Using iTunes to backup your music

UPDATE (9.12.06): This procedure, written in June of 2005, is no longer necessary. Apple released iTunes 7.0 today, and it has a similar function built right in. See this post for more info.

Library backup with iTunes

A few weeks ago there was a tip floating around various blogs I monitor about using iTunes to backup your music library. It’s a very efficient method because iTunes will automatically burn the backup across multiple CDs or DVDs. I decided to do my own version of the tip, including a handy way to do subsequent backups, without having to manually track what you’ve already archived. 

Data CD

1. Change your iTunes “Burning” preference to “Data CD or DVD”. Access the preferences under the iTunes pulldown menu. 

Playlist - All

2. Now we need to make a playlist that holds your entire library. We’ll use this playlist to burn the files to CD/DVD. My personal situation may be unique because I wanted to exclude certain tracks from being backed up. I have a Griffin iTrip, and I don’t want to backup my iTrip stations (small audio files in my Library). I also don’t want to backup any music from a stock music collection I have. My solution is to make a smart playlist that excludes these items. All other songs in my library are automatically added to the playlist. You can use this method to exclude any songs that you don’t want to backup. If you want to backup everything, you can simply create a new regular playlist and drag everything from your library in to it. 

Playlist - Burn

3. Once you have your playlist setup, containing all the songs you want to backup, simply pop-in a blank CD or DVD and click burn. The great thing about this method is iTunes will automatically segment the burn into multiple CDs or DVDs (I personally needed 5 DVDs). You don’t have to do anything special, when one disc is done, iTunes will spit it out and ask for the next one. The music will be burned onto the discs in alphabetical order, in folders labeled with band and album names.

UPDATE: This portion has been updated to include more information about how the disc is burned… “the layout of the backup discs depends on how the playlist is sorted when you burn it. Sort by artist – you get a bunch of artist folders. Sort by album – you get a bunch of album folders. Sort by song – everything is at the root level, with file names mangled to make them unique.” Thanks go out to Max, who left this in the comments.

Playlist - New

4. Now, you’re going to be adding more music to your library at some point, right? You don’t want to have to backup everything again do you? Tracking new additions to your library is a snap. Simply create a new smart playlist, with a rule to only include tracks added after the date of your backup (I backup up mine on 6/8/05). Only music added to your library after that date will be put into the playlist. The next time you want to make a backup, simply burn this playlist to CD/DVD, and then change the date in your rule to your new backup date. 

Playlist - Other Files

5. You could stop there. You have a complete backup of your music, and a way of tracking new music added. But if you were to have a meltdown, and lost your library on your computer, you would want to be able to restore it to the exact condition it was in at the time of loss, including all of your playlists. In order to do that you would want to backup 2 additional files… “iTunes Library” and “iTunes Music Library.xml”. They are located in ~/Music/iTunes/. These small data files contain all the info about your library and playlists. In case of loss, you would reinstall iTunes, drag all the files from your backup discs back onto iTunes to import them, and then replace the new versions of these 2 files with your archived copies. You only need to do this step to recover your playlists. You don’t need them to simply recover your music.

114 thoughts on “Using iTunes to backup your music”

  1. this is just what i was looking for. i was worried that since my collection is so large that i would be too lazy to do this. and i can’t afford a new hard drive but i sure can afford a bunch of blank dvd’s.

    my only question is if this will strip the drm off of my songs i bought off itunes. i have over a hundred songs from itunes but when i backed only those up (not my entire library) the drm was still there.

  2. my only question is if this will strip the drm off of my songs i bought off itunes.

    Nope, it won’t. The DRM will still be there. This method is the same as if you had backed up the music from the Finder… it’s just easier to keep organized through iTunes..

  3. jojoko – When backed up as “data”, the DRM does indeed get retained. Only when burned as audio files on a CD, does the DRM disappear.

  4. Nice writeup. I have a 200GB Drive full of my CD collection, so technically I already have a backup. I can use teh playlist trick though!

  5. Why would yo not just run a normal incrimental backup of your entire system? Why depend on some iTunes kluge when you need to back up your system anyways.

