Jump to content

Managing the iTunes Music Folder on a Primary External Hard Drive and a Backup

Recommended Posts

I am new to computer audio and before I start to transfer my entire CD collection to a hard drive I wanted to make sure I could do several things that would protect my collection and make it easier to manage it in the near future. I am currently using iTunes on an XP laptop. I also alternatively play music using MediaMonkey. So I use both. However I prefer iTunes' user amenities. I also store my music on an external hard drive and have a second external drive as a backup. In a few months I plan to move to a different laptop with either Vista or Windows 7. So I needed to be able to create an Itunes music repository on an external drive, create and manage an external backup drive, know how to use the backup if my primary disk fails and know how to move my external drive to a different computer if my current one fails or I get a new one. Using Itunes I ripped about 28 different albums making sure I could get all the album art and have them labeled correctly. Then I tried to do all the management tasks I just mentioned. It took a while to figure out exactly what to do and I messed up my muisc and library a few times receiving those iTunes exclamation points more than once. But this was a "beta" test. So here's what I learned and what appears to work for me. I did benefit from reading many posts here but could not find one that specifically addressed all the things I wanted to do. I hope this will be helpful to those in the same situation. Of course if you think I've mistated something or there is a better way to do this please comment. I want to learn as much as I can about iTunes.


Setting Up the iTunes Music Folder on an Primary External Hard Drive and a Backup


When using iTunes with the music files stored on a primary external drive and secondary backup external drive specific procedures need to be followed. These are the subjects I needed to understand to make it work and what I learned about each.


Basic iTunes Concept

Creating the iTunes Music Folder on the external Drive

Adding music to the external drive

Moving the drive to another computer

Backing up the drive

Switching to the backup drive when the primary drive fails


Basic iTunes Concept

The basic iTunes concept to remember is that in the iTunes folder you will not only store your music but also Library files that contain information about where these music files are located and a folder of the associated Album Art. These items all work together and if they get out of sync then iTunes will not be able to access and play your music or display the Album Art. The music is still there but iTunes will not be able to find it.


Creating an iTunes Music Folder on an External Drive

Install iTunes on the computer. This will create the iTunes folder that contains the iTunes Library files and the folder for Album Art. This iTunes folder will be stored, by default, on the C drive of the computer. Normally this is also where all music “Ripped” by iTunes or downloaded from iTunes will be stored if you check the proper box under Edit/Preferences/Advanced Tab: “Copy Files to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to the Library”. Also check the box: “Keep iTunes music folder organized”. Checking these boxes will make all future management a lot easier.


If you already have iTunes installed and an iTunes folder and some music on the computer you will need to make sure that all the music is in the iTunes folder. To do that under File/Library/Consolidate you need to consolidate the library. This will move all of your music to the iTunes folder and update the iTunes library with their locations.


Now copy the iTunes folder from your computer to your external drive.


To use an external drive instead of the hard drive on the computer to store the music you will need to assign a drive letter to the external drive that you will also assign to that drive whenever you move it to a different computer. Pick a letter not likely to be used by other devices such as M or N. Assinging a letter to the drive is important if you plan to use the drive with other computers or a new computer at a later date. It will be important that the drive letter assigned to the drive is the same on each computer so that iTunes will be able to find your music from any computer. The reason is that as you add music to the iTunes music folder it will record in the iTunes Library file the exact location or path of every item. This path includes the drive letter. So when you move your drive to another computer you will have to make sure that the drive has the same letter assigned to it on that computer.


How to change a drive letter: (for Windows XP and Vista)

To change an existing drive letter on a drive follow these steps:

1. Log on as Administrator or as a member of the Administrators group.

2. Click Start, click Control Panel, and then click Performance and Maintenance.

3. Click Administrative Tools, double-click Computer Management, and then click Disk Management in the left pane.

4. Right-click the drive that you want to assign a drive letter to, and then click Change Drive Letter and Paths.

5. Click Change.

6. Click Assign the following drive letter if it is not already selected, click the drive letter that you want to use, and then click OK.

7. Click Yes when you are prompted to confirm the drive letter change. The drive letter of the drive is changed, and the new drive letter appears in the appropriate drive in the Disk Management tool.


Adding Music to the External Drive

When using an external drive you will need to change the location of where iTunes music will be stored. In Edit/Preferences/Advanced Tab select Change to change the location of the iTunes music folder. Then browse to the location on your computer where the external drive is listed and select the external drive and then the iTunes folder. You should now see a new location listed in the window and it should display the drive letter of your external drive and the iTunes folder. Then click OK.


iTunes will now store all subsequently ripped or download music on the external drive in the iTunes folder on the external drive. However the locations of these music files will still be stored in the iTunes Library files on the computer’s C drive. All Album Art will be stored on the computer’s C drive as well. So if you move the external drive to a different computer you must copy the Library files and Album Art folder to the new computer as well so that iTunes on the new computer will know the locations of each file on the external drive.


