive for movies, and another for television shows – one hard drive per type of media.

The other change in habit might also be how you add files into iTunes.  Normally, you can just drag items into iTunes and allow it to organize itself.  However, because this method calls for referenced items, we would need to organize our media first, prior to adding it to iTunes.  There are many ways to do that, but here are my workflows for the three big types of media:

  1. Music – My music is stored on my local internal hard drive, so I used the Automator action described in a previous post to automatically add it to the appropriate folder.
  2. Movies – I save the movie to my networked external hard drive first, then open iTunes and choose File > Add to Library… and navigate to where the movie is saved.
  3. TV Shows – I use the same process as the Movies, with the only difference being that I organize my TV Shows by Show/Season/Episode on their own networked hard drive.

It’s quite the process to manage all of this content, but well worth it if you have an efficient system in place.  If you’re running out of room on your computer, give the above method a try and let me know how it goes!  Also, if you have a different system in place for your media, let us know about it in the comments.

Tagged with →