Migrating Playlists to a new Computer


Q: Is there a way to migrate iTunes content (approximately 270 GB) from an external hard drive and merge it with the set of playlists which happen to be on my new iMac’s internal drive? I am a teacher and I have created over 100 playlists comprised of specially edited sound excerpts from hundreds of opera recordings. If I were to lose those playlists, it would take an insurmountable amount of time to recreate them. I just had my data migrated from my old iMac running Tiger to a new iMac with Lion. This included the iTunes playlists (over 100), but not the music itself as I was using an external HD to house my iTunes content. Unfortunately, the playlists did not get moved to the external HD along with the music. Although I did a “Consolidate Library” at the time, as per an article from iLounge, I believe the iTunes playlists remained on the Tiger internal HD, while all the music content was on the External HD.

Migrating Playlists to a new Computer

I bought this new 1TB computer expressly so I could house all my iTunes content ON the computer and dispense with that external HD. Now, after migration, the playlists are on the new computer, and the content is still on the external HD. AppleCare has failed to help me migrate the content from the external HD because they feel I would lose the very important playlists, and they suggested I seek an independent tech company to solve this problem. Is there a way to migrate the iTunes content to merge with the set of playlists that are on my new iMac’s internal drive? Current iTunes is 10.5.1

– Debra

A: The short answer is yes. How to do this will depend largely on what your current situation actually is with the iTunes library on the new iMac. Normally, this shouldn’t be a problem as iTunes stores a complete path to each of your music files, so if you’re using the same iTunes database on your new Lion iMac as you were on your old Tiger iMac, and your external hard drive is still connected and has not been renamed, this should really just work.

So if your iTunes library database was migrated directly from the old iMac onto the new one, you should be in a situation where you can open iTunes, and see all of your music and playlists listed but may be seeing exclamation marks beside your tracks indicating that they cannot be found. Under normal circumstances you shouldn’t need to do much more than ensure that the external hard drive is connected before starting iTunes, since your library database should have the full path to each of your tracks stored in it. However, with the dramatic change in OS X versions and the possibility that your iTunes Preferences may not have been migrated properly along with your library database, it is possible that this may not work the way it normally should. In this case, you can try going into your iTunes Advanced Preferences and setting the “iTunes Media Folder” path to the appropriate location on your external hard drive, which may help iTunes to match up its actual library content with the missing tracks.

If your iTunes library database was migrated to another location on the new iMac, then you’re probably using iTunes with a blank, brand new library database. As long as you haven’t actually imported any new content into this database, you can simply shut down iTunes and copy the iTunes folder that was migrated from your old iMac into the default location—~/Music/iTunes—overwriting the existing folder, and then start up iTunes and it should automatically be using your old database from your original iMac, and you can then deal with it in the same manner as the instructions in the previous paragraph. Alternatively, if you have created a new iTunes library and imported some new content into it, you may not wish to overwrite that new iTunes library database; in this case you can simply hold down the OPT key while starting iTunes to choose to open an iTunes library database from a different location—in this case wherever the library database from your original iMac has been stored.

Once iTunes has found and linked up with all of the music tracks on your external hard drive, you can use the “Consolidate Library” procedure described in Transferring your iTunes Library to copy the tracks back onto your new iMac so that you do not require the external hard drive any more.

In the worst case, it is also possible to simply export all of your playlists from your iTunes library using the File, Library, Export Playlist option for each one and choosing the XML format. This may be somewhat tedious for 100 playlists, but is probably far less so than having to recreate them manually. You could then create a brand new iTunes library, import the music from your external hard drive, and then import the playlists to match them up with the music. However, this should really not be necessary if you have the original library database and your music was properly organized on your external hard drive (which it should be since you indicate that you previously used the “Consolidate Library” function).



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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.