The Complete Guide to Rebuilding or Cleaning Your iTunes Library | iLounge Article


The Complete Guide to Rebuilding or Cleaning Your iTunes Library

Once you have an iTunes Library full of correctly organized (“tagged”) and cover/album art-enhanced media, you’re in wonderful shape: whether you view your library in text form on your computer, use Cover Flow to see artwork as you navigate, or want to transfer files to another Apple device, you’ll love the ease of access and great looks of your media.

But as people inevitably learn the hard way, bad things can happen to your iTunes Library: a disk failure or database corruption can flush days of hard music and video sorting completely down the drain. Worse yet, you’ll never see it coming, so if you don’t have a backup, you’ll suddenly lose the ability to access all of your music from your computer.

iLounge wants to help you avoid this nightmare, or recover from it if you’re already lost part or all of your Library. In the process of providing you with a collection of great options, we’ll also help you polish your existing iTunes Library to a beautiful mirror finish, worthy of all the audio and video you’ve collected over the years. If your Library’s a mess or missing in action, read on!

Scenario 1: Your iTunes Library’s Fine—for Now

Most of our readers—and iTunes users in general—have really good experiences with the iTunes software, interrupted only on rare occasions by bugs that Apple fixes, and computer-related problems that are out of our control. If that sounds like your situation, great: now’s the time to back up your iTunes Library, so that you’ll be safe if iTunes or your computer gets messed up in the future.

(1) Run the iTunes Backup utility right now—with a stack of blank DVDs or CDs handy. We discuss how to do that in this article.

Or (2) Perform a manual backup of your iTunes Library to a second hard drive. We discuss that process in this article.

These links will give you a way to recover everything if something happens, and we sincerely advise you to choose one of them, and do it today. In either case, you’ll want to re-run your backups on occasion to keep up to date.

Scenario 2: Your iTunes Library’s (Seemingly) Completely Gone

Let’s say you’re reading this article because you’ve already lost your Library, or something else has happened, and you don’t like how your collection of music or videos looks. You still have options.

(1) Transfer your iPod’s contents back to your computer. You’ll lose your computer’s high-resolution album artwork, but you’ll get back as much of your Library as you stored on the iPod, complete with original sorting. This article will walk you through your options.

(2) Contact Apple to recover all of your purchased music from the iTunes Store. As noted in this article, this is a one-time courtesy, and won’t necessarily recover all of your purchased content, say nothing of the rest of your Library, but it’s more than nothing.

There’s one other alternative we can present—a radical option that we’ve been dealing with ourselves this past week. It will take more time than the prior options, but when you’re done, you’ll have something extraordinary: an iTunes Library that’s fully up to date by 2007 standards, with high-resolution cover artwork, better-tagged music and video files, and the ability to work easily with any Apple device you may be using—iPod, iPhone, or Apple TV. The solution:

Scenario 3: Your iTunes Library Needs to Be Manually Rebuilt

This process starts with materials as raw as the ones you currently have sitting in iTunes: if you’ve lost everything due to a hard disk crash, you may think you have nothing. If there’s been an iTunes database crash, you may have your media files but no iTunes tags. In most cases, either iTunes or your hard disk currently has your library in some messy state, just waiting to be cleaned up.

If you can see your files in iTunes, great. If you can’t, due to a hard drive crash or a database problem, you’ll need to scour your hard disk for all of your media files. Regardless of whether you’re using Windows or the Mac OS, you can start this process with an otherwise healthy hard disk by using Find or Search commands from Windows or the Mac Finder, or Spotlight on the Mac. Searching individually for the terms MP3, MP4, M4A, M4B, M4P, and M4V will help you corral most of the media Apple’s devices can play.

If you have an unhealthy or crashed hard disk, you may be able to recover some of its contents with a hard disk recovery tool. Be aware that these tools do a great job of locating media files, but don’t always recover them in their entirety—a recent search we did yielded hundreds of files that were corrupted, chopped in half, or otherwise messed up. Some files did make a complete recovery, however. Use this as your technique of last resort; transferring music back from your healthy iPod, or from Apple’s one-time recovery download, is a safer way to rebuild your collection.

Once you’ve located all or most of your media files, this is the iTunes Library building or rebuilding process we’d recommend.

(1) Move all of your media files to one folder on your computer’s hard disk. If you’ve already moved all of your music and video content into iTunes, this is easy. Go into iTunes Preferences, pick the Advanced Tab, making sure you’re on the General sub-Tab. Then checkmark two checkboxes: “Keep iTunes Music folder organized,” and “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library.” Hit OK, then look at the top of the iTunes window (PC) or screen (Mac) for “Advanced.” Hit Consolidate Library, then press Consolidate. iTunes will automatically transfer your library into one place.