Moving the External Drive to a different Computer

Make sure that iTunes is installed on the new computer. Copy the Library files and Album Art folder from the original computer’s iTunes folder to the new one. If you do not copy these files to the new computer iTunes will list all of your music but when you ask it to play it it will say it cannot locate it and give you that dreaded exclamation point. (This step assumes that there are no iTunes music files on this new computer. If there is that’s a different issue and I am not addressing the merging of two libraries)


Connect the external drive to the new computer and assign the same drive letter used on the old computer.

Load iTunes and change the default location of the iTunes music folder to the external drive.

Check to make sure all other iTunes preferences are the same and you are ready to play music.


Backing Up the Drive

Connect a second drive to the computer.

Copy the iTunes Folder from the primary drive to the secondary backup drive.

Copy the Library files and Album Art folder from the computer’s iTunes folder on the C drive to the backup drive out side of the iTunes folder. You will need these items if your computer hard drive C fails and you need to move your external drive to a new computer. Remember those Library files contain the locations or pointers to where your music is on the external drive.


As you add new music to the primary drive’s music folder you should copy it to the backup drive’s music folder and also copy the library files from the computer’s C drive to the backup as well. You don’t have to do this every time you add music but periodically update your backup. Of course you can just copy the whole iTunes folder but that may take a while if your music folder is large.


Switching to the backup drive when the primary drive fails

Disconnect the failed drive.

Connect the backup drive to the computer.

Assign the drive the same drive letter that was assigned to the failed primary drive and you are ready to go.

You will be missing any music added to the failed drive that was not copied to the backup before the failure.


That's it for now.









Link to comment

Hi joesax - Thank you very much for the detailed post. I'm sure many readers for many months will use this post as their reference.


One thing I suggest you try differently. I didn't see this in your post so hopefully I'm not suggesting something that's already been discussed. I would store your complete iTunes folder on the external hard drive. This includes your library files and iTunes music folder. When opening iTunes it will simply look for the external drive instead of the C: drive. Then when you move the hard drive to to a new computer no copying needs to be done. All your album art and library files are already lined up with the music etc...


When opening iTunes for the first time using the external library technique you just need to hold down the Shift key (I believe it's the Shift key) and select open library when the dialog box appears. Then browse to your externally stored library files.


Let me know if I've only confused the situation or mentioned something that's already been covered.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems

Link to comment

Chris does this mean if I want to move my entire iTunes file to an external hard drive, I should:


1. Connect the external hard to the PC

2. Assign a new drive letter to the new external hard drive

3. Edit the iTunes music folder location in preferences to the new hard drive letter

4. Copy the entire iTunes folder to the new external hard drive and

5. make sure the folder shows up on the new drive and then

6. Can I delete the iTunes folder from the c drive?


Will iTunes and or other players (ie:foobar2000) play the music from the new external hard drive?


Thanks in advance for your answer to this confusing question. Maybe it will help other newbies too.




Link to comment



I thought about doing what you said but wasn't sure it would work. I will try it. Questions:


After I copy my current Library files from the computer C drive to the iTunes folder on the External Drive can I then delete the iTunes folder on the C drive?


Will I have to press Shift every time I load iTunes to tell it that the Library is on the external drive or do I just have to do it once?




Link to comment

Hi Guys,

This was what I wanted to do. When I started to import music I put music files into an external drive and left the iTunes Library in the C drive. I've been wondering ever since how to move the Library folders to the external drive without causing the ground to open up and swallow me whole. So I've been holding off on doing this.


Any suggestions to do this safely would be appreciated.


Thanks again,





Raised on TV.

Link to comment

When you press Shift and you are asked to select a Library,what Library file do you select? There's the XML, the itl, etc?


Also all of my music (albums) are stored in the iTunes folder and but not in the iTunes Music folder. It all works fine so does it matter?


I have few albums where the track listings are alway displayed out of order when I open the album. I have to click either the name column heading or track heading to get them to display in the correct order. What's up with those items and how do I change it so the default order is correct? If I display the album folder with Windows the tracks are in the correct order.


Link to comment
  • 2 months later...

I've read many of these comments and struggled all day and finally had success in transferring my files to an external hard drive to free up space on my c: laptop hard drive.

Here's what I did.

I moved my entire Itunes music folder to the hard drive, including album art etc. Then go in as many have said and change the advanced/preferences to locate that hard drive.

I then 'cut' all of the library files out of my itunes folder on the c: drive. (of course backing them up in another folder just in case).

Then re-opened itunes and of course there is no music listed as it does not have a library file.

Then just drag the music folder into itunes and it created a new library file with the correct location of the music. Finally worked for me.


Link to comment

As I've advised a couple of times on different threads, I strongly advise that you embed your album art into your files. This makes you completely independent in the case of 1. moves 2. upgrades of iTunes cover art mechanics 3. other self-created disasters.


As long as your folder(s) containing your music are safe, you can move them, restore them, or do whatever to them, and simply "add" them back to a fresh or reset iTunes install and have the library correctly rebuild itself with all your art.


Broken record-sounding tip...but learned the hard way! Paul


Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...