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iTunes Library Management

This article describes how to manage a media library on an external hard drive using iTunes.

One of the most important tools a host can have is a personal digital music library. It is common to purchase or obtain new music without having an original CD as a backup, so it becomes very important to develop a strategy for containing music and audio that will possibly follow it's owner for a long, long time.  The loss of years of collected music from dropping or loosing a laptop can result in a tragic blow to one's psyche. 
This article will discuss using Apple Computer's iTunes application to manage a personal media library in a way which will hopefully minimize the potential for the personal disaster of loosing one's media library.  While there are many applications and strategies available to contain media, the pervasiveness of iPod branded portable devices and the fact that iTunes is a free application makes it a worthy choice for establishing a media library that can stay with an individual for a long, long time.

The first step in safe-guarding one's media is to purchase an external hard-drive.  Indeed, as a host at WSUM, an external hard drive should be considered an imperative.  An external hard drive is portable, easy to replace, not too expensive, and typically contains much more room to store new media than a typical hard drive.  The strategy which will be employed by this article is to contain one's iTunes library in it's entirety on the external hard drive.  By following this practice, the iTunes library contained on an external drive will enable the following:
  1. Access to the media library from computers other than one's own computer, IE, WSUM host computers, friends computers, new laptops, etc...
  2. Simplified access to media from other programs
  3. Sync devices from other computers
  4. Easier backups
  5. Using up only one of Apple Computer's 5 authorized computers for mobile devices that register with one's Apple Account
  6. Using the entire media library with Serato Scratch for DJ'ing

Preparing an external hard-drive

The first choice to using an external drive is to decide what format the hard-drive should use.  Most contemporary drives will now be labeled as PC and Mac compatible.  If so, all should be good.  In order to use a drive at WSUM, the drive will need to be formatted as NTFS.  This decision should be made the first time a drive is used as any formatting of a hard drive does remove all data from the drive.  Formatting can also be a way to re-use a drive an old drive.  On a Windows computer, the format of a drive can be found by right-clicking on the drive icon and selecting Properties. The format is listed as "File System."

Preparing an existing iTunes Library

If an existing iTunes library is going to be used, the existing iTunes folder can be copied or moved to the external drive and accessed from the remote drive. Before copying or moving the library to the external drive, it might be a good idea to first run iTunes and run File > Library > Organize Library. This will collect any media and make sure all of the files are actually in the iTunes folder before moving it. Be sure to select the "Consolidate files" option.

How to open an alternate iTunes Library or create a new Library on an external drive

  1. if iTunes is running, quit iTunes.
  2. On Windows, hold down the Shift key and from the Start menu, choose All Programs > iTunes > iTunes. This window should appear: 
    • ChooseiTunesLibrary.PNG
  3. On Mac, open iTunes and immediately hold down the Option key. This window should appear: 
    • HT1589_2.jpg
It's that simple.  

Best fit configuration options for external libraries

Once an iTunes library is being accessed from a remote drive, there are some configuration options that can help make sure media items don't get lost.  With the external iTunes library open, select Edit > Preferences from the iTunes window. Go straight to the "Advanced" tab.
Keep iTunes Media folder organized: This option will make the organization of media in the iTunes folder a little easier to find media files when accessing media without the aid of the iTunes application interface.
Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library: This option will make sure that files don't get left behind on a computer or network folder when dragging new media to iTunes.  Since the iTunes library is now on an external drive, there should be more room to make copies of media.

Adding Media to iTunes

Assuming that all of the above steps have been followed and iTunes is open on the computer screen, it should be as simple as finding a desired media file and dragging it to the iTunes library window. This will now automatically copy the file to the external library. If new music is to be added straight from a CD, there are some additional settings that may be desirable now that the media library has room to grow on an external drive.  Since the CD is already in hand, it is a good idea to make sure that all of the original audio information is preserved because a CD can get scratched or lost.  Additionally, uncompressed audio will always sound so much better when used for WSUM's broadcast as the WSUM broadcast chain does not employ any compression at all.  While compressed audio may sound fine when listened to with ear-buds from an iPod, it is always best to not make assumptions about what means a listener is using to listen to the broadcast.  Uncompressed audio sounds better than any MP3 file for the same reason that Vinyl sounds better in a broadcast.
Going back to  Edit > Preferences, under the General tab, select Import Settings.
Import Using Apple Lossless Encoder: By using the Apple Lossless codec, all of the original audio from the CD is kept. Since the library is now on an external drive, there is room to hold onto the larger lossless files.  This way, if CD are burned later, or an MP3 is needed, all of the original audio information is available to do this.
Use error correction when reading Audio CD's: This option will slow down the process of ripping the CD, however, it is only slow once.  By using error correction, it is assured that all of the information from the original CD is captured and copied to the new library.

Managing Portable Devices

Since Apple Lossless will create larger files in a music library, the files will tend to fill up a portable device much faster than using AAC or MP3 files. ITunes is able to resolve this issue by re-compressing files before they are copied to a portable device.  Another strategy for being cautious with limited portable device space is to not copy all of the available media to the portable device.  The following settings can be set to manage the different available capacities between an external drive and a portable device.
Start by connecting the portable device to the computer while iTunes is open and accessing the portable library.  At this point, go ahead and sign in to the Apple Store with the Store > Sign in... option in iTunes.  Also, go ahead and authorize iTunes for your previous purchases with Store > Authorize this Computer... option. Since an iTunes account can only authorized to up to five media libraries, the external library will only need to use up one of the authorizations available regardless of how many computers the remote library is used with.
When these steps are completed, from the DEVICES tab in iTunes, select the device.
There is an option at the bottom of the displayed window called "Convert higher bit rate songs to 128kbps AAC."  This option will make sure that all large media files, including Apple Lossless files will be compressed to a smaller AAC file before it is copied to the device, thus preserving space on the portable device.
Additionally, under the Music tab on the device page, there is an option to only sync Selected playlists, artists, albums, and genres.
When browsing the iTunes library, all listed songs have a checkbox next to the song which denotes the song as "Selected."  This is an effective way to manage the actual music that is copied to the portable device allowing the actual library to be much larger in size than what is actually available on the portable device.


ITunes can be an effective tool for managing a media library for as long as media will be used on computers.  By using the methods above, it is possible to make sure that a lifetime of media collection can be preserved without ever having to start from scratch.  Since the library is contained to a single folder on an external drive, this folder can be backed up to a laptop or another drive as often as needed to assure that catastrophes will not result in the loss of what could be a collection acquired over years and years.  These methods will also assure the ability to use a music library on multiple computers and with programs beyond iTunes like Serato Scratch Live which is detailed in another article.

Keywords:WSUM, training, iTunes, music library   Doc ID:20893
Owner:Laura G.Group:WSUM
Created:2011-10-23 10:02 CDTUpdated:2012-02-14 13:26 CDT
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