    Try using the many free and commerical aps out their. On the free side (Mac) I use SilverKepper by Lacie and on the bought side ($30) I use SuperDUper (Mac)

    Every day I auto backup the changed files on my system. I have recovered many times without issue. I have a serious concern that you do not currently backup as well.

    It is not too late if you start now.

  6. Using iTunes to backup your music library to CD or DVD is great as long as you’re the type who plans in advance- what if you’ve already lost your music? If you have an iPod, you already have a backup of your music – your iPod is your backup. Except that iTunes won’t let you move the music library from your iPod back to another computer. Backstage is a program that does just that- quickly and easily letting you copy the music from your iPod to any Mac or Windows pc. You can purchase a license key that unlocks both the Mac and PC vesions for $9.99 at

  7. A very simple method, yet oh so effective. Thanks for the heads up. I appreciate it.

    On an aside, I will likely be needing about 9 or 10 DVDs.

  8. “I have a serious concern that you do not currently backup as well.”

    Thanks for your concern, neo :)
    I actually do daily drive backups also. I use the CD/DVD method to permanently archive my music… just in case.

  9. FYI senuti will also let you grab your music from the ipod. DRM is still intact.. but unlike Backstage – senuit is free – for the mac only though.

  10. “Using this approach, what modifications are necessary to back-up to an external HD?”

    Sorry, I don’t know of a way to use this approach with an external drive… as iTunes isn’t really set up to do that. I would reccomend Apple’s ‘BackUp’ (part of .Mac), or SuperDuper!. They can both do incremental backups.

  11. I don’t believe that iTunes could back up to a external HDD unless you could trick Mac OS X in to thinking it was a big blank CD/DVD.

    If you have an external drive you could always just use ChronoSync ( or Apple’s own Backup application if you have a .Mac account.

  12. Nice & simple technique – thanks for sharing. If you have the opportunity to back up to a separate HD and operate on XP, then the free MS power toy SyncToy does a great job of synchronizing your music library with a backup.

  13. Another option for backing up your music is to use MP3tunes and get an online music locker. For $39.95 per year you can backup your entire music library very simply. Just run the Oboe Sync software and it copies all your itunes music AND playlists to your online locker.

    There are real advantages to an Oboe locker from MP3tunes:

    – You can backup the music on ALL your computers. Just run Oboe Sync on your home/work/laptop.
    – Oboe Sync backs up all your playlists not just your musi. I HATE losing playlists.
    – Oboe Sync syncs all your music so everyone of your computers will have all your music.
    – You can access your entire music collection from a webpage and view, play and organize your music.
    – If you add new music or playlists, just run Oboe Sync again and it will only copy the new files and playlists.
    – Even if your computer is stolen, broken or whatever your music is safe.
    – There is unlimited storage for the 39.95/yr plus no bandwidth fees whatsoever.

    There’s some great screenshots at:

  14. I tried this method to back up a group of Apple Lossless files onto 3 DVD-Rs. However, the files were not stored in folders. Instead, they all appeared in the root directory, labelled as xxx Track Name.m4a where xxx is a sequential number corresponding to the numbering within the iTunes playlist the discs were burned from.

    I’m using Windows XP, with “Keep iTunes Music Folder Organised” disabled, and my libary is on an SMB share.

  15. Why would you buy software to restore your music library from an iPod when you can do it quite easily for free, there are instructions all over the web. Thanks for the spam.

  16. IANAL, but as I understand it technically it is ILLEGAL to cirvumvent the “access control device” that is the hidden folder structure on an ipod (see ). So WidgetFab is charging $10 for a product that is in violation of the DMCA… I wonder how long that will last. In any case, it certainly isn’t worth paying for, as there are lots of free programs that do the same thing: (sorry brian, but I guess those crazy price-fixing free software zealots are undermining your business model ;-)

  17. Regarding AndyW’s problem: the layout of the backup discs depends on how the playlist is sorted when you burn it. Sort by artist – you get a bunch of artist folders. Sort by album – you get a bunch of album folders. Sort by song – everything is at the root level, with file names mangled to make them unique.

  18. Hello,
    Your blog on backing up music files with iTunes was quoted today on, and I thought you ought to know that I found it VERY useful. As I write this, I am backing up my 9.9GB of music and it’s much easier than my old method of manually backing up directories.

