How To Backup iTunes To An External Hard Drive Safely

5 min read

Music libraries are incredibly personal, and scrolling through your tunes can create the same kind of nostalgia as looking through old photographs. A forgotten song drifting out of the shuffle can call back a carefree summer drive; a particular playlist might remind you of a special person. This all to say that besides the money and time you put into your collections, overlooking the safety of your iTunes library could set you up for a heartbreak.

Besides the ever-present risk of a hardware crash, Apple’s iTunes is actually being phased out in the fall of 2019 with the release of macOS Catalina. Keeping this in mind, there has never been a better reason to create a backup iTunes library. Saving your music and media regularly to an external hard drive is a great habit, and a fail-proof way to ensure your collection isn’t lost as you migrate your media to Apple Music, Apple TV, or other platforms.

Why Back Up To An External Hard Drive

Many people think that iTunes automatically backs up or that by exporting their library they are creating a backup. But this isn’t true. If you’re wondering “where is iTunes backup stored?” the answer is a stunning nowhere. When you export iTunes library it saves your playlists and organizational information. It doesn’t create a backup of media files. In fact, even iTunes in the cloud is not a backup service.

The only way to ensure your library is protected is to have a local copy. This makes knowing how to backup iTunes library an essential skill. While you can subscribe to cloud services, the average music library is fairly large and backups stored on your Mac can take up a lot of space. Hence, cloud storage can become expensive. So while there are many options for creating an iTunes backup, the pragmatic choice for most people is to move iTunes library to external hard drive. 

Prepare your iTunes library for backup

When you open iTunes to play a song or movie you’re viewing a representation of a database that organizes your media files. The originally downloaded copies are stored separately. That’s why the first step for backing up an iTunes library is locating where the media files really are. A copy of this folder can be treated as iTunes backup location as long as it’s exported to an external hard drive, or paired with iCloud storage or a syncing app.

iTunes media folder location mac

So where does iTunes store backups of your media files? Simply in your iTunes Media folder. Its default location could be found under your User Account, but if you’ve made a custom change iTunes backup location might be different, and you may even encounter an iTunes backup password if you’ve set one up.

To find and open your iTunes Media folder:

  1. Search Users in Finder and select your username
  2. Open the Music folder ➙ iTunes ➙ iTunes Media

If you’ve customized your folder location, use iTunes and Finder to locate the file path:

  1. Open iTunes ➙ Preferences
  2. Tab Advanced
  3. Under iTunes Media folder location, use ⌘ + C to copy the file path to your clipboard 
  4. Open Finder ➙ Go. Select Go To Folder and then use ⌘ + V to paste the file path from your clipboard.
  5. Click the Go button and you’ll be taken to the folder. If you’ve password-protected your folder, enter your password.

Consolidate your iTunes library

Once in your iTunes Media folder, look over your files. If you notice that the folder seems out of date or certain files are missing, don’t panic. Performing a quick consolidation should locate any missing media and add it to the folder. 

To consolidate your iTunes Library:

  1. Open iTunes and select File. Choose Library from the dropdown ➙ Organize Library.
  2. In the pop-up window, check the “Consolidate files” box. This will move all files used in your iTunes Library to your Media folder. For some, there’ll be an additional box available called Reorganize Files. If you’re able to select it, do. It will organize your iTunes Media folder automatically.
  3. Finish by clicking OK

iTunes consolidate library mac

When the consolidation is done, the pop-up window will close automatically.

Before you move on, check on the size of your library by right-clicking on your iTunes folder and selecting Get Info. You’ll want to make sure your external hard drive has enough space to hold your library.

How to back up iTunes to an external hard drive

Plug your external hard drive into a USB port on your Mac and open it in Finder. If this is a hard drive that already has files on it, right-click on it to select Get Info and make sure you have enough space to load your media library. 

Once you’re certain you have all your files in the iTunes Media folder and there’s space on your hard drive too, you’re ready for backing up.

Move your iTunes folder onto the external hard drive: 

  1. Quit iTunes
  2. Use Finder on Mac to open your external hard drive
  3. Find your iTunes folder. Open a new Finder window by right-clicking on the Finder icon and selecting New Finder Window. Follow the same file path you used to locate your iTunes folder before.
  4. Drag the iTunes folder (the whole folder, not just iTunes Media) and drop it onto the external hard drive window

For those with large libraries, this backup process could take a while. Don’t disconnect or shut down your computer while the files are being copied to the external hard drive. A loading bar will appear under the folder icon as it moves from your Mac to the external hard drive. When the process is done, the loading bar will disappear and you should then check the folder in your external hard drive to ensure it has been properly copied over.

Now you can safely eject your hard drive and unplug the USB. If you ever need to restore from iTunes backup, simply plug the hard drive back in and drag and drop your iTunes folder back onto your Mac.

Automatically back up or recover files

If the manual copy-paste process sounds a little arduous for regular maintenance, it’s because it kind of is. Anytime you make a purchase, your external backup will fall out of date and you’ll need to delete iTunes backup folder from your external hard drive and start from scratch. But regular backups are still worth it, as they will spare you from the heartbreak — and financial trouble — of losing your library

For those who aren’t interested in using (or don’t have) an external hard drive, there are some alternative (read better) options for backing up iTunes. 

Get Backup Pro is a professional-grade solution designed to withstand any hardware catastrophe. The app even syncs your backups, acting like an iTunes backup extractor, so anytime you add new music you won’t have to manually back up again at all:

  1. Open Get Backup Pro and select Synchronize in the top-left corner
  2. Connect your external hard drive
  3. At the top choose your iTunes Media folder and your hard drive. Make sure the arrow goes from your Mac to the external device.
  4. Click the play icon when ready. The syncs will start according to the schedule.
get backup pro files sync mac

Additionally, if you decide to forgo a local backup or if by accident you delete iTunes backup off your Mac, there’s no better recovery solution than Disk Drill, which can return nearly any kind of files back to life:

  1. Open Disk Drill to display all your drives (including external ones)
  2. Simply click Recover next to the affected disk to start the process
  3. Once the recovery is done, don’t forget to back up — taking chances with your precious media files is not the best strategy to follow! 

disk drill mac backup

Best of all, both Get Backup Pro and Disk Drill are ready to protect your iTunes library on a free 7-day trial on Setapp, a platform of more than 200 Mac apps that cover everything from getting rid of outdated system cache files to writing better prose. Now you can carry your music memories forever!

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