How to Manage a Large iTunes Library


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.

68 Responses to "How to Manage a Large iTunes Library"
  1. Great article! I would love to implement your system and start getting serious about file management, but my poor music and media files are SO scattered everywhere.

    What I would like to be able to do is just start from scratch, and put together a whole new iTunes library (without making copies, just finding good places to store them as you mention) but I’m afraid there will be so many duplicates that it will take me forever to get them sorted out and deleted.

    Is it possible just to start over and have iTunes look for the music and media files?

    Thanks, Alicia

    • Alicia…

      Thanks for reading! I see two possibilities for you, and I’ll let you decide what’s best.
      1) Uninstall and then reinstall iTunes (including the items in the iTunes folder, except the “iTunes Music” or “iTunes Media” folders, found in Home/Music (Mac) or My Documents/My Music/ (PC). . This will not delete any media files from your computer, but just basically reset your preferences the program and give you a screen that will ask if you would like to scan your hard drive for music files. This screen only comes up when you first install iTunes. You will have to add any other media besides music manually.

      2) Work with your existing library. Start by going to iTunes’ Preferences to the Avanced tab and ensure that both “Keep iTunes Media folder organized” and “Copy media to iTunes folder when adding to library” are checked. Next, close preferences and go to File

  2. Hi Brian – thanks for responding! I was drawn to your site because your inspirations are the same as mine – faith, family, technology, and music! (Well, except sports, but…nobody’s perfect!) I’m a musician and music teacher by profession, a computer geek by inclination, and a happy wife and mother of 4.

    I’m trying to figure which of these would work for me, mostly because I already have too many music files and duplicates because of the copy function in iTunes – plus if I asked it to scan my drive for audio files, it would come up with all of my Logic, GarageBand, ProTools, DrumCore and single sample files, which I definitely do not want in my iTunes!

    I want to find a way to get the song files I want into iTunes, and then be able to find and delete the duplicates that are scattered around the drive. I do’t care so much about other media such as movies and TV shows, etc. – I just want my audio files organized and in one place.

    So – do I just gather them all in iTunes WITH the “copy media to iTunes folder” box checked, and then go through the arduous process of deleting the unwanted and duplicates through a search on the drive such as .mp3 and try to find out which files are not in iTunes and delete them, or do I have them imported WITHOUT copying so they are all in iTunes and then try to deal with them from there?

    Or is there a better way that I’m missing?

    Sorry if that sounds confusing, but them I’m sort of confused myself 🙂

    Thanks again! best, Alicia

    • Very cool to “meet” someone with similar passions.

      I think your best bet is to do the “dump” into iTunes withe “Copy Items to iTunes…” preference on, and thn just drill through the duplication consequences until you’re satisfied with the result.

      Obnoxious? Certainly. But well worth the end result, if you ask me. You could also check out the Mac App Store for a duplicate-remover app…I’m a bit wary of automatic deletions myself, but you might find yourself to be less cynical than I…

  3. Thanks! I’ll give it a try – and may avail myself of the dupe-remover app – I don’t have anything on there that would kill me if I lost it 🙂

    It’s a nasty job but it has to be done!

  4. Hey Brian:

    Just came across your post via a Google search. I follow the same convention that you describe – manage my music on the local hard drive and videos on an external drive (connected to my Airport Extreme). Do you know if there is any way to improve the management of metadata for the movies? Specifically, artwork thumbnails take forever to load into iTunes and AppleTV and whenever I attempt to make edits via “Get Info” (e.g. sort data or artwork), iTunes is really sluggish and even likes to crash.

    • Hi Craig…

      I really think it comes down to the limitation of networked hard drives – being attached to the Airport Extreme does slow down the data speed. It is possible that you could use smaller image files to represent the artwork on movies and albums (I use MetaX for movie/tv show tagging and TuneUp for music), but I think it’s really just the speed, or lack thereof, of our Internet.

      My media scenario has changed slightly since the writing of the post, as I now have a Mac Mini hooked up to my HDTV and can direct-plug my video hard drives. The speed change is noticeable.

  5. I need to get some of my many 15000 itunes files off my MacBook and onto an external drive. Can I divide them up, say by rating or playlists, so as to keep some of them on the MacBook and have the rest I don’t listen to as often on the hard drive. Is this practical and achievable by a computer dummy or would I be better off to put them all on the external drive and just use the external drive when I want to listen to anything? I’ve used iMatch to back them up but am unsure how that works as far as deleting files from the MacBook. I really need the space on the MacBook now.

    • I would only recommend one of two options:

      1) Move the entire iTunes library to the external hard drive. This can be done in iTunes’ Preferences. The only downside to this is that you need to have the external drive plugged in every time you would like to listen to your music.

