Organizing Media Files in iTunes

Q: I have read several articles regarding iTunes organization and network drives, but none seem to really fit to what I have. Since way back, I’ve kept my music organized into folders by genre (e.g. 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, Pop, Rock, etc). Now I have purchased a network drive in which I plan on storing all of my music. As you can guess, iTunes does not manage my media file structure, so is there a way iTunes can organize my media files by genre, or do you recommend I forget my old habits and start clean slate and let it organize it as it should. What do you suggest?

– Paul

A: Unfortunately, iTunes’ media folder organization is a fixed system that uses an ARTISTALBUMTITLE layout, with a few special cases for things like albums that are part of a compilation. There is no way to change this or to organize tracks by any other field such as genre.

That said, like many of Apple’s products, iTunes is designed to isolate users from the underlying file system. If you think about it, unless you need to manage or access your music directly in Finder/Explorer or through another file-based application, there’s really no reason to care where your actual files are located. Further, folder structures are inherently two-dimensional in nature, restricting you to only a single set of information at each level.

By comparison, iTunes uses a tag-based database, which provides the ability to search for, sort and group tracks by any number of criteria and further organize them into playlists. Once you get used to managing tracks directly within iTunes, you can basically stop caring where specific files themselves are located.

iTunes also provides features for those times when you do need to access the underlying files for whatever reason. Right-clicking on any track in your iTunes library will bring up a context menu with a Show in Finder (Mac) or Show in Windows Explorer (Windows) option, which will open a Finder/Explorer window with the corresponding file highlighted. It can often be much faster to locate a specific track in iTunes and open it in Finder/Explorer this way than to search for it using normal file system utilities.

Another little-known useful feature is also available for copying tracks. Select any individual track or group of tracks and you can drag-and-drop them directly from the iTunes window to a Finder/Explorer window; iTunes will copy the files for those tracks to the selected destination. This can be particularly useful for transferring tracks onto file-based USB media players or simply to a removable storage device for transferring them to another computer. Further, because this feature can be used with any group of tracks displayed in iTunes, this is a very useful feature for copying tracks that would otherwise be unrelated, such as those in a playlist.

While there are somewhat complicated ways to move your media files to another drive and maintain your own organizational structure, you will generally find that iTunes works much better in general if you simply let it manage your media folder organization, and doing so definitely makes moving your iTunes library much simpler. In fact, you can both move and reorganize your library onto your network drive in a single step using iTunes’ Consolidate feature; see our guide to Transferring your iTunes Library for more information on how to do this.

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