Splitting An iTunes Library

I hit the point a few weeks ago where my collection of Phish shows (all downloaded legally, paid for happily and listened to frequently) was consuming a double-digit integer percent of my desktop’s hard drive. My $100 solution: buy another external hard drive (the area under my desk looks like the spawn of Ursala the Sea Witch and Robocop), copy all of the Phish tunes to it, then re-import back into iTunes so that there’s no breakdown in user interface or synchronization with various other devices. Here’s how it works:

  • Buy a hard drive, plug it into a USB port and call it “iTunes Library Mark II” (if you’re in a particularly This Is Spinal Tap mood). Create a top-level folder on it called “iTunes Extension” or something similar.

  • In the Finder, navigate down to Your User Name > Music > iTunes > iTunes Music, and highlight the artist(s) you want to copy off to your overflow device.

  • Drag and drop what you selected onto the “iTunes Extension” folder on your new external hard drive. This will take a little while.

  • Make sure everything has copied over correctly; browse through the external drive and make sure the file sizes look OK, and that the copy operation has had time to complete.

  • Open up iTunes, delete those artist(s) that you just copied out. iTunes will ask you if you want to delete the files, and say “Yes” to free up disk space.

  • Empty your trash, so you really free up the disk space. This will take more than a few seconds.

  • This is the important part. In iTunes > Preferences, click on the Advanced tab, and uncheck “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library.” If you don’t do that, the next step will copy everything back to your iTunes folder on your main/internal hard drive, and you’ll be awash in duplicate copies of songs, and out of disk space again.

  • In the Finder, navigate to the newly created “iTunes Extension” folder, select all of your folders (all of the artists/albums you copied over), and drag and drop them into iTunes. You’ll see a popup showing you how iTunes is processing the new files, and iTunes will build new links to the external drive location.

  • If you normally keep everything in your iTunes media folders, go back to “Preferences” and re-check the “Copy” option.

Now you have an iTunes library that’s organized as if it lived in one big happy folder, but is spread out over multiple devices. If you take a bit more brute force approach (delete the original songs from the Finder, which causes iTunes to update the file location to point into your Trash), or if you’ve had a few splits, moves and consolidations go awry, you may end up with “dead tracks” – they show up with an exclamation point to their left, and are songs that are cataloged in your iTunes library but don’t have a valid file location as their target. After powering through this split operation, badly, the first two times, I ended up with more than 1,200 dead tracks.

Tracksift is a $2 Apple AppStore fix that cleans up entries in your iTunes library that point into left field (or your Trash or anywhere else that you didn’t intend). It’s worth the cost to avoid having to do this clean up manually, plus it has a few other clever playlist management features.

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