If you haven’t yet moved everything into iTunes, it’s time to hunt around your computer’s hard disk(s) for all of your media. Start by following the same iTunes Preferences instructions above, checking off the two boxes. Then drop all of your media files into iTunes in bunches, or one by one. When you’ve finished adding everything, look at the top of the iTunes window (PC) or screen (Mac) for “Advanced,” hit Consolidate Library, then press Consolidate. All of the files will be moved into your iTunes Music folder automatically.

(2) Prepare all of your music files for updating. Select all of the music in your iTunes Library - look to the Music heading under Library off to the left of the iTunes window, select it, then use Edit > Select All from the top of the iTunes window (PC) or screen (Mac). Next, off to the right of Edit, you’ll see Advanced. Select Convert ID3 Tags, Check ID3 tag version: v2.4, then hit OK.

This step improves the format of the non-audio portion of each of your music files so that you don’t lose the important changes you’re about to make in iTunes—especially important if you have years-old MP3 files sitting on your computer.

(3) Save your progress by closing and re-opening iTunes. We’d recommend doing this with some frequency; if there’s a problem, you won’t lose all of your work to date.

(4) Determine how much processing your music and video files will need. Depending on the source of your media, you may need to do lots or little clean-up work to get your files in shape:

(a) Music or videos you downloaded from iTunes: Unless you’re switching genres or making other optional changes to the files, these types of media should require little to no work—they come pre-tagged and with album or cover art. Just make sure your machine is authorized to play the files by using the Store > Authorize Computer option found at the top of the iTunes window (PC) or screen (Mac).

(b) Music you ripped from CDs: If you used iTunes to rip the CDs, these files will have mostly accurate tags, but may need to be tweaked, and will most likely need to have album art added. iTunes has a hit and miss record of adding art: you should start by running iTunes Album Art tool (Advanced > Get Album Artwork at the top of the iTunes window (PC) or screen (Mac) to get art. Switch to Cover Flow mode (View > Cover Flow View at the top of the window (PC) or screen (Mac)) to see which songs have art, and which ones need art—the transparent musical note ones are missing artwork.

If iTunes hasn’t added the art, you’ll need to do it manually. There are many tools out there that search the Internet for art, but unfortunately, a lot of the cover art out there is low-resolution—fine for an older iPod, but lower-quality than the Apple TV, iTunes, and iPhone can display. Until a better automated solution is available, our suggestion is to use to manually search for the high-resolution covers you’re missing, and use Google Image searches to fill in the gaps misses.

To actually add artwork to your library, the smart thing to do is to sort your library by Album name (click on the Album heading in the iTunes window), then select multiple songs with the same album title. Right-click on the songs and “Get Info,” then drag and drop images from, Google Images, or your preferred source into the square Artwork box. (If you’re doing this with individual audio files, you’ll need to select the Artwork tab to add a picture there.) The checkmark box next to Artwork will automatically be checked; hit OK and you’ll add art to more than one file at once.

This same bulk editing procedure can be used to edit genre, album title, and artist information. Just select multiple files, Get Info, and change the Artist, Album, or Genre fields as you prefer. Make sure they’re checkmarked, and hit OK.

(c) Videos you ripped from DVDs: Since iTunes doesn’t handle video ripping in the way it handles music ripping, these types of files are even more likely to need tagging and artwork assistance; few ripping programs properly tag or pick good art (poster frames or covers) for videos.

By default, most videos dropped into iTunes start out as “movies,” even if they’re TV shows or music videos, and will need to be re-tagged as such individually (with iTunes) or in bulk (with something else). You’ll want to re-tag movies individually, while TV shows and music videos are more usefully fixed in bulk, since you’ll have to change show titles, season numbers, and other common fields in clumps or separately. This can take a long time, since iTunes doesn’t have a tool for bulk video tag editing—probably the single biggest problem with videos in iTunes today.

We published an article all about fixing tags, but the shortcut is this: download Parsley is Atomically Delicious for Mac, or iPodTVShow for Windows; both handle bulk fixes. In each case, you find the existing video files on your computer by opening your iTunes Music folder, then the Movies folder inside, and dropping the files into one of these programs. Change the tags to improve their organization, and even their cover art using Google’s Image search feature. Then double-click on the new files to add them to iTunes.

(d) Music or video files you downloaded from the Internet or received from friends: Depending on where these files came from—hopefully, they were legally obtained—they could need little or lots of tagging and art assistance. Follow the same CD or DVD cleanup procedures above to change their tags and art.