    So, THANKS A BUNCH!!!!

  19. Thanks for the post. I had seen this originally in the iTunes Help Section. It’s amazing that so many users, myself included, would have never thought of it!!!

    Thanks again!

  20. It could be possible to backup to an external HD by creating a virtual DVD drive, mount an ISO to that and burn to that image. I haven’t tried it but that could be one way.

    Innovative way to backup music btw. Of course, this relies on a user doing the backup operation manual, which IMHO, isn’t the most reliable one. How many of you manually do backups of data?

  21. Someone mentioned it earlier, but I want to say again, that if you’re using Windows XP, download the free program SyncToy to backup your precious files to an external harddrive or networked drive. That is much simpler than using iTunes, and you can backup anything, not just music.

    I wouldn’t trust a DVD as my only backup of anything important.

  22. Does this method save the playcounts of songs? I have found that backing up the 2 library files does not and I am still searching for a method that preserves this information. I know playcount may seem kind of petty but I use it extensively in making Smart Playlists. Great tutorial.

  23. @Bjarte – I wouldn’t trust a harddrive as my only backup of anything important! HDs fail quite frequently and are in fact rated by how long they will last, on average, before failing. DVDs kept properly are an excellent way to back up data in my opinion.

  24. What if I need to delete files after burning them? I have a 100 DVDs collection and only 80G hard drive. Renaming iTunes library every time by hand is not very clean solution…

  25. Andreas, I’m not sure if this works as well with iPhoto or not. Theoretically it does, but I’ve been meaning to test it. It’s on my list :)

  26. If I’m using an external DVD burner that burns Dual Layer [DVD +R DL] will I be able to backup to DL media or will it only burn 4.7gb to the DL disks? With over 40gb of music, videos and podcasts it would be nice if I can keep disk to a minimum.

  27. Dunno about you lot, but with 85 Gigs of music i can’t really be expected to use DVDs…

    For PC users [ like Me :( ] there’s the great option of SuperFlexibleFileSynchroniser, which works with DVDs but is also great for me as i can back up everything to an external hard drive… iTunes is great, but its such a hog when you have loads of music that it just isn’t worth the wait.

    WinAmp all the way. ;)

  28. Nice read, Thanks.
    I burned a cd from a playlist. the song titles and artist did not come across. what did I do wrong? the songs were purchased from itunes

  29. LarryInAz – I don’t have a Dual Layer DVD burner to test, but theoretically, if iTunes recognizes the burner, it should be able to burn to the full capacity. A quick test should give you the answer.

    George – It shouldn’t matter that the songs were bought from iTunes (a lot of mine were too). Did you select “Data CD or DVD” in your Burning preferences (from step #1)?

  30. Thanks for the reply.. I do believe I did check Data CD but could not swear to it. I will try again and make sure.
    Thank you again

  31. so, how exactly do i download my iTunes library from my computer to my 60gb Ipod????

    try and try as i do, i’m unable to do this.


  32. Adophius66 – I’m a little confused by your question… To transfer music from your computer to your iPod, you just plug it in and launch iTunes. The transfer should start automatically. Are you receiving some sort of error?

  33. This was exactly what i wanted and now i will never have the trouble of loosing music again!

    Thx m8

    Yours sincerely


  34. I have 30GB iTunes…recently i switched to a different computer and reinstall the software for the Ipod…all of my existing songs are showing when i plug the ipod in, but then i cannot add anymore songs unless i have to delete every single songs i have…how can i prevent this? i don’t want to restart this whole process again…Please help. thank you.


  35. Kayla – Unfortunately, iPods are only capable of syncing with one computer. If you load all of your music onto your iPod from computer A, and then plug your iPod into computer B, computer B will erase everything on the iPod, and replace it with the music you have stored on compuet B. Do you still have your old computer? You need to transfer your music from your old computer to your new computer, and then sync with the new computer.

  36. Brilliant! I also find that iTunes on windows loses my .xml library files occasionally. Nothing sucks like trying to recreate playlists.

    I found this site that has a simple old school .bat file which you can get windows to periodically run to create copies of the .xml files.

