Q: What is the best way for a family to manage multiple iTunes’ libraries? There are three computers in my house, each with a separate iTunes library. Sometimes, one of us would like to add music from another person’s library. We would also like to have all music backed up. The computers are networked wirelessly. What would be the simplest set-up to accomplish all of this? Would it be best to store all music on one drive, or would doing so make the process of syncing considerably slower? And is there any particular software configuration (either on iTunes or other software) that makes this process of sharing and saving easiest?
A: The short answer is to upgrade all of the computers in your household to iTunes 9, which was released this past Wednesday. You can read more information on iTunes 9 in our Instant Expert Article.
iTunes 9 provides a new feature called “Home Sharing” which sounds like exactly what you want. With Home Sharing, you can link all of your iTunes libraries together through your iTunes Store account for the purposes of sharing content between them. Unlike the traditional iTunes library sharing feature, the “Home Sharing” feature allows you to browse the tracks in other users’ libraries on your home network and not only listen to them but also import them into your library. Despite the fact that the feature description repeatedly uses the word “Purchased tracks” this feature works with any content in any of your iTunes libraries, and not just content purchased from the iTunes Store.
If you’re unable to upgrade to iTunes 9 for some reason, then there are other solutions that can be used in iTunes 8 to keep your iTunes libraries in sync and share music between them, but these are definitely more cumbersome and generally require the use of third-party software applications which need to be purchased separately.
As for backing up your music, this ends up being a separate issue. However, if you’re already backing up the computers containing your music, then your music would form part of those backups. If on the other hand you’d prefer to back up your iTunes library in a single, central location, you can still use the iTunes 9 “Home Sharing” feature for this: Simply ensure that one single “master” library contains all of the tracks from the other libraries. The Home Sharing feature allows you to list only those tracks that are in other libraries but not already in your current library, making this option even simpler.
Further, the Home Sharing feature provides the capability for any content added to a remote iTunes library to be automatically synced to the current library. This is accessed from the “Settings” button found at the bottom of the Home Sharing screen.