      2) Create an additional iTunes library and save the music you don’t listen to often to the external hard drive. You can create another iTunes library by option-clicking iTunes (Mac) or alt-clicking iTunes (PC) and choosing to create a new iTunes library on the external drive. Copy the music you don’t want to listen to anymore onto the other library.

      Option one certainly is the easiest. If you did sign up for iTunes Match, and it already went through your library, you can technically delete the songs you don’t need to listen to (make sure you don’t also delete them from iTunes in the Cloud!) and then download them again when you want to listen to them. But I definitely do understand your apprehension to delete music files.

  6. Thanks for the great article! I too have ran out of HD space, since ripping / collecting movies, TV shows…

    In the past, I would just go out and buy a larger drive and just move the entire library, and media folders there. However, I was hoping to not do that this time. I have a few Raid 1 boxes, 1 each 2TB (1 TB per drive), 1 each 4 TB, 1 each 8TB. And wanted to divide up my media so that movies is on 8TB, TV shows is on 4TB, and music is on 2TB Raid one drives. I would daisy chain the drives via Firewire 800, with one of them hooked into iMac, which I then use Home Sharing to ATV for Home Theater. So, which drive should I hook into iMac via Firewire 800? Does it matter? Will iTunes freak on any latency issues, or will it not matter since it’s Firewire 800? Any suggestions?

    • It shouldn’t matter which drive is plugged in, as they all will be running over FireWire. And I wouldn’t see any latency, per se, other than perhaps a slight delay as you initiate to play some media as iTunes scans your hard drives for the files.

      My previous setup consisted of the 1TB Time Capsule (wireless) for movies with a USB connected 1TB drive for TV Shows. The delay over the network and USB drives was nothing that I found to be problematic, so I’d say you’re setting up for a good thing.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. I’m definitely interested in moving my tv shows to an external drive but don’t know the step by step way to do this. For instance once I uncheck copy files to iTunes media folder, what steps do I take to actually move the shows to the external drive. Also can I do this to the same external drive I use for time machine? One more curve ball, the drive connects wirelessly via airport extreme.

    • Bobby…

      A couple things to consider:

      1) Make sure you’re using iTunes Media organization. Check this my going to File > Library > Use iTunes Media Organization. This might take awhile if you haven’t done it yet, but it ensures that all of your media will be nicely organized in folders by type (Music, Movies, TV Shows, etc.)

      2) Once that’s the case, you actually are going to select all your TVShows and delete them from iTunes – scary, yes, but make sure you don’t actually move the files to the trash! Just remove from iTunes.

      3) Head to your Home folder > Music > iTunes (Mac…on PC, My Documents > My Music > iTunes) and look for your TV Shows folder. Move this folder to your external drive (it’s okay if it’s networked through your airport device).

      4) After it copies to the external drive, go back to iTunes and go to File > Add to Library and navigate to the TV Shows folder on your external drive and add the whole thing. iTunes will then populate the folder with all your shows!

      5) Lastly, when you’re comfortable everything’s there and plays well, delete the TV Shows from your main hard drive to free up the space.

      You do need to come up with a backup strategy for any media that’s stored on an external hard drive. It’s okay to store media on the same external as Time Machine, but just know that nothing in there that’s extra is backed up.

      Hope that helps!

  8. Dumb question: I tried option 2. and I now have a new library on my external drive. Trouble is, that seems to be all I have. Now how do I find the original library?
    It seems to be gone. Please tell me I haven’t lost my stuff?

    • Hi Sarah…

      Your stuff should still be there. All creating a new library does is set up a new one where you determined (your external hard drive) and becomes ready to use as if you haven’t done anything with iTunes before.

      Your old library should still exist in its previous location. If you do the same Option-click (Mac…alt-click on a PC) on the iTunes icon when you launch it, it should give you the same choice to create a new library, but also be able to pick from the libraries available on the computer.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks, I did find it, just a little complicated. Now, I put all my mp3 and ACC stuff in the new external library (because it had a little box that asked if I wanted to and I just checked yes). That moved about 637 songs. How do I get the rest of my songs (I want to just move my rated 4stars and lower songs to the external drive) there? Can you be real specific- I am somewhat new to Macs.

        Also, I seem to have lost my ratings in the new external drive library. Is that normal? Can I get them back? or not?

        • Glad you found it! Because you can only have one iTunes library open at one time, you need to take the songs that you want to move from the old library into the new one and put them in a “bridge” location – something in between both libraries. Before talking about that, let’s talk about the ratings:

          The ratings do NOT get saved when you move songs around. I would suggest using a different field in iTunes to use as the rating, if you’d like that to translate to the new library. If you select a song and then click on File > Get Info, and then the Info tab, you’ll see all the different fields that are readily available. I might suggest either using the Comment field or the Grouping field (for example, for a 4-star rated song, type in “4” in the Comments field). You can do it en masse by selecting all the songs that have the same rating prior to going to File > Get Info to apply the field change to them all.

