November 12, 2011, 8:04 AM — As computers have become more affordable and taken on increasingly important tasks in our lives, it's common to have more than one of them on the premises. While it's terrific that family members and co-housers needn't line up to use a single computer, things can get confusing when you have media scattered among a group of computers that everyone would like access to.
This is exactly the situation I faced. Many computers; dabs of media here, larger dollops there; and no really solid scheme for making it available to all the devices I own. Having finally had enough of the frustration, I resolved to do something about it. This is that story.
Gather and organize
Job One was to grab all the digital media I owned and put it on a single hard drive. For this I purchased a 2TB FireWire drive and moved from computer to computer, copying any music, video, podcasts, audiobooks, and ebooks I could find. I wasn't particularly careful about what went where nor did I care about playlists or play counts. I wanted a fresh start and I was willing to lose the playlists I'd created for the greater good of taming my media. To ensure that I didn't lose any media I didn't trash any of the files on my computer. I simply created a Media folder on the drive and copied my media files and folders to the new drive.
I then attached that drive to my Mac Pro, held down the Option key, and launched iTunes. When you do this, iTunes prompts you to either choose a library or create a new one. I then followed these steps:
1. Choose Create Library, name the library, and save it to the Music folder within your user account (~/Music).
2. From iTunes' Preferences click Advanced, click Change, and then navigate to the Media folder you created on the external hard drive. Leave the Keep iTunes Media Folder Organized option enabled but disable the Copy Files To iTunes Media Folder When Adding To Library option. Click OK to dismiss the Preferences window.
3. Choose File -> Add To Library and navigate to the Media folder on the external drive and click Open. iTunes will add the names of all the media files on your external drive to the iTunes Library window but it leaves the files where they are. This can take a long time, depending on how much media you have. As iTunes does this, it will organize files into the folder structure that the application uses.