The physical footprint of computers continues to shrink. And as more and more of our content is stored in the mythical “cloud”, internal storage seems to becoming less and less a priority for Apple and other computer manufacturers. Even with that conversion, however, there are some things that will always eat up hard drive space. iTunes is one of the big ones.
Many people have iTunes libraries that have been carefully curated over many years. That can add up to hundreds or even thousands of gigabytes, and no one wants to sacrifice their music collection because of limited drive space. So what’s the answer? When it comes to your iTunes library, usually it’s migrating to an external drive.
Moving your tunes to an external hard drive is an inexpensive way to free lots of space on your Mac’s internal drive, and it makes it easy to keep everything organized and accessible. How’s it done? Read on.
How Large Is Your Library?
The first step in moving your library is figuring out just how big that library is. If you don’t check this first, there’s a chance that your music won’t all fit in its new home. The default location for an iTunes library is ~/Music. (The tilde is a shorthand designation for the active User’s home folder.) Once in that location, right-click the iTunes folder and choose “Get Info”. The resulting window will give you the size if your library. That size is the bare minimum you should aim for when choosing an external hard drive. Make sure you factor in any room you’ll need for expansion of the library.
What Kind of Drive?
When you’re ready to pick an external drive for housing your library, you want to make sure you get one that’s going to work. The good news here is that music doesn’t require a great deal of bandwidth, so a regular USB enclosure should do the trick. If your Mac supports it, USB 3.0 is your best bet. If the drive will be used at any point for other types of media – image or video editing, for example – then you may consider investing in a Thunderbolt enclosure, again only if your Mac supports it.
As with every time you plan to make changes to your computer, be sure to have a current backup in place. Time Machine is a good option here, and we also recommend Backblaze if you’re in the market for a more robust backup service. Always better to be safe than sorry!
Go ahead and launch iTunes, and from the menu bar, choose File>Library>Organize Library. In the resulting window, check the box named “Consolidate Files”. (If it’s already checked, leave it alone.) This option allows iTunes to do most of the organizing for you, which will make for the safest move to a new home for your library. Once the box is checked, iTunes will begin copying files from across your Mac and placing them in the iTunes Media folder. This doesn’t delete the original, so if iTunes wasn’t consolidated at all prior to this step, you may end up almost doubling the size of your iTunes library for a brief period. If there’s not enough space on your hard drive to go through this consolidation, that’s okay. Instead of checking the “Consolidate Files” box and letting iTunes do the leg work, you can track down all of your music and move it manually into the iTunes folder. But assuming you do let iTunes complete the process for you… it’ll take a while, so go stretch your legs.
Once all of your files are safely nestled ~/Music/iTunes, quit iTunes. Be sure to quit the app completely, don’t just close the open window. Then, copy the iTunes folder from Finder to the external drive. This can be done via drag-and-drop between two Finder windows (or one Finder window and the Desktop icon representing the external drive) or a simple Copy and Paste between two Finder windows. The important thing is that the folder is copied and not just moved. Again, it’s good to have a backup just in case.
After the folder has been copied to the external drive (this, too, can take a while, depending on the size of your library and the performance of your external drive), hold down the Option key on your Mac’s keyboard and launch iTunes. By holding down Option, you’ll trigger a new dialog box. iTunes will ask you to choose a library. You can create a new one (don’t) or choose an existing library (that’s the one). After selecting Choose Library, navigate the resulting window to the iTunes folder housed on your external drive, and choose Open. iTunes will then complete its launch with the new library. Assuming it worked, you won’t notice a difference.
To ensure that iTunes is in fact accessing the library from its new location, travel once again to the menu bar and select iTunes>Preferences. In the resulting window, click on the Advanced tab. Check out the “iTunes Media Folder Location”. It should display the path leading to your external drive, something similar to this: /Volumes/External_Drive_Name/iTunes/iTunes Media. If it’s not correct, you can correct it by clicking on Change, and then navigating to the proper location.
Once you’ve confirmed that iTunes is using the new library, go ahead and make sure your media is working. Play a random selection of items and confirm they all work. Everything sound good? Great! Now it’s time to finish up.
Open up a new Finder window and navigate to ~/Music, where your old iTunes folder should still be living. Go ahead and delete it. (Don’t forget to empty the Trash!) If you allowed iTunes to consolidate your media for you, then you may also have some stray files strewn across your internal drive. Hunt them down and remove them, as well. A tip: In Spotlight, you can search for specific categories of file using the “kind:” operator. For instance, if you type “kind:audio” or “kind:music” into a Spotlight search, it should return any audio files on your computer, regardless of their specific file type. You can choose to “Show All In Finder” to clear these all in one go.
You’ve just cleared up quite a bit of free space on your Mac’s internal drive, congratulations! As a final thought, remember that you’ll only be able to access your iTunes library from this point when the external drive housing it is connected. So don’t leave home without it!