          As far as the moving goes, here’s what I would recommend:
          1) Open up your old iTunes library and select all the songs you would like to move.
          2) Open up your External Hard Drive and look fro the iTunes folder. Open it.
          3) Open up the iTunes Media folder.
          4) Open up the “Automatically Add Songs to iTunes” folder
          5) Drag your selected songs into that folder.

          It might take awhile to copy them there, but the next time you open up the iTunes library on the external hard drive, it should automatically bring those songs into the library.

          If that doesn’t work for whatever reason, manually create your own folder in an easy location (your Desktop, perhaps) and drag the music files from the old library to that folder. Then open up the new iTunes library and drag the folder on your Desktop into it. That will also copy the songs in.

          Good luck!

  9. Yet another dumb question… I followed your directions and have loaded about 1600 of my less-played songs to the external drive successfully. Then I deleted them from my original iTunes library. They are still in the iMatch cloud and download fine when I want to play them. However my list summary at the bottom of the iTunes page only went down from 108.89 GB to 108.80 GB, though my Finder now says I have 9.65 GB available on the computer instead of only about 3 GB before. I’m confused… should I be? I’m 62 and I do pretty good on computers but some of this stuff is definitely beyond me!
    Thanks so much for your help…

    • The space dilemma is just simply how iTunes calculates a list. What it shows is the total number of songs in the list of Music – not simply what’s saved to the computer (all of the songs in iTunes Match are included). A little confusing, to be sure, but know that it’s not a real indication of how much hard drive space iTunes is taking up.

      The stat I’d be most concerned with is the one in the Finder. That’s the true test of how much hard drive space you have left. And, as a goal, I would recommend to free up about 20% of your hard space. 9gb will get eaten up again pretty quick. So, if you ave a 250gb hard drive, I’d recommend shooting for 50gb to be free at all times.

  10. It now says I have 74 GB free. I moved about half of my stuff to the external drive and it works fine there. However, something is wrong in the original itunes. When I start it up and move the cursor at all, it starts up with the rainbow wheelie thing and seemingly will go on forever, 5+ minutes. It will force quit but does it again when I relaunch. I hate to keep bothering you but I have no idea what to do now. It doesn’t matter if I’ve used the option/click when I open it, either.

  11. Well, I decided to wait it out and it did stop the rainbow wheelie thing after 7 minutes. However itunes is now totally unresponsive to the cursor. It will only give me the capital I-shaped cursor, too, not the arrow. I waited some more and now itunes seems to be fine. Strange… what on earth is going on?

    • Hmmm…strange…The changes you have made shouldn’t really affect iTunes’ performance…if anything, it should make it run smoother since it doesn’t have as many files to load.

      The next steps I would look at is running Software Updates (from the Apple menu). If you’re up to date, you can try reinstalling iTunes by going to and downloading it.

      If it still doesn’t cooperate, I might look at heading to a Apple Store (if one’s close to you) and seeing what options the techs can give you there. Doesn’t cost anything to make an appointment…check out for one in your area.

      • Seems to not be doing that anymore. Think it’s okay now. Thank you, you’ve been extremely helpful. Now I’ve got everything where I want it! And more room on the computer to do some long-delayed projects!

  12. Hi Brian:
    What if I previously did option 1 with my ITunes library but want to move to option 2. I have not deleted any files as of yet. I just moved the library location and I checked both the boxes you mention above?

    • So you’re thinking of having the main iTunes library on your local hard drive and have some of the media stored externally?

      You’ll need to create a brand new iTunes library on the main hard drive. Easiest way in your scenario would be to eject the external hard drive and launch iTunes – it should prompt you to create a new library. Choose you Music folder (Mac) or My Music folder (PC) as the location.

      You can then follow the instructions in the post to organize your media. HOWEVER, if you’d like to keep some media on the internal hard drive, add those files to the brand new library BEFORE unchecking the boxes and following the instructions in the post…that will save you some time.

      Hope that helps!

  13. Brian, great article. I am late to this party but let me recap what I think I took away from this. I appreciate your comments. Currently I am managing my itunes library (about 500gb total media count) on my macbook pro with a self installed 1tb internal hard drive. 

    I have recently bought an iMac and want to use that as my “media library” for the 2 Apple TV units I have in our house. Right now, if my laptop & itunes “ain’t” up, there’s no Apple TV media (from itunes.) The iMac has a 1tb drive but I have a nice 3tb external drive also. The goal is to have an “always on” media library to serve the ATV’s.

    My plan was to move all my movies / tv shows to the iMac & the 3tb external drive and use itunes match to sync music. The iMac would be set to run all the time, etc. so the library is always available to the ATVs. I would be creating a new iTunes library for this.

    I am a little confused about the difference between allowing itunes to manage and store the media versus “referencing” the media. I would be storing the library & media all on the external drive so is there really a performance / load time issue between the 2 options? I won’t be storing any media anywhere else.

