Beginner’s Guide to Sharing iTunes Music

If you love music, you know that one of the best ways to discover new songs is to hear parts of your friends’ collections. With CDs, it was easy: visit someone’s home and flip through their discs. And with an iPod, it’s even easier: play through any set of headphones or speakers while reading through a list of artists, albums, and genres. But did you know that you can sample and play back songs from a friend’s complete iTunes library located on a separate computer, such as a laptop?

When your computer is on a network, iTunes’ built-in “sharing” feature works in two directions: it lets you open up your music library to others on the same network, and allows you to listen to music files that are on other computers running iTunes. This feature is useful in two types of situations.

A) If your computer is on a local network in a company or shared housing environment (such as a dorm), you can share your music so others can enjoy it, as well as listen to your music on other computers. Similarly, if your computer or network has a WiFi or AirPort wireless card, you may also discover shared iTunes libraries on other wireless networks in your apartment building, or in public places such as airports or coffee shops.

B) If you have several computers at home, you can share your iTunes music libraries from one computer to another. You can either have separate libraries on each computer, belonging, for example, to different family members, or you can have all your music on a single computer that works as a music server for your other computers.

Music sharing is not the same as file sharing, however. When you share music with iTunes, you provide other users with the possibility to listen to your songs, not to copy them or keep them. So let’s look at how iTunes music sharing works, and how you can use it to get more music and share your tunes.

Setting Up iTunes Music Sharing

iTunes includes everything you need to share your music and to connect to other iTunes music libraries. You don’t need any additional software, but you do need to be connected to a network – either wired or wireless. By default, music sharing is not turned on, so you must go to iTunes’ preferences and set up sharing. Select iTunes > Preferences (Mac) or Edit > Preferences (Windows), then click the Sharing icon to access these preferences.

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The first option in this window tells iTunes to look for shared music. If you check this, iTunes will sniff around on your network to see if other users have turned on sharing with the second option, Share My Music. (Check this second option to share your music with other people.) If they have, iTunes displays the shared music library or libraries in its Source list. Computers must be running iTunes 4.5 or later, and iTunes must be active on the other computers for you to detect shared libraries. If you have a firewall on your computer or network, you’ll need to make sure it allows iTunes music sharing to get through. This Apple technical document tells you how to configure your firewall.

If you share your music, you can choose how much of it you share, and whether you want to allow free access to just anyone. Choose between Share Entire Library and Share Selected Playlists; if you select the former, you’ll provide access to just about everything in your library.

If you choose to only share selected playlists, you can decide what music you want to allow others to listen to. You can create a special playlist of shared music, and only check that playlist, or you can select from the playlists you’ve already made. You can even create special playlists for “radio shows,” featuring your favorite songs, that you can share with others on your network.

You can give your shared library a name, in the bottom of the preferences window, so people know whose music it is; by default, this is [your user name]‘s Music, but you can change it to anything you want. Additionally, you can set a password to restrict access to your library; this can be useful if you have certain friends, say in your dorm, with whom you want to share music, but don’t want to open up your library to everyone. iTunes only allows five users to access your library in a given day, so you may not want strangers to use up those slots.

Listening to Shared Music

If iTunes only finds one shared library, it shows that library by its name. If, however, it finds several libraries on your network, iTunes shows a Shared Music entry in the Source list, under which you’ll see the different libraries available. Click the disclosure triangle to see these shared libraries.

 

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Click one of the shared libraries to have iTunes load a list of its music. You can browse the library the same way as you browse your own library, or you can access any of its playlists by clicking the disclosure triangle next to the library name.

 

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To listen to a playlist or album, just select the music you want to hear and click the Play button – everything works the same as if the music were on your computer. However, you cannot create playlists from music in a shared library. Also, the source library will not update the play count and last played date, and you cannot set ratings for any of the shared music.

When you’re finished listening to the shared library’s music, you can eject it by clicking the Eject icon next to its name.

 

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Or, if you quit iTunes, you’ll disconnect automatically.

If you’re curious about whether your library is being shared, you can find out in the Sharing preferences. At the bottom of this window, you’ll see the current sharing status.

 

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In the above example, you can see that sharing is on and that two users are connected. You cannot, however, find out who those users are.

Limits to Sharing

While you can share most of your music, and playing music from a shared library is transparent, there are several limits you need to be aware of. You saw above that only five users can access your iTunes library in a given day.

In addition to this limitation, other users cannot listen to protected music files, including any purchases from the iTunes Music Store – unless their computers are authorized to do so. If you’re sharing music at home, you’ll want to authorize each computer (this means you enter your iTunes Music Store user name and password when asked) so everyone can listen to your purchased music.

You cannot share audiobooks purchased from Audible.com, but you can share audiobooks purchased from the iTunes Music Store. If you listen to an audiobook via music sharing, the file won’t save a bookmark when you stop listening; you’ll need to make a note of the exact time you left off so you can pick up again at the same point in the story.

Finally, you cannot use a shared library as a source for the Party Shuffle playlist, nor can you access music on an iPod connected to another computer on your network. And, because of copyright concerns, you cannot copy music to or from a shared library.

Sharing Music on a Single Computer

While the whole point of sharing an iTunes music library is to share with others, there’s also another way you can use sharing: if you have several user accounts on your computer, and each one has an iTunes music library (such as if several users have their music on the same computer, and sync their iPods from their individual accounts), these libraries show up in iTunes as long as the other account is active (if you have not logged out of the account, but merely switched to another user). This is a good way to listen to your spouse’s or children’s music without having to copy their music files to your iTunes library.

Share Those Tunes

Music should be shared – not by taking someone else’s files, but by letting friends sample the notes and melodies of your favorite artists. Use iTunes music sharing to provide your friends and family with your favorite music, and check out their top tunes as well. You’ll discover lots of new music, and you may turn your friends on to your latest discoveries.

picKirk McElhearn is the author of several books including iPod & iTunes Garage. His blog Kirkville features articles about the iPod, iTunes, Mac OS X and much more.