A Final Step: Playlists or Special Titles

One of the major disappointments about the 2005-2006 iPod family, and even the 2007 iPhone, is that none of these devices currently supports the ability to play back full DVD-quality video content, even though iTunes and Apple TV can both play better-than-DVD-quality videos with ease. Consequently, if you have a huge DVD movie collection (and are in a country where it’s legal to rip them for viewing on non-DVD devices), you have three choices: don’t rip them, rip them into a format that plays on iPods and iPhones but doesn’t fully take advantage of iTunes or Apple TV, or rip them twice, creating files optimized for portable and non-portable devices.

If you’re ripping videos today, it’s probably a good idea to use tags to identify them in some way that lets you quickly know whether they’re ripped at below DVD resolution, or at full DVD quality. One option is to insert certain key words or numbers into the Name or Comments fields of your movies: 640 to indicate iPod- and iPhone-ready 640-pixel videos, 720 to indicate standard full DVD rips, or whatever higher number you pick for anamorphic videos or high-definition home movies you create. We tag our videos with “iPod” or “ATV” for easy reference.

Another alternative is to create device-specific playlists for your videos, either manually adding iPod or Apple TV videos to separate standard playlists, or using Smart Playlists that search for your key words or numbers in the songs. We’re hoping that Apple adds a Resolution checker to its Smart Playlists feature so that this process could be even easier in the future: anything 640 pixels wide or smaller could be added to an iPod playlist, while larger files could be Apple TV only by default.

For Additional Assistance

Three different iLounge Discussion Forums are here to help with questions you may have when working on your iTunes Library. Our iTunes (Mac + PC) forum deals with iTunes itself, while separate forums for iTunes Enhancements and Third-Party Software (Mac + PC) will help you add on to iTunes’ current capabilities. Fellow readers are always willing to lend a hand if you can’t find the answer first through the Search feature of our Forums.

Parting Thoughts

No matter whether you started with a messy iTunes Library, a damaged hard disk, or completely from scratch, we hope that this guide has helped you walk through the process of creating a cleaner, more modern collection of media that’s ready to play on your computer, or any Apple device you might own. If you have recommendations on programs or shortcuts that can aid in the rebuilding or cleaning processes, please add them to the comments section below.

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I purchased a n ipod from a friend and his taste in music and shows is not to my liking.How do I delete the existing entrys to use what I enjoy?

Posted by 5625 in East Amherst, NY, USA on August 26, 2007 at 9:16 PM (CDT)


- Just format your iPod (My Computer->iPod and then rightclick->Format)
- Then you can sychronize your iPod with what is in iTunes if that’s what you mean by “what I enjoy”.

Posted by Bob1234567890 in East Amherst, NY, USA on September 10, 2007 at 6:28 AM (CDT)


Hi, Jeremy.  I am trying to use Backup for my iTunes library and backing up to DVD. I followed the directions you provided and got as far as iTunes asking me to insert another disk. That’s where I run into trouble! I cannot eject the first DVD. If I click on the DVD drive, one of the choices in the list is ‘Write these files to CD’ but it looks like the files are already on the DVD! What am I doing wrong? Thank you SO much for the help!

Posted by meemaj in East Amherst, NY, USA on September 18, 2007 at 12:29 AM (CDT)


Hi Jeremy. Is there an easy way in Windows to “refresh” the Itunes library to reflect external changes to the files, missing\dead links etc?

Other programs that I use have a simply update library from tags or other such feature but there is nothing like this in Itunes.

Thanks in advance

Posted by olarte in East Amherst, NY, USA on September 20, 2007 at 10:50 AM (CDT)


Hi, I bought an ipod from a pawnshop all I got was the usb cord. I’m need help on how do I erase some of the music not all of it, there are some songs that I like. Please help me this is my first time owning a nano 4gb ipod. I’m also not a computer genius so please explain in a way I can understand. thanks Tweety9875.

Posted by tweety9875 in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 30, 2008 at 9:31 AM (CDT)


Ooh, I would love an answer to olarte’s question (#4 on the list as I see it now).

I store my music and such on network-attached storage and use iTunes on a laptop that isn’t always connected.  Somehow iTunes “rediscovers” all my music when I’m on the LAN, leaving many duplicate (dead) copies of the same songs in the database.  It seems to not get worse if I don’t run iTunes when not on the LAN.

Being a relatively new iTunes user, I’m happy to just clear the database (not the music itself) and start fresh.  Any ideas?

Many thanks!


Posted by JimIvey in East Amherst, NY, USA on May 9, 2008 at 10:52 AM (CDT)


I got a new laptop and I’m trying to transfer all the songs that I have in my desktop to the laptop.Does anybody know how to do this?

Posted by Jennifer in East Amherst, NY, USA on May 31, 2008 at 10:28 AM (CDT)


Hi, I’m about import a ton of music into my computer and am wondering what format I should select so that if I ever want to make a CD full of MP3’s I can. I’ve tried importing with AAC and Apple Lossless, but neither of these options allow for the songs to made into a MP3 CD.