    Also, my macbook pro itunes library syncs mine and my wife’s iphones & ipads, I don’t mind keeping the itunes library on my macbook for this reason, and just deleting all the movies & tv shows once I have moved them over to the imac.

    Does anything above sound hinky?

    • Hi Stephen…

      It sounds like you have a good plan in place. With the speed of the new iMacs and assuming you can hook up the 3TB drive via Firewire, I don’t think you’ll suffer any performance issues – so having all of the media managed within the iTunes library will be fine. You will technically have better performance with the “referenced” media idea, but it sounds like you won’t need to worry about it at this point – until your library is in the 1TB range, you’ll probably be fine. All that “referenced” means is that the main data file for iTunes is stored locally on the internal hard drive, but you store some/all of your media files externally (this option only works if iTunes > Preferences > Advanced > Copy files to iTunes media… is UNchecked).
      The only thing I might suggest to think about at this point is to have the iTunes library on your iMac’s internal hard drive and use the 3TB just simply for backup. Unless you have a lot of other media (personal photos/videos), it sounds like you have plenty of room internally to keep iTunes there for now – perhaps moving it later as the library grows. My reasoning for the suggestion is to make backup easier, using Time Machine. You will need to have another backup strategy in place if you reference your library.
      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks Brian, great advice. I think I will keep my itunes library & media on the internal drive as you suggest. I had toyed with putting “all” my converted dvd movies in itunes but there are just so many, a few gigs. iTunes isn’t the best at organizing and sorting thru all that. 

        Hmm I guess I could create an alternate itunes library that references all my older movies and let those live on an external HD. So I keep all the newer stuff in my main itunes library (all on the imac) and then have a sor of “archived / older movies” library also – and keep those referenced to the external HD.

        Food for thought.. I very much appreciate your time!

  14. Hi Brian, a very clear and simple article.  I only wish I had read it yesterday, as I started Option 1 late last night, and my entire library is now copying over to NAS.  I’m thinking I need to go back and use Option 2, and just move my movies over to NAS, for backup purposes as well as performance.  My library is about 12000 songs and 150 movies (on the way to about 400), plus a few TV shows.

    Since the files are being copied over wireless (no way to run a cable), the occasional dropout of the network occurs.  I have simply restarted the Consolidate operation and it seems to pick up where it left off.  However, I have some concern that the last item being copied when the dropout occurred may be incomplete.  I thought I could determine this by comparing the file sizes on my iMac drive and on the NAS, and discovered something strange.  Finder reports a larger file size for EVERY file, right around 1 MB for songs (give or take a few hundred KB).  Do you have any idea why this would be?  The NAS is a Seagate Goflex Home 3TB, which I believe came formatted for Mac but can also read and write Windows files.  At any rate, it was set up from my iMac.

    As I said, I think my new plan is to go back and use Option 2 and leave my music files on the iMac, and put all the movies on NAS.  (They are actually already there, as I copied them over as I ripped each DVD).  That was the reason I started this in the first place, so that I could stream movies from the NAS to any TV in the house – to the family room via AppleTV and to the master bedroom via Playstation3.

    I would appreciate any thoughts you have on this plan, or any potential issues you see?  Thanks in advance for your time!

    • I recently went thru option 2 and its working very well. I was wondering if Brian or anyone knew a solution to the below….

      The functionality you seem to lose from option 1 (when you go with option 2) is the “automatically add to itunes” folder doesn’t seem to work when you reference your media to a separate drive. If i have a media file on my internal drive and drop it onto to the auto folder, it just moves it into my internal itunes library (which we don’t prefer as option 2 people).

      If I move the media file into the right folder on my external drive and then drag it onto the auto folder, it copies it to my internal itunes library which again, we don’t want.

      So, in order to add new media and organize it right using option 2 – I have to…

      1. Move each media file to the right spot on the external drive.
      2. Either add each media file using the “add to library” command or select each media file in the finder (once they are copied over) and drag them all onto the itunes library.
      3. Then go & set media tags individually.
      4. Sometimes – using either the add or drag over icon fails to register the media with itunes and it seems I have to quit itunes and “wait” a few minutes and try again.

      I am not complaining about option 2 mind you – but does anyone know a faster way to add media to the itunes library using the reference option? I really miss the auto add to itunes function I guess is what I am saying.

      I played with Plex for a while and fell in love with its ability to find new media files anywhere on your external drive, add it to your plex library and then add meta data as well from its public databases.

      I would love to see the next itunes do that – but I am not holding out much hope.

