iTunes Sharing options

Being the Family Tech Support Guy, I got a question from my cousin about sharing music in iTunes and rather than answer it in email (since it’s not a short answer), I figured I’d blog it since it is probably helpful to other folks out there.

First, you need to determine your requirements. The phrase “sharing music in iTunes” is actually pretty vague. Let’s walk through figuring out what you want to do.

  • Do you have multiple computers? This is important because you’ll need to make some choices about what you want to do on each of the computers.
    1. If you have multiple computers and you want your entire