  37. No-one mentioned that unchecked iTunes songs will NOT be burned. That totally messes up easy backups of playlists.

  38. Have downloaded my CD collection onto iTunes and want them to remain MP3’s when recorded onto blank CD,s to listen to in auto or portable CD player. Does changing preferences to Data CD/DVD ensure that they will remain MP3’s and not be converted to WAV format when burned on iTunes?

  39. Freejoy, changing the prefs to Data CD/DVD will burn the files on to the discs as the same format as you have them on your computer. If the files are mp3 on your computer, they will still be mp3 on the disc. Of course, your portable CD player will have to be able to play mp3. Using this method doesn’t make an audio CD, it’s just data… just like burning other types of documents on to a CD, like Word, or PDF files, etc…

  40. My iTunes doesn’t show a DVD choice for backing up the files but I have an internal dual layer DVD drive. What do I need to do?


  41. Michael, if you go into your iTunes preferences, what is shown under “burning”? It doesn’t have “Data CD or DVD”, as shown in the image for step #1?

  42. on the pictures above it has a burn icon next to search. on my itunes, next to the search button is browse. how am i supposed to burn my library to a cd is what i need to know.

  43. pascale, when you select the playlist (in the sidebar) that you want to burn, the browse icon changes to a burn icon. See step #2 in the article from more info on creating the playlist.

  44. Great post. I am currently trying to back up all my songs and was disapointed to see that the song info did not come over onto the burned disks. I will have to try the CD backup option as you suggested and see how that works. Thanks.


    I’ve been stressing about backing up my library because my computer must be repaired and I will likely lose the contents of my drive.

    Advice has been ineffective but your explanations (and comments from posters) helped A LOT. Now I’ll have to think of something else to stay up late and worry about!

    Thanks again….and again and again. :)

  46. Can I change a long audiobook to MP3 format and burn using iTunes? I’ve created a playlist and attempted to burn the book. My attempts have brought the response, “Only files already in the MP3 format can be burned to an Mp3 CD”

  47. This is great information. I downloaded 150 songs onto a regular cd last night and understand that dvd’s can hold more info. How many appox. songs can a DVD hold? I have 14700 songs in itunes to back up. thanks.

  48. “How many appox. songs can a DVD hold?”

    The number of songs a DVD can hold would heavily depend on what format / bitrate they are. For instance, a song encoded as Apple Lossless is much larger than a song bought from iTunes (128kbps AAC). With that many songs I would definitely use DVD, and just let iTunes use as many DVDs as it needs. That’s the beauty of this method… iTunes will automatically span multiple discs. Have fun!

  49. Thanks so much Paul, but I am trying to find out how many DVD’s to buy. Lets say on a regulay average..? How many songs does a DVD hold at a(128kbps AAC). 200? -650????

    I’m excited to start using this amazing new tool and not having to worry about drive failure.


  50. iTunes Library size

    I should have mentioned this in my first reply… the easiest way to tell how many DVDs you’ll need is to open iTunes and select the library (in the left column, above your playlists). At the bottom of the iTunes window, you’ll have the totals for your library, giving total number of items, number of hrs/days of play time, and total size in GigaBytes. For example, mine says “7390 items, 20.9 days, 62.67 GB”. The last number is what you want to look at. In my case it was 62.67 GB. A DVD will hold roughly 4.5 GB, so I would need roughly 14 DVDs to do a full backup of my entire library.

    When checking the size of your library, make sure not to have any specific genre, artist, or album selected (the columns across the top). You’ll want to have “all” selected (top of lists).

    Also, keep in mind that the totals represent your entire library, including videos, podcasts, etc… Using the methods mentioned above, for making a smart playlist, you can filter out items you don’t want included. Then select your smart playlist in the list, and the totals given at the bottom of the window will reflect that playlist only.

    Hope that helps.

  51. Alright, any help is appreciated…I am almost computer illiterate…

    I went out and bought a 120G external hard drive to store my music on. In theory, I was hoping to be able to keep it all on there and remove it from my laptop to free up space. I was also hoping to be able to continue importing new music to the new external drive. From reading the above posts, it looks like my theory was wrong.

    Is this the case? Can I not export all my music to this external drive and run iTunes as I have been from this drive? Regarding hard drive space, my little iBook G4 will not be able to hold my cd collection.