      • Hi Stephen…

        My apologies for taking a little while to get back to you – been a bit crazy lately!
        I hear you on the losing functionality, but if you are working on a Mac, you can get it back fairly easily by using Automator. You can, for example, create a Service that tells Automator to receive selected Audio files in the Finder and then Import Files into iTunes (into the Library). Save the Automator Service with a helpful name, such as “Add to iTunes”.
        Now you can select the audio files you’ve saved externally and then right-click and choose your “Add to iTunes” Service. This keeps the music files where you originally saved them, but makes them show up in your iTunes library.
        There are some more automated methods you could look into using Automator, as well, either via Folder Actions or some date filtering as an Application.
        Hope that helps!

  15. Brian, I have a large iTunes music Library (39K songs,1.5TB), growing every day. The library is on an OWC external 2TB 7200 HD. I’m looking for a new 4TB HD (with a mirrored RAID HD to house the collection and have a 100% backup) to move my music collection to when I purchase a new iMac.  I have a 1.66 Core Duo 2GB Mac Mini running OSX10.6.8 with Firewire to the external HD. I have the spinning wheel when adding new music to the library, but overall I’m having no problems with iTunes. It does take 30-50 seconds to open and 20-30 seconds to close but I believe its due to the older hardware (processor/firewire) that will be updated with the new iMac.

    One of the questions I’m dealing with in the purchase of a new HD is, the size of my iTunes Library. Am I going to have problems when my current library grows? Are there issues with a 3-4TB music library? If so, it impacts the decision process for a new HD (could use more, smaller HDs rather than 1 large HD). If not, I can proceed with a large HD but wanted to be informed going in. Thanks

    • The updated computer will make a world of a difference for you…and really the only way to increase performance is to move to some type of referenced iTunes library as described in the post.
      I think you’re heading in the right direction…I would – at the very least – look into having the main library database files stored on your main hard drive and have the media (music, movies, tv shows) set up externally/referenced. That’s what I’ve always found to be the most efficient way, other than setting up multiple iTunes libraries.

      • the problem is that with really large itunes libraries, itunes has lots of trouble managing them – things get very slow. I dont really know why, as other audio players (e.g. Decibel) that access the itunes library file are very fast (just as spotlight can index your entire computer and external drives and provide instantaneous search resuts). The same applies to the slow speed of saving changes to metadata. And all this got much, much worse with itunes 11 – dont upgrade if you havent already. When I type “B” into the search field it takes 10-30 seconds to show me things starting with B, and if I continue to “Bach” it will take that time again. What’s worse, you know can’t search multiple fields (so I can’t search for “beatles abbey” to get the Abbey Road album – I can search for “beatles” and get all my beatles albums and scroll down to abbey road. For some searches this isnt a problem but for others it is a huge step backward. I have sought in vain for a suitable alternative on the mac (there are a couple of windows applications, perhaps media monkey, that seem promising, as there is more of a market in the windows world for itunes alternatives), both in itunes “piggybackers” that access the itunes library and standalone players, and none are able to both handle my large library and offer the necessary flexibility. 

  16. Brian: great, informative post. Thank you!

    Q: How do I move existing movies (for example) already shown in iTunes onto my new external hard drive (dedicated just to movies) once I’ve unchecked the dialog box you mentioned above?



    • Hey Christopher…

      My apologies for the delay – the Christmas season is a busy one! To move the files, you’ll effectively need to remove them from iTunes and re-add them so that you wont end up with the dreaded exclamation mark icon. Here is what you’ll want to do…
      If you’ve already unchecked the “Copy Media Files…” preference…
      – select all your movies in iTunes and press delete on your keyboard
      – it’ll ask you if you’re sure about removing from your iTunes Library, say Yes – it’ll ask if you want to delete the files or keep them on the computer, say NO – locate your movie files on your computer (Mac: Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Movies, PC: My Documents/My Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Movies) – Select them all and copy them to your external drive
      – head back to iTunes and go to File > Add to Library to bring your collection back
      But this time, it’ll just being in references to the files because you’ve unchecked that preference. Your workflow for adding movies will be the same as above if you’re downloading from iTunes. If you’re getting your movies elsewhere (ripping, digital copies), saving them directly to your external hard drive and then do the File > Add to Library option.
      Hope that helps!


      • Dude, that makes total sense. PERFECT! 

        Thank you for the awesome reply (no worries; I get the Christmas season fo’ sho’). 

        I have been purposely putting all my movies and TV shows in their own folders on external drives and playing them through VCL on my laptop for my kids simply bc I was fearful of having to redo this whole process. I really want to use iTunes and an Apple TV to become our primary viewing method, and locating a dedicated external drive near our TV in the living room (in order to move away form DVDs, etc). 

        Thanks for getting back to me. Appreciate it. 



  17. As suggested by someone on a forum I know have the library including the index on my external disc (4 TB), no more marks and broken links. You do however need to make a snelkoppeling (don’t know the word) on your internal drive.

  18. Hi Brian,


    Thanks for that.  I
    have spent the last two hours trying to figure this problem out and your
    response is the best yet.  Before I make
    the changes you suggest there is one slight difference for me.

