Locating missing music files


Q: I recently had to replace the hard drive in my PC. My previous PC had iTunes on it, and the repair person copied the music files back into the new computer. Now, however they all have exclamation points in front of them and I get a message saying the original file cannot be found. When I try to locate it, I cannot find it. When I add new songs, they are added without problems. Any ideas as to what is causing this and how I can remedy it without re-copying all of my 300+ CDs again?  Is the only solution available to copy the songs from the iPod back to the computer?

Locating missing music files

– Mary-Jane

A: If the repair person actually did copy the music files back into your computer, they should be there somewhere, although it’s possible that they weren’t copied into the location that iTunes expects to find them.

iTunes stores the full path to each file within its library database, so if music files are moved to other locations, this will result in these sort of broken links in iTunes, as the files will not be where iTunes expects to find them.

In a default iTunes configuration, all new files are stored under the “iTunes Music” folder, located in the “iTunes” sub-folder in the current user’s “My Music” folder (Windows) or “Music” folder (Mac).

Locating missing music files

If your music files are in this location, then you may just want to ensure that your “iTunes Music Folder Path” is correctly set to this directory. You can find this setting under the iTunes advanced preferences by selecting the Preferences option from the iTunes (Mac) or Edit (Windows) menu, and then choosing the “Advanced” tab.

If your music files are not located in this folder, then it’s possible that they were copied to another folder or perhaps a different user profile on your computer. If you’re using Windows and have Administrative privileges, you can search the entire hard drive for files with an MP3 or M4A extension by using the Windows “Search” option found on the Start Menu. If you’re using a Mac, you can use the Spotlight feature to perform this search, but if you have more than one user account, you will need to log into each one individually and perform a Spotlight search, as even administrative users do not have access to other profiles by default on Mac OS X.

If you locate your music files in another folder, you can try copying them into the iTunes Music folder and iTunes may be able to recognize them once they are placed in this location. Alternatively, if you’re not concerned about preserving ratings, play counts, or playlists, you can simply re-import all of your files by using the File, Add to Library menu option. If you do choose to reimport your files, you will want to erase the existing entries from your iTunes library first to prevent duplicate entries, since each imported file will arrive as a new entry in the library, leaving the old reference to the missing file behind.

If a search of your hard drive turns up no files with an MP3 or M4A extension, then it’s very likely the files were not in fact transferred from your old hard drive, and unfortunately you will have no choice but to either re-rip from CD or restore the music from your iPod if you happen to have your complete library stored on there.


Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.