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How to Consolidate Your iTunes Library and Keep It Organized

For years, we chose to organize our music files by hand -- curating with an obsessive, Rob Gordon-esque eye towards genre, then era, then back to a year/artist/album format. Unfortunately, the pleasures of organizing your CD and vinyl collections simply don't transfer to MP3s and M4As. We finally convinced ourselves to just let iTunes do the organizing and spend our time creating mixes and playlists, instead of wasting hours pushing bits around.

Keep itunes organized
Fortunately, handing off organizing duties to iTunes is pretty simple. Go to Preferences > Advanced, and click the Keep iTunes Media folder organized. We also recommend selecting Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library. Before hitting OK, let's run through what these options actually do.

Keep iTunes Media folder organized

media folderA quick peek into your iTunes Media folder shows what's going on behind the scenes. (Mac users, navigate to your user account / Music; PC users, Your account\music.) iTunes, unlike your ninth grade record-collecting-self, ignores years, genres and record labels to simply sort in artist folders that contain albums and tracks. All compilations get thrown in a dedicated folder, as do tracks with unknown/unmarked artists or albums. As you edit artist and album data in iTunes itself, the actual files get moved around accordingly. If, for example, you pasted 'Bob Dylan' into the artist field of every song in your library (Don't do this!), iTunes would throw everything into a single Bob Dylan folder. Yes, you lose the thrill of shifting files around, but now you can use all your saved time to fix tags, adjust release dates and add higher-res custom art. Once you hit OK, iTunes will chug along for several minutes while it restructures the Media folder, and, if all goes well, you'll see your iTunes Library looks exactly the same.

Copying to iTunes

The option to Copy Files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library is a bit more of a personal preference. Checking this adds new tracks you've downloaded to your Music folder. It keeps your music centralized in a single folder, instead of spread across your Downloads folder, Desktop and anywhere else you're storing music files. Double-clicking on a new track you just downloaded will automatically add it to iTunes, and you can simply trash the original.

You can also use the Automatically Add to iTunes folder (buried in the iTunes Media directory) to add tracks to iTunes in bulk. Dropping multiple albums or tracks into this folder automatically adds and sorts them in iTunes.

Consolidate!

consolidate
Back everything up before you attempt to consolidate your library. Go to File > Library > Organize Library, and select Consolidate Files. Pressing OK will copy all of your music, spread across multiple drives and folders, into a single iTunes Media folder. Why do this? It's much easier to sort and find your original music source files if they're all in a single place, and you can schedule backups of your entire media library based on just a single folder. Before taking the consolidating leap, though, you'll want to make sure that you've got enough room on your hard drive to support this.

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