    I wanted to move my movies off my internal hard drive but
    couldn’t find them in the itunes folder. 
    It would seem that I never added them to the library in the first place,
    merely referenced them.  I obviously didn’t
    have the “add to library” Ticked, Which is OK really.  What I want to do is to remove them all and add
    them to an external hardrive which I can access more easily.  If I use your method am I correct in saying
    that I merely delete all existing Movies through I tunes.  Move them all to an external drive, and then
    re add through iTunes?


    Thanks very much

    • That is correct…the only cautionary thing I can say is to make sure you know where the files are before you remove them from iTunes. You can cheat a bit at first, if you like, and use iTunes “Consolidate Library” trick found under the File > Library menu – which will move any files iTunes has eyes on into the iTunes folder.

      Sent from my iPad

  19. Thanks for all the great comments and appologies if this question has been asked but I missed it!

    I have a reasonably sized library (750+ movies, 10k+ songs) that I have built up over several years. It is spread across 3 external hard drives. Now, all my drives are full and I need to add more space. What I’d like to do (instead of just adding another drive) is the retire my smallest drive, then add the files on that particular drive to the new, larger drive I will add. Thing I am not sure on is how to do this without having a horribly manual process. 

    I don’t think I can simply delete the entire library and then add it all in as I’d have to add in all the individual drives and then wouldn’t I loose some of the meta data?

    Is there a way to isolate all the files on the small, old drive in itunes, delete them and then just add them back to the itunes library once I have moved them?
    perhaps I am over complicating it…help would be appreciated.


    • GM…

      I’d say you have a couple options in place, and it really boils down to how your media is organized now. If now, on your three external drives, you have your media by type (say, Movies on #1, Music on #2, and TV Shows on #3), then it would be simple to delete the references from iTunes, move the files to a larger hard drive, and then re-add them.

      If this is not possible, or they aren’t organized as cleanly as described above, I would do the following:

      1) Purchase your larger external hard drive and plug it into the computer
      2) Tell iTunes to store your library on the external drive (in Preferences > Advanced)
      3) Consolidate your Library (from the File > Library > Organize Library)

      The last option will have iTunes automatically gather all media from the various hard drives and organize it on your large external drive.

  20. I’m having trouble understanding why you need to do this Automator process before you add music. I keep my music (197,000 tracks) on a 6TB internal RAID array. I have the settings as you do. So when I add something to iTunes, either from the iTunes store, from the Amazon MP3 store or from ripping a CD, iTunes places it in the correct place. The only time it wouldn’t is if I were to import music from a different drive. Then it would reference that drive and I would always need to keep it connected.

    That being said, iTunes still chokes on my library. That’s because of its idiotic database file design which requires it to save the entire database file every time you make a changed to even a single track. So if I add a grouping or a comment to a single track, it saves the entire database of 197,000 track references. It would be much smarter if it cached then and saved periodically. I often get failures to save the library (Unknown Error -50) when making changes or when downloading purchases. A major PITA.

    So I just dumped iTunes and use the vastly superior MediaMonkey to manage my music. It works like a charm and is lightning fast even when making a lot of changes. The only problem is that it cannot import Smart Playlists, of which I have a couple of hundred. So I have to recreate them manually as MediaMonkey AutoPlaylists. That will take a long time.

    I now use iTunes only to manage my iPad and buy music. I wish I had not had to switch, but iTunes is such an under-performing disgrace of a product that I had no other option, despite the things that I do like about it. Oh, and MediaMonkey doesn’t have that stupid broken link icon because it’s actually smart enough to monitor my music directories automatically and find the lost stuff without any effort on my part. Why can’t iTunes? Shameful.

    To preempt any criticisms about why I “need so much music.” I’ve been collecting for more than 30 years and enjoy a very broad variety of genres from around the world and throughout history. I listen to music almost constantly to help me partially ignore the awful ringing in my ears.

    • Hi Steve…

      Hard to argue your sentiments here – large libraries such as mine and yours do struggle when all contained in one place. My reasoning for the Automator step is that I have a combination of local and referenced media, with my music on an internal hard drive and my movies and TV shows on external drives. Because most of my music is acquired either via Amazon or eMusic, the Automator action gives me an easy way to organize my music to the default iTunes organization (moving the files rather than copying).

      Sent from my iPad

    • Is there a Mac version of MediaMonkey?
      I us the PC version to manage my media server but iTunes has all the problems you have mentioned and more.
      My home system has an iMac as the host which connects to a media serve and on my network I have a a couple Apple TVs and AirTunes devices which are connected to receivers driving different zones. I drive all of this from an iPod and/or and iPad.
      So if I went the Media monky way how could I drive the music to the various zones?