Is my only option to import songs as MP3’s? I just wanted to see if there was a way to not loose so much sound quality.


Posted by Lisa in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 1, 2008 at 3:40 PM (CDT)


Hi, My friend is using MY computer and MY itunes to update the ID3 tags on HIS ipod, while his computer is down. Will the tags he edit on MY computer change the tags in HIS itunes library on HIS computer to reflect all his work?

Posted by Bob in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 18, 2008 at 11:36 PM (CDT)



Where and how do enter composers for each
piece of music?


bill munger

Posted by Bill Munger in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 29, 2008 at 10:49 PM (CDT)


I have two questions:

1) I have my music on an external drive. I have about 500 folders, each containing the music from one CD, organized by album name. This music is not downloaded from the web, but is copied from my own CDs.

I want to keep my music organized this way. I have loaded it into Itunes by dragging each folder to Browse window in Itunes. I have set Itunes to NOT copy my music or to let Itunes organize it.

Is there a better/faster/automatic way for me to get my music into Itunes? I want to be able to tell Itunes “Here are the folders on the disk. For each folder, create a folder in Itunes. Then, for each file in the folder on the disk, create that entry in Itunes in the correct folder.”

2) My external drive used to be USB2; now it is FW2. One of the problems with USB2 was that it would sleep and dismount, and Itunes would forget the connections. In other words, even though nothing had changed, Itunes could no longer find the music file that was still right where it was supposed to me.

Is there a utility that looks at all the entries in Itunes and finds the file it’s supposed to be linked to by matching the folder name and file name in Itunes with the folder name and file name on the disk?

Or maybe just rebuilds the entire Itunes folder/file list from the Itunes Folder Location?

Thanks for any help.

Posted by Tom Rehor in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 5, 2008 at 3:10 PM (CDT)


I want to load all my songs on the itunes library, but I can only get aroumd 280 songs in the library? How do I change the settings to allow everything I have?
Thanks Ken

Posted by Ken in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 6, 2008 at 5:18 PM (CDT)


I have an 80GB classic ipod. I have added books on tape, movies, and music, none was purchased through itunes. I had it all stored on a passport mass drive which went bad beyond help. My question is “Is there a way to retrive my information from my ipod and store it on a new mass storage drive.


Posted by Dennis in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 12, 2008 at 12:51 AM (CDT)


Does anyone ever answer these questions?

Posted by Tom Rehor in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 31, 2008 at 12:01 PM (CDT)


hello in installing a package called ‘winavi video converter’ This package said in order for it to operate it needed a newer quicktime.  I followed their link and installed what I thought was the latest version.  I then tried to acess a converted file and I couldnt open Quicktime a microfoft windows dialog opened said ‘Quicktime player has stopped working’ I imediatly thought this isnt the latest and it has corrupted the exsisting quicktime.  I went to apples website downloaded the new quicktime, had to uninstall the faulty quicktime in order to install the new.  Quicktime was installed again.  I then tried a mp3 and it flashed up ‘Itunes has stopped working’ it is not operational at all.I downloaded the latest version though I dont fully understand how this will work.  If I uninstall the faulty older itunes will this delete my entire music library and my library of Videos.  I have found the music in my music folder so This may be saved but cant locate where the videos (movies) are located on the disc.  Can anyone help me out before I go ahead and uninstall itunes in aim to intstall latest. I want my entire audio and video librarys

Posted by Colm Farren in East Amherst, NY, USA on August 12, 2008 at 8:02 PM (CDT)


I need help with my problem.

On my Itunes library of files some albums by one artists are filed under Compilations and under their own name.

For example:

Napoleon Hill - Think and Grow Rich - 8 CD set
Half CDs were stored under Compilations and the other half under Napoleon Hill.

My Compilations file is huge and the majority of the files there belong to a one artist album, not compilation albums.

Do you know why this is happening?
How can I fix it?
Should I move or deleted the files?



Posted by Mel in East Amherst, NY, USA on August 19, 2008 at 6:14 PM (CDT)


Is there any software that you can add-on to itunes to automatically update all the song information (genre, composer, etc.)?


Posted by Karina in East Amherst, NY, USA on September 11, 2008 at 10:37 PM (CDT)


To Karina:

Yes, there is this one add-on but I don’t recommend it. It messed up my iTunes library. Incorrect artist, albums, song titles, and album artwork was all I got.

Posted by Yadiel in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 22, 2008 at 9:10 PM (CST)


I have an iPod I’ve stolen, how can reset the pin code to erase the library?

Posted by Steella in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 23, 2009 at 3:41 PM (CDT)


I put my itunes library on an external drive.  Now how do I clean the library off C: to free up some space?

Posted by Ken in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 9, 2010 at 9:46 PM (CST)

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