    What’s the solution? Thanks in advance…

  52. i don’t know if this has anything to do wiht it or not but i have decided to postpone updating to iTunes 7 until i am confident that the bugs have been resolved. i want to back up my library using this data burning method. i have 20GB in my music library. i have a dvd player in my computer but not a dvd burner. am i correct in thinking that a dvd will hold more info and if so can i burn a dvd as a data disc to back up my library or do i need a dvd burner to do that ? do i need to use only cd’s ? thanks for any input.

  53. Brian, you are correct… a DVD will hold more than a CD, but you’ll need a DVD burner to create a data DVD. If your computer doesn’t have a DVD burner, you’ll need to backup your music to CD (or an external hard drive).

  54. thanks paul for the quick response to what i know some reading this thread will think a stupid question. i thought that was the case but thought it couldn’t hurt to ask and might save some time and space if i was wrong. thanks again,

  55. quick noob question, after i back up my data using what was in the article, do i have to set my ipod to manual update? my hard drive on my pc is 70 gb, and my ipod is now 80, so after i burn the data discs can i delete some songs out of my library, but still have my ipod know where they are? or do i just set it to manual?

  56. Wilson, If you delete the songs from your library, they will be removed from your iPod the next time you sync (even on manual update). There’s no real way around that. The backup method described here is really meant as an archive of your music, for safe-keeping, incase you were to ever have a hard drive failure.

  57. thanks for the info and wow, i had no idea, i thought manual update left whatever was on your ipod completely alone. so i guess the only options i have are permanently deleting the tracks or getting a bigger hard drive..?

  58. One additional question, can television shows on dvd be successfully converted into .mp4 or just movies. in other words, can different episodes show up on the ipod, or is this mainly just for long intact files.

  59. Yep, in addition to movies, you can rip your DVDs of TV shows. Each episode is its own .mp4 file.

    For the Mac my favorite (free) tool is Handbrake. I’ve never done it on a PC, so I don’t have a software recommendation.

  60. Hi. I want to copy my entire iTunes library (Mac) to my work computer (PC). Can I do this using the backup discs? Thanks so much for your advice!

  61. yo how i get free music all these web sites keep sending me madd places but is not helping me get my music on 2 my mpe wat do i do
    thank u 4 trying 2 help me

  62. I am tying to make up my itune Video files onto a DVD. Itunes keeps going to my CD burner instead of the DVD burner where I have inserted the DVD to burn to.

    I have highlited my DVD Burner in Preferances but the command never seems to stick.

    How do I get Itunes to burn my purchased TV Shows to my Memorex DVD Writer?

  63. the only annoying part about doing it this way is that the data dvd that gets burned adds a number to each artist’s folder. at least on a mac it does…
    so if you were to copy those files back over to your computer, those directories would get copied over with the numbers…ugh

  64. also, the songs you don’t have checked to sync (all those extras that don’t fit on your ipod) won’t make it to the DVD.

  65. Hi,
    I was wonder why it is that I can’t burn a blank cd, using itunes, with songs that I downloaded, into the itunes, from winamp. When I press the burn cd button a message pops up saying, ” None of the items in this playlist can be burned to disc. Can you please help me out?!

  66. Will this method of backing up work if I want to transfer my itunes library from my tired old PC to my fast new slick imac? (I do realize I will need to reformat the ipod)

  67. Will the backing up of my music files also save my play count? I use playcount in various ways of organizing my music.

  68. I have cmpleted the process (using itunes version 6 by the way) and it worked great. I moved all the music from my PC to the mac. the playcount and ratings were not saved. I don not know whethr those things would be saved by using the new backup feature in itunes ver 7.

  69. i just burned many many cds for every album and now im finding that i cant import them back into itunes? wat the hell is going on ?

  70. Anthony, can you be more specific?

    I’m assuming you burned the CDs as files, as outlined in this tutorial, and not as audio CDs, right?

    If that’s the case, you should be able to just drag the files onto iTunes to reimport them. You would not use the standard import feature, as that is for converting your audio CDs to mp3. You files should already be mp3s.


    PLz i NEED HELP.