  21. Hi, here is my situation: I have Time Capsule, where I have all films and music. From there I added them into Mac Mini library. Mac Mini is my “home cinema” so I can stream from there films into other Macs and PCs. But when I want to put some movie into my mac (to take it for some trip..) I have to copy to my Mac.
    What I want: After copying movie into my “Movies” folder I would be happy if that is automatically added into my library.
    I tried automator, but he can add only music files.
    So do you have any advice?

    • Hi Vlado…

      I unfortunately have run into the same roadblock and have not yet come across an automatic workflow that helps. The only way around this would be if your entire iTunes library is contained in your Time Capsule. Then you could use the “Time Capsule > iTunes > iTunes Music > Automatically Add to iTunes” folder as a Service destination (through Automator) to have your files automatically organized. This option does not work if you have iTunes set up to reference files.

  22. Okay one question, does it save your ratings and changes to your external location. An example if I download a home video and add episodes and descriptions where is that saved if I need to delete or change external hard drives. You sometimes do a lot of work to files especially if you don’t purchase from iTunes.

    • One nice thing about iTunes is that when you edit a file’s info, it saves the metadata with that file as part of the whole iTunes structure – so whether you’re referencing media or having it all in one place, you’re good to go. You might also look at a tool like MetaX if you really like tagging your videos…can be easier to work with than iTunes’ built-in options.

  23. i like method 2 but you need to have the itunes library on your local drive and mine being a macbook pro is limited to 250gb inc the ops sys etc. i have tried option one but dont like having to have the ext hdd always plugged in. another option i tried was to load all music into itunes from my server via wireless network. issues with that is it takes some time but is always available. another drawback is if you reformat or need to reinstall itunes you have to go through the process again. any suggestions appreciated. steve

    • Always a tricky scenario on the laptop. I’ve seen some folks operate with two libraries – one complete library on the external hard drive and one smaller, portable library on the laptop. You can manage that by holding down the option key as iTunes launches. Another possibility is to use iTunes Match – which is actually what I do with my music now.

  24. thanks for the info, but the comments section, with white type on light grey background is nearly impossible to read

  25. Can I distribute different ‘genres’ of music to different micro SDXC cards, as I want to change from my ipod classic to a Fiio X3?

    • Yes, you should be able to by either creating those playlists (Smart or Regular) or by filtering your iTunes library with theColumn Browser (View menu). Then, just simply drag your songs to your device.

  26. Hi Brian – I read you blog (and an earlier article you did on getting in to the structure of iTunes library) and hoped you could help.
    We have a 60,000 song library, on an external hard drive connected to a Logitech Squeezebox sound system. In theory it should all work well, but at random, unpredictable moments the computer can’t “see” the external hard disk, then it rebuilds the index, loses the star ratings and it takes (given the size of the library) days to get it back. Then of course Logitech can’t see iTunes and the whole things goes awry.
    Would you have any thoughts or hints? I think perhaps we need to back up the index and star ratings separately? I am guessing there is intermittent issues with our external disk (or maybe power fluctuations). Then, what happens is that the Logitech system can’t find anything either – that could be a separate set of issues or just part of the same.
    I just wonder if this is a function of the size of library we have – or whether this type of hook up is just too complex for non technical types. Our problem is my husband is an not for profit DJ so he needs to have the reference music but we don’t have room for physical storage.
    Eek. Lisa.

    • Hi Lisa…

      I’d recommend first taking a look at a couple settings:

      1) Make sure iTunes knows your library is stored externally by opening up iTunes’ Preferences > Advanced. If necessary, change the location to point to your external drive. If it has the library internally, but external media, if it loses connection it can mess with the database.

      2) Make sure you don’t have a copy of an iTunes library on your internal hard drive. You can find this in Finder > Music > iTunes (Mac) or My Documents > My Music > iTunes (PC). Delete any and all, provided you have performed Step 1.

      Also, definitely make sure you have a backup of your music, especially if you are having hard drive difficulties.

    • The nice thing about iTunes is that the software itself doesn’t touch the music – the music is always stored on your hard drive in he Music > iTunes folder (Mac…PC: My Music > iTunes). If you download the latest version of iTunes, it will jut overwrite the software files and get you up to date. Even if you uninstall iTunes completely, the music files are still there and you can reinstall and not miss a beat.

  27. Hi Brian,
    Great article! I am a PC (W7), user and have 4 computers that we all like to play music and use ITunes, As you were asked initially, to save disc space on all of the computers, I would like to keep the music files on my NAS (Network Access Storage) for all of my computers to use over the network. I think that your Option 1 would work, but I still have a problem understanding how ITunes keeps the files or not and just a reference location. I would like to set it up to have ITunes point ONLY to the NAS, for all of the computers, and not copy the files not each of the computer ITunes libraries. Soooo confusing! I have shot myself in the foot by running each of the computers ITunes independently and now I have ITunes folders/files on each computer, and music files duplicated on each of them as well. How would I extricate this situation? And have only one location for the media files (on my NAS)?

