iTunes Tip: Back Up Your Media Files

I can’t tell you how many emails I get from people who have lost their iTunes libraries and don’t have backups. The most common question I get is, “How do I copy music from my iPod/iPhone back to my computer?” There are any number of apps that can do this. The one I’ve used for years is Senuti, a $19 app that can copy any or all of your iTunes library back to your Mac.

Unfortunately, backing up your iTunes library isn’t simple any more. Up through iTunes 10, there was a backup feature built into iTunes. You’d choose File > Library > Back Up to Disc, and you could back up your content to DVDs. iTunes was smart enough to know what you’d backed up, and the next time, it would only back up what’s new or changed. But with iTunes 11, Apple removed that feature; no doubt because they’d prefer that you keep everything in the cloud, using iTunes Match for your music, and buying all your videos from the iTunes Store. (And because new Macs don’t have optical drives any more.)

Since there’s no longer such a feature in iTunes, it’s up to users to do it themselves. I back up my iTunes library to Time Machine, and run another backup, to a different hard drive, nightly. So I have three copies of my iTunes library at any time. This came in handy recently, when I was moving some music from my main library to a second library, and not all of the files copied; I was able to get them from my Time Machine backup. Here’s my music library:


And my iTunes Media folder, which includes videos and apps:


I’ve also got a second library (currently 382 GB), and a folder of files that I’ve moved to another disk with TuneSpan (170 GB), and a folder of live music (300 GB) so altogether, that makes about 2 TB. It’s not cheap to maintain this library and its backups – I need multiple hard drives – but think how much it would cost in money and time if you have a large iTunes library like me and lost it. While you can re-download much of your purchased music – anything you’ve bought from the iTunes Store, from Amazon, and from certain other vendors and labels – you’d need to re-rip a lot of CDs and DVDs.

So for peace of mind, back up your iTunes library. If you use a Mac, and don’t know how to back up it, check out Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac for tips and pointers on different apps to back up all your files. At a minimum, you should use Apple’s Time Machine; just buy a big external hard drive and connect it to your Mac. Time Machine automatically backs up all your files.