  72. I want to backup my iTunes music to DVDs. I currently have iTunes version Last time I tried it would not save my playlists (and each song was often hidden under 3 or more folders). I would like to have all the songs saved under the playlists as the folders, with artist and song name written in each mp3 file, and all in mp3 format. What is the best way to accomplish this. I am hesitant to upgrade to newer iTunes software because none of my music is currently backed up but I will if this is the only means. Thank you in advance.

  73. I backed up my music with itunes, cannot remember version but it was in August, 06 through the itunes backup menu. I now am trying to import my music, instructions say, just put in CD to import music. Well, I do that and nothing happens except the folder opening for the directory where the music is stored. To give you an example of the file names, they all look like this, MYMUSI~1… double clicking on each file to import is becoming tedious and we are talking about 3 dvd’s worth of songs. I also see this information on the first backup dvd in a readme: The backup information file (*.nbi) is stored in the root of the last backup disc. This file is needed for restoring or continuing the backup. I have nero and it is not restoring for me. Any hints? Win xp, sp2, itunes

  74. Ok, sometimes I need to think outloud and read slooowly. After reading what I pasted in my last comment, I installed my 3rd DVD and noticed the NBI file in reference. Hmmm, I clicked, it started a restore process for me and asked for disc one. So far it is working, to thermoguy, I notice all types of formats, WMA, mp4, mp3 and it seems to be working. I will update you and let you know if this was a charm. Next I would like to try anapod explorer and see how that works.

  75. This is a pretty clever way to keep tabs on what to backup (as far as your music goes) if you use iTunes. Personally, I’m going to get this thing setup tonight

  76. Ok I need help. I burned songs from some cds I have into my iTunes libary but how in the world do I get them from my libary to my ipod i dont know how to sync it or whatever please help me

  77. for all you digital music people, just wanted to let you know bout this crazy new site,…..
    basically, you can get your music on iTunes & all these other digital/online music stores & you get to keep 100% of the profits!! we just used it to put up some songs, and its the greatest, easiest thing ever- and i dont need a record deal!

  78. as for tunecore- I just found out a way to get 5 songs uploaded to itunes for free. Guitar center was doing this promotion for memorial day where you just go to – set up a free account and then enter the code “Guitarcenter” when they ask for you to check out and you get the 5 songs for free. it was supposed to be a memorial day celebration, but the offer doesn’t expire for like 2 years! TuneCore is supposed to be really good for getting your music up in online stores, its worth checking out.

  79. I just bought an external DVD recorder to play DVDs and burn them on to my iPod (80GB) but everytime i try to use videora on my windows XP only 23 minutes of the video goes into a file. I’m not sure if it is the DVD decrypter or videora or my computer. I can only get to the DVD via my E: drive. So please help me figure out how to download DVDs onto my iPod.

  80. Justind, I work on a Mac so I’ve never used vidora, but you may want to give Handbrake a try. It started as a Mac-only application, but they make a Windows version now too.

    If Handbrake doesn’t work, I’m not sure what to suggest. Some DVDs are hard to rip due to new copy protection.

  81. Question…
    can I use this method to simply move my old music files from my PC at home to my college computer without messing up the order or configuration of my new itunes?

  82. any chance of grabbing copies of your dvd’s….i didnt do a back up…..lost everything when hard drive blew….

    any help appreicated

  83. Hi all,

    I have a great concern. ALL of my music is stored in itunes on the hard drive (100s of songs) and a back them up onto multiple data DVDs.

    Due to computer problems i have wiped my hard drive a few times. No problem so far, as i just upload my music back onto the hard drive from the DVDs after re-installing windows. But there is a limit on how many times you can do this. What happens when you run out of times??!! Will i lose all my music?

  84. Using iTunes to backup your music library to CD or DVD is great as long as you’re the type who plans in advance- what if you’ve already lost your music? If you have an iPod, you already have a backup of your music – your iPod is your backup.

  85. Maybe because you cannot transfer the music from your iPod back to your computer is a reason an iPod is not a form of backup.

  86. i got a home computer and a laptop i need the songs from my hme computers itunes onto my laptop how do i do this?

  87. Today when I synced my Nano. Now, a large number of songs are missing in the iTunes library. The songs are still on the Nano. When I tried to sync again to put the songs from the Nano into the library it did not work. Any idea what’s going on?

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