    • Hi Ken…you are on the right track. And I think you have two options on how to proceed. (1) Create a brand new iTunes library on your NAS or (2) move an existing iTunes library to your NAS.

      Effectively, iTunes has the option to contain all of your media (music, movies, books, etc) in one organized location. Two preferences to pay attention to are the following (both in the iTunes > Preferences and the Advanced tab).

      The first is the “Keep iTunes Media organized” checkbox – have this on. This guarantees that iTunes will keep your library neat and organized with the iTunes folder.

      The second is the Library location. You can change this to point to your NAS (if doing option 2 above). This is the ultimate location of your iTunes library.

      Hope that clears it up for you. If you are going to start with option 1 (Fresh new library), simply alt-click iTunes when it launches, and it will prompt you to create a new library.

      After you have your iTunes library on your NAS, make sure you (1) choose File > Library > Consolidate (or organize), (2) alt-click open iTunes on each computer to open the library on the NAS, and (3) delete the iTunes libraries that exist on each computer’s local hard drive.

      An apple KB document can be found here that can assist, as well:

  28. Hope you can help! I have a 2.7 GHz Intel Core i5 iMac. I’m running Yosemite. My question concerns iTunes and access times. I have a very large iTunes library, almost 800GBs, consisting of mainly music. I am using a Lacie Thunderbolt drive to store all my music. When I am in iTunes, if I click on a playlist, there is a 2 or 3 second delay followed by the spinning wheel for another 2 or 3 seconds and then the playlist opens. If I click on any song, it plays instantaneously. Is there anything I can do to eliminate the delay when clicking on a playlist? Thanks

    • You’ve done a lot of what you can in terms of making sure your library runs efficiently (external drive, Thunderbolt), and you might simply be running into the beauty of having a very large library for the computer to weed through before it shows your playlists. My only suggestion would be the following (and you might already have it in place)…have the iTunes Library location on your iMac, and just store the media files on the external drive. This allows you computer to handle the data side of iTunes, while your external drive processed the files. Follow the steps in Option 2 of this post to make sure you’re preferences are set appropriately. Hope that helps!

      • Thanks Brian. I had already done what you suggested. The iTunes library is on the Mac with just the media files on the TB drive. What prompted my question was that before Yoemite and the new version of iTunes, I could literally scroll through my playlists with no issue. It seems the new version of iTunes might be the culprit. What about putting the iTunes app on the TB drive?

        • I don’t think I’d recommend that – pretty sure you’ll have slower performance. It could be the new version, so you might be waiting until a patch update comes through. Since the writing of this post, I went the route of iTunes Match for my music and Plex Media Center for my Movies/TV Shows…might be something to think about for your music if you’re library is <25,000 songs...

  29. Hey Guys,

    I realize i’m really late to this party but I need some advice. I have a big iTunes library (almost 2TB w/ 160,000 songs) and it seems like after it got bigger than 80,000 songs or so things really started slowing down. My entire library is on a Western Digital Studio 2TB w/ Firewire 800 to my mac and its almost full. My MacBookPro is about 8 years old now as well. Im also running iTunes 10.6 because of the newer search problems.

    I’m thinking about re-doing my itunes Library. Instead of having one master folder that itunes organized and copied for me (27,000 artist folders) I want to organize the music myself and split it up into fewer category folders (maybe 100). Do you think this would help with iTunes loading times and latency? The only problem i’m experiencing right now is when I click on my master folder it takes a few seconds for everything to pop up. Also the biggest problem is I used to be able to have my Serato DJ program read my itunes Library but after 80,000 or so it just tries to load and then times out. I’m not sure if this is because of the size of my library, the hardware i’m using, or the crazy back door organization that iTunes does for me.

    Do you think its worth putting in the time to re-organize all these folders just so that it will look good on the back end? Do any of you have experience with running any DJ program and having it read a huge iTunes library?

    I love my music collection and consider it one of my most valuable possessions. I just want it to be as efficient as possible and work with my DJ software. Any input or comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks guys

    • Hi Alex…

      I think you’re on the right track – anything you can do to split your library up into smaller sets is advisable. While I don’t have specific experience with DJ software, I’ve had to access iTunes from other media sharing sources (GarageBand, Aperture, Keynote, etc), and they all benefit from having a smaller, more efficient space to read from.

      The only thing you’ll want to consider is just how many libraries are feasible and practical to use. While it’s true that you can create as many different iTunes libraries as you want (with the option-click, or alt-click on Windows), iTunes can only truly think about one at a time: effectively, the last one that was launched. You’ll need to add launching/loading your specific instance of iTunes to your standard workflow anytime you want to access it’s database from other programs.

      Hope that makes sense!

Leave a Reply