I like using iTunes for Mac, but I don’t like keeping all my music on my local disk. When you have a 128 GB MacBook and are juggling several games with a Windows VM for jailbreak articles, it gets cramped.
So, I found a way to keep my music files stored on my external hard drive. I can keep everything I need over there without having to clutter up the onboard storage. The downside, of course, is needing to plug in the drive whenever you want to access the files, but that’s part of the setup here.
How to Transfer Your iTunes Library to an External Drive
The first step is to make sure all your files are in one place. Ironically, this step will tax your local hard drive even more, depending on how much stuff is stored on your machine but not within the library folders.
Open iTunes and go to File > Library > Organize Library… and open the box of options. Check the first box asking if you want to consolidate the iTunes library files.
This will copy files from different places on your hard drive into the iTunes library folder structure. If you don’t want to do this, then you’ll have to manually chase down the folders for the next step.
Next, quit iTunes. You’ll confuse it if it’s open.
Now, Open the Music folder on your Mac and find the iTunes folder (side note: This all applies for Windows as well). Copy that, subfolders and all, to the external drive.
Now, hold down the Option (alt) key and open iTunes. It’ll ask you if you want to choose a library. Select “Choose Library” and navigate to your external drive in the file picker. Select that and iTunes will learn to always look there for content.
How to undo all that
To swap your iTunes library back onto your regular PC hard drive, repeat the same steps as above but copy the iTunes folder from the external drive back where you found it in Music.
Using Apple Match
Of course, there is an alternative in iTunes Match. You can stop futzing around with local storage and pay Apple to upload your music to the cloud. Streaming stuff down is a little easier than plugging in an external hard drive whenever you want to listen to music.
(Just be ready for some jailbreak articles with Apple trying to figure out which song is which).
Ultimately, all this is sort of an edge use case. It also takes a while to move stuff over to an external hard drive. I didn’t think I had that much in my iTunes library until I tried to copy 12 GB of apps and comic books through USB.
Really, you should only use this solution if you don’t have access to a cloud alternative. There’s always Google Play Music, right?
Further Reading: How to Manage the Limited Storage Space on Mac and Make More of it