How to manage a huge iTunes Library

August 29, 2007 — 14 Comments

So you have 100,000 tracks in your library and now you can’t find anything? Here are some principles and practical ideas on how to manage and maintain a huge iTunes library…

Divide & Conquer

Make big changes and improvements, then fix the small problems later. Example: search for ‘Led Zeppelin’ and change the genre for all tracks to ‘Classic Rock’ (or whatever!). Depending on your library, you may have fixed the genre for a couple of hundred tracks… do this with ten of your biggest artists and you’ve made some progress!

Here’s another way of fixing big batches of tracks: use maintenance smart playlists to catch untagged stuff. Set up an Unrated (0 Star) Smart Playlist, and SPLs for tracks with no genre, no artist name, or no year. Here’s a good way to add year tags quickly: create an SPL for tags with no year, then type ’19’ (no quotes) in the search box. Chances are that most of the results will contain ’19’ because they have the year of issue in the album name or comments field. You can select and change the year quickly. Repeat with ‘200’ to get all the 21st century tracks. This type of trick won’t catch everything but it will save you googling release dates for some of your albums.

A general principle: organise your music based on the tags you’ve given it, instead of building a manual structure of Dumb Playlists. The only manual playlists you set up should be compilations… try to do everything with Smart Playlists – they are updated as your library changes.

Instead of fixing all the tags for each album in turn, focus on fixing a type of tag for lots of tracks in batches, which is much more efficient. For example, spend some time fixing the ‘Genre’ tag for a few thousand tracks, then work on fixing the ‘Year’ tag.

Develop different approaches for getting at the good stuff, or stuff you need to be reminded about. Try a Smart Playlist of 5 star tracks not played recently, or never played. Or 0-4 star tracks played lots that you could rate higher.

By the same token, bump down those tracks you always skip. iTunes now gives you access to a field called ‘Skip Count,’ so try a Smart Playlist with these Rules: Skip Count is greater than 3 and Rating is greater than 3. Select everything this Playlist finds and bump the rating down to 2 so you don’t see it as often.

You can also try automatic tools like MPFreaker to do batches of tagging for you, which can save time when your iTunes library is too big.

Tag your music well

Here’s some more tips around tagging:

Use downtime to tag and rate old stuff that gets lost. For example, rate music on your iPod. Also, get Quicksilver or Butler and set up shortcut keys for assigning ratings to your music while it’s playing. You can do this without interrupting the current app you’re using, and it’s a good way of rating stuff fairly transparently. You can also spend 10 minutes doing some tagging in downtime, this can really help bring your music into line.

Tag everything as it arrives. Set up a Smart Playlist called Recently Added – Date Added is in the last 7 days and My Rating is 0. Once you rate your new stuff it will drop out of the list.

Prune duplicate or too-similar genres so that the genre is a usable criterion in a smart playlist. I find that although I dislike categorising by genre, it is a really useful way of finding music you want… because my 5 star steel pole bathtub tracks from the early 1990s are quite different to my 5 star Aphex Twin from the same era and genre works well for telling them apart. If you’re into electronic music you might have dozens of genres. This is really a matter of taste but I like the idea of inclusive genres, so soul includes stuff that purists would argue is doo-wop, for example.

The end result of all this is that you impose a system on your music, then trust that system.

Find ways to make your iTunes library easier to manage in the long term

Do it with smart playlists as much as possible. The trick is that Smart Playlists need well-tagged tracks in order to be effective.

Automate where possible. Have a look around Doug’s Applescripts for iTunes, and use applescripts to save time editing tags etc.

Here’s a collection of iTunes template smart playlists I’d recommend as a start…

Other iTunes questions:

Who has the biggest iTunes Library?

The biggest iTunes Library that I know of is owned by one Will Friedwald, a music critic. See Interview: Will Friedwald, Owner Of The Worlds Largest iTunes Collection
Update 4 Nov 2012: Lee Brown claims to have a larger library than Will Friedman! 321,245 songs (without duplicates), 861 days, 1,123.30 GB. But bear in mind that those Friedman stats are from way back in 2007. Anyone know if he’s updated these numbers? Any other big libraries? And should we be asking for proof?

Check out some of the numbers people are claiming here. I want to see screenshots though: talk is cheap!

Any iTunes Library Maintenance Tips?

ITunes Library Maintenance tips:


  • Make sure the disk containing your iTunes Library Database and music files is de-fragmented.
  • If your library is in multiple places, consider consolidating the whole iTunes library to one place so you can easily back it up.
  • Obviously, make sure iTunes is fully updated.

By Jay Docherty


14 responses to How to manage a huge iTunes Library

  1. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Hi 🙂 These are all good comments,but I would love to have itunes be usable with a huge playlist. For me it really isn’t- it takes between 20seconds and a minute to bring the dialog box up after choosing “Get info” on a file….


  3. How big is your iTunes library? It sounds like it might be too big to fit in memory. If OSX has to page the library to disk, it will slow down. Here’s a few things you could try:

    -Get some more RAM
    -Make sure there’s a couple of gig free disk space on the drive where OSX is installed
    -Make sure the maintenance jobs get run, see

    Even a G4 should deal with a big iTunes Library ok if it has enough RAM, although one exception is when you have non-western characters in song titles etc. My old G4 used to slow right down when scrolling down a playlist with lots of Kanji titles. I haven’t had the same issue on my Intel iMac, which has more RAM.

    Anyway, good luck!

  4. Also for Windows try Dupe Eliminator for iTunes at

    If you’re like most iTunes users, you probably have dozens (if not hundreds) of duplicate songs cluttering your playlists, taking up valuable space on your hard drive, and generally causing you grief.

    Dupe Eliminator is an intuitive tool for Windows Vista and XP that removes all those duplicate files quickly and easily, including songs, movies, TV shows, podcasts and audiobooks.

    With Dupe Eliminator, you’ll never again have to manually slog through thousands of files looking for the tracks that play over and over again, or that maddening dead link to your favorite song that never works. Dupe Eliminator makes it simple to distinguish between a duplicate file and the original.

    Anyone who has amassed an extensive music collection knows how difficult it is to organize all those files by hand. Who has the patience to painstakingly go through their iTunes library and remove one by one every duplicate and dead file?
    Key Features of Dupe Eliminator

    * Smart Search: Smart searching allows you to precisely specify criteria for duplicates so that you never end up deleting something you wanted to save.
    * AutoClean Mode: Automatically clean your iTunes library without lifting so much as a finger.
    * Scheduled Search: Define a schedule for Dupe Eliminator to check your iTunes library when your at work, sleeping… whenever you want.
    * Audiobook Support: Eliminate your audiobook dupes.
    * Dead Tracks Eliminator: Get rid of those pesky tracks that never seem to play, as well as the “phantom” tracks that show up in your library but don’t actually exist on your hard drive.
    * Determine what you want to keep: Like having more than one track of a certain song? You can keep whatever you like, and you can specify which file stays as the original and which one is marked as the duplicate.
    * UnDelete: If you make a mistake, then use UnDelete to restore the removed track(s) back to iTunes.

    Who Needs Dupe Eliminator for iTunes?
    You do if you’ve ever:

    * Been frustrated by dead or duplicate tracks in your iTunes library.
    * Wanted a quick and efficient way to organize your music files.
    * Needed an option to organize your songs, videos, audiobooks, or podcasts.

  5. Damn it Markel!!!! Stop advertising your useless product. Itunes should include this crap with it!

  6. Thanks Jimmy…. Yes an app like this seems like overkill to me. I’ve never had a ‘dead’ track in my library. Duplicates are pretty well covered by various applescripts from Doug’s Scripts. I don’t keep audiobooks or videos in iTunes.

    I really think apple should create a kind of ‘Advanced mode’ in iTunes that lets you use regular expressions and run queries against your iTunes Library.

  7. how can i put different songs into the same album even though they aren’t a true album

  8. If you want them to show up as having the same Album name, choose the tracks and Get Info (On a Mac) or get the properties (probably Alt + Enter on Windows), then on the Info tab set the Album name. If you just want to group them, just drag them into a playlist. Cheers!

  9. Dividing is nice. How to do it though, is a real HEADACHE…

    If we could have two instances of iTunes, with two libraries, we could just drag and drop from one library to another, making the “synch with iPhone” library, and “the rest”. Unfortunately, I have not found a way to do that… yet. 🙁

  10. The easiest way of having two iTunes libraries seems to be to have two user accounts on your Mac, but then it’s hard to sync them and share files. I use Playlist Folders to limit what goes on my iPod, and that seems to work pretty well… cheers!

  11. My tips are simple: Correct as soon as you download. Use only artist names in playlists. Wikipedia and Musicbrainz are your friends, use them. Google images is also your friend in dealing with album artwork. That is all. No software, no compartmentalising into different areas to fix, just simple album by album correction and not letting the incorrect stuff pile up.

  12. It sounds like Will Friedwald has an extensive itunes library, but, I believe mine may be larger at 321,245 songs (without duplicates), 861 days, 1,123.30 GB. I also have a separate library of wave and vbr in my WMP Library of over 560GB.

    Lee Brown
    Daytona Beach

  13. Wow. Mine is still only at 21,659 songs, around 60 days. Around 4000 of them are unplayed! Just out of curiosity, are you all over the map musically or really into a particular kind of music? And I’m curious to know how well iTunes is performing? My own experience that in the last few years iTunes has become much more responsive in browsing my library even as it gets bigger.

    I’ve updated the article with your library info. Cheers!

  14. Very good information. Lucky me I recently found your
    site by accident (stumbleupon). I’ve saved it for later!

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