Consolidating Multiple iTunes Libraries

Q: I am completely overwhelmed by my music collection as it is stored in way too many places. I primarily had my music stored on my MacBook, but once that got too small I bought a 400 GB networked hard drive and started storing my music there. I also now have songs from several hundred CD’s on my new Mac Mini that aren’t on either my iPhone or my iPod. I would like to have everything in a central location be it the networked hard drive or the Mac Mini, although my preference is the networked hard drive.

– Benny

A: Ideally, your primary goal should be to consolidate all of your music into a single iTunes library, with the music stored in a single location. You will find that your iTunes library and music collection is much easier to manage and maintain in this scenario, both within iTunes itself and also for the purpose of synchronizing to your various media devices.

The key problem here is that iTunes does not provide any direct way to merge two different iTunes libraries. This means that you will essentially need to manually import all of your music and other media files into a single library database. This can either be a completely new iTunes library that you create in order to consolidate everything, or you can simply import the content from your other libraries into whichever is your “main” library.

The good news is that all of your primary track information should actually be stored in your media files themselves, and iTunes will pick this up when you reimport those files into a new library. The only information that will not come across when importing tracks into a new library is iTunes-specific data such as ratings, last played dates, play counts and your individual playlists. However there are Applescripts that can be used to manually adjust information such play counts and last played dates and it is possible to export your playlists from one library and import them into another.

You can also easily keep your media content on the networked hard drive, although you’ll want to be careful about setting up more than one iTunes library against that networked location as you’ll only be sharing your content—the individual library databases won’t be automatically kept up to date and it will therefore be easy for things to fall out of sync with each other. Another option is you plan on accessing your iTunes library database from multiple computers is to simply put the iTunes library database on the networked hard drive and then point all of your computers to use that database. Note, however, that you will still need to be very careful about only running one copy of iTunes at a time as it is not designed to be accessed by multiple computers and data corruption can occur if you try to do this.

So with all of the above in mind, your best option is to choose whatever library you consider to be your “primary”—likely the one you load your iPod and iPhone from—and then ensure that you’ve consolidated all of your content from that library onto the networked hard drive by following the instructions in our tutorial on Transferring your iTunes Library.

Once your main library has been consolidated onto the networked hard drive, check your iTunes Preferences to ensure that the iTunes Media folder is still set to that network location and that the Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library option is enabled.

Consolidating Multiple iTunes Libraries

You can then begin importing your additional tracks from your other sources into your main library. The tracks will be copied from their original locations to the iTunes Media folder path, which should reside on the networked hard drive. Music from other computers can be imported via a network connection to those computers or simply copied onto an external hard drive and imported from there.

Once this has been done, you will be left with a single, master iTunes library containing all of your content which will be stored on the networked hard drive. You can also find instructions in the Transferring your iTunes Library article on how to move your library database over to the networked hard drive in the event that you want to be able to access it from more than one computer.

Note that it is also possible to accomplish this using iTunes Home Sharing, provided that all of the content that you want to consolidate is already stored in iTunes on the other computers. If you have extra files lying around that haven’t been imported into an iTunes library, however, you’ll need to import them into iTunes directly from the file system in the traditional manner. As it relies on a network connection, iTunes Home Sharing will also be slower than copying your tracks over via a directly attached external hard drive.

If your other iTunes libraries contain playlists that you want to migrate to the new main library, you can do this by opening these other libraries, selecting the individual playlists you want to export and then choosing File, Library, Export Playlist and saving them to an XML file. You can then copy the resulting XML files to the computer with your main library and use the File, Library, Import Playlist option to import them.

One important thing to keep in mind is that you will need to ensure that your networked hard drive is mounted and accessible before starting iTunes on your computer. If iTunes cannot find it’s Media folder path, it will revert back to the default path on your local hard drive, causing any new tracks to be imported from that location; you’l need to restart iTunes once the network path is available to fix this—iTunes won’t pick it up automatically while it’s running.


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