OS X based approaches for managing large (>1TB) music library?
June 13, 2015 10:00 PM   Subscribe

I use iTunes on a MacBook Pro, and my music library will soon be large enough that it won't fit on my local HD. On top of that, I'll likely be adding another Mac to my home network, and would like to share the library between them.

The Apple solution involves just moving the entire library onto an external drive and pointing iTunes at that external drive. However, I want to be able to access at least some of my library even when the external drive isn't connected, so I don't really see this as a viable solution for me.

From the limited thinking I've done so far, my ideal solution would be if iTunes could act as a sync target in addition to a sync source. I'm envisioning having a "master" library stored on some drive, and having iTunes on multiple machines being able to sync some subset of the master library onto their local drives (and then be able to sync iOS devices against 1+ of those machines, based on whatever subset of the master library was present). Another way to say it is that I want to be able to treat a computer w/ iTunes as though it were an iPod; just let me specify what part of my library I want on it. I would be fine with having to be connected to the master library in order to make any changes (metadata, adding/deleting tracks, etc), rather than managing n-way sync of updates.

I get that this is a pipe dream, but it's the best way I can think of to describe what I'd like to be able to do. In point form, I'm looking to:

1) Keep a master music library on a high capacity "external" drive.
2) Cache subsets of that library on the local drives of individual machines (OK if it's for playback only)
3) Sync subsets of that library to iOS devices.

While I would prefer to stick with iTunes, I am open to alternative solutions if they are robust enough and meet the above requirements. My understanding is that "syncing to iOS devices" pretty much demands iTunes, so I figure I'm at least stuck with iTunes in some form, but if there's a solution that involves iTunes + some 3rd party software, that would be fine.
posted by kanuck to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Would iTunes Match be a solution for you? I don't have that much music, but I like to keep free space on my phone so I only download the actual files of songs I'd want access to if I weren't in a wifi zone and the rest I iCloud-stream.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:12 PM on June 13, 2015

iTunes Match can only go up to 25,000 songs. It (and iTunes itself) won't work well with a large library.
posted by bink at 10:29 PM on June 13, 2015

Swinsian might work for you. There's a free trial available from that link I just posted. And maybe consider storing your files in the cloud, as hal_c_on suggested. I use iDrive and really like it (5GB free, $45.00 for 1TB, $75.00 for 250GB per year). You can make different playlists and keep them organized in any folder structure you want. Between Swinsian and iDrive, you might be all set.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 12:23 AM on June 14, 2015

I'm not aware of any way way to treat an iTunes instance as a sync target.

Will the new Mac on your home network have enough space to hold the entire library, and be permanently attached & powered on? If so, you could just put the entire library on the new Mac and then use library sharing to play back from the big library through iTunes on the MBP when you're home, and manually manage what tunes are loaded on the MBP.
posted by russm at 2:26 AM on June 14, 2015

Just a quick point of clarity: when you refer to 'library' do you mean the iTunes library which holds all your playlists and ratings, or do you mean the big folder where all the files are stored? They are two separate things, and depending on which you want to share will have a big impact on possible solutions.

First of all, you need to deal with The 'big folder where the files are stored' i.e. the terabytes of files currently stored in ~\Music\iTunes\iTunes Media. I copied this over to a Synology NAS, and the NAS folder where the music is stored is mounted by OSX (there are some caveats with multiple users/fast user switching which may not apply in your situation) and iTunes then points to this folder. Without changing anything else, this should get the music off your local machine. There are a number of tutorials out there - I set this up a few years ago, so I'd have to dig around to see what the useful references are.
You can follow a similar set up on each machine so that they point to the same music source, but they'd have their own local library files containing the metadata - play counts, ratings, playlists, etc. - they wouldn't be synchronised automatically. Another thing to bear in mind is that music added by one machine will not automatically show up in the library of the other, you need to manually add it (note: there's an iTunes setting so that the music files are not copied across - they stay on the NAS, but the local library is updated with a reference to the new music).

If you want something where whichever machine you sign in to, you can see exactly the same iTunes data (i.e. you can update playlists, counts, ratings on one machine, and when you log into the other machine, it will automatically show these changes) then you need something else too.
In this case, you need your iTunes Library files (from ~\Music\iTunes) to be moved onto a shared network drive (conceivably the same iTunes folder on the NAS). This doesn't support multiple users accessing the library at the same time, so you'd need to make sure you've exited iTunes on one machine before connecting on the other.
posted by Chunder at 2:48 AM on June 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here's what I do:

1. A subset of the library on the local machine.

2. The entire collection on an external drive - a 2TB drive these days is like $100.

Then, then launch iTunes, hold down the Option key - this will allow you to choose which drive/library.

This works for me.
posted by parki at 4:10 AM on June 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a terabyte drive connected to a machine that I use as a server, and I set up Subsonic. My solution may not be what you're looking for, because part of my goal was to get at my music collection from work.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:33 AM on June 14, 2015

If you decide to go the external disk drive route, I'd recommend highly one of the various Western Digital My Passport portable external hard drives. They are inexpensive, quite reliable (in my experience), come with many features (hardware encryption) but best of all, they run off of USB power, ie, there is only one cable for data and power, none of this futzing around with a USB cable and a separate power cable w/ yet another wall wart power supply. Note: for OSX you'll probably want to reformat the drive - instructions on how to do so are not hard to find via Google. I "upgraded" an older MacBook by simply using Velcro to attach one of these things to the computer lid; haven't had a single problem in almost two years of use.

The Usual Disclaimers, YMMV, etc.
posted by doctor tough love at 8:51 AM on June 14, 2015

I'll second the recommendation for the Western Digital My Passport external drive. I have a couple of them (all still functioning, I just like to have multiple hard copy back ups), and I've found them to be really reliable and convenient. I also ordered this case from Amazon. For $5, it's a good way to keep them protected.
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:10 PM on June 14, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas so far! Right now it appears that for the kinds of scenarios I'm interested in, I'll be best served by some way of managing multiple iTunes libraries (i.e. both multiple .itl files and multiple copies of the actual media files, where there are "master" versions along with copies on various machines/devices). Cloud-based solutions are not out of the question, but I need to clearly understand how they work in terms of offline/cached access and syncing between clients (e.g. issues with shared concurrent access to .itl files), and so far it seems to be a bit messy.

I'm researching SuperSync right now, and it's looking promising. What I'm envisioning:

1) maintain a "master" iTunes library (.itl and media files) on some large fixed storage (maybe a NAS, maybe just a big external HD). Use iTunes on any computer against that library when managing my "full collection".
2) maintain a "client" iTunes library on each computer, where the .itl and media are stored on that machine's local drive. These are the libraries that I would typically use when using those computers: listening to media (including updating ratings and playcounts) and syncing to iOS devices. Periodically use Supersync to define/maintain these client libraries as subsets of the master library. I'm hoping that it will help my sync changes like ratings/playcounts made in the client libraries back to the master.
posted by kanuck at 12:11 PM on June 14, 2015

Hey, when you go through with this, can you update on what you ended up choosing? I'm in the same position, and have a Synology Play, and the current iTunes setup makes it a pain in the ass to shift over to Synology's iTunes server setup, so I want to hear more about what you're doing. From browsing around, it seems like someone who actually has this much music and wants to be able to use it regularly (rather than just a torrent box or archive) is also on a mac and dealing with the new, dumb iTunes designs.
posted by klangklangston at 10:57 AM on September 11, 2015

« Older Splitting, speeding up M4A audio file on a Mac   |   Bedside Reading Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.