Is This The Most Dangerous Box in iTunes?

"Can you fix my iTunes library for me?"

We're asked this a lot, usually it's pretty easy, just sort out album art, composer names, tidy some genres, an hour or two. But experience shows you need to ask why, these things can come back and bite you. The answer was a bit odd - "I've run out of space on my hard drive". That was puzzling as the client has a computer with an inbuilt 1Tb drive, and his journey started when he added a considerable photo library. Although the system was creaking it wasn't completely full so offloading his music to an external drive should have made matters better.

And there's no way a music library that runs inside a 1Tb drive can fill up a 2Tb external USB drive.

When we got the drive back the structure of the drive was OK (no physical hardware issues) and logically it was showing as a 2 Tb unit. Looking inside the drive the file structure seemed unusual. I could see many folders with artist names, then another folder which is the main music library folder iTunes creates as a default place for digital music. Looking inside that folder there was a sense of deja vu, the same names as I'd just seen. Looking inside each of these folders there were, as expected, sensible album names, but inside those folders the issue became clear.

For some reason each track seemed to be duplicated six times, and taking into account the duplication of those folders on the drive, he had two copies of the whole library. Indeed when I rang the client he said he'd given up when he got the "disc full" message. How did this happen? Let me show you a picture.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 08.39.53

If the box you see on this screen capture is ticked - copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library (you'll find this under Advanced in iTunes Preferences) - then each time you try to add anything, then iTunes will faithfully make a copy. Even when the "source", the files you're adding, are in the same folder as the "destination". Each time you do that you'll double the size of your library.

My client has a music system that monitors the iTunes library from its own controller software, in the same way that Sonos is structured. My guess is that this is what happened.

Client plugs in the hard drive. Sets up his controller software and in essence points it at the USB drive, but the wrong folder. His music doesn't show up. So he goes into iTunes to use that to move his music to where he thinks it should be. Misunderstanding the function of the box above he ticks it and then Finds his music on the local hard drive and lets the process run. Even when complete the music doesn't appear in the other app so understandably he thinks the process has failed, so he does it again. He probably tries to copy the music to another location on the drive, thinking that's the issue, tries that a time or two. Each cycle iTunes is doing what it's been told, merrily copying files to the drive.

Finally, drive full, no music in other controller app he gave up. Actually the library should be .4Tb and our de-duplicating program took a whole day to find and clear our the surplus music files. Then we could get onto the substance of improving the metadata, adding album art and so on.

If you're looking at your own library should you tick this box? In my opinion
NO. It can create more problems than it solves. Instead, adopt a two step process when adding tracks.

First, use Add Folder to import the new tracks into your iTunes database. Take a look at what you've done and make sure you're happy with what's happened. When you are, step two, go to File / Library / Organise library and tick the box for Consolidate. That will then copy the file(s) you've added from their source location and put them in your music library.

If you have a system such as Sonos the automatic update cycle will then find the new music when it runs next, or you can usually force an unscheduled update if you need.

And you won't need to call on us to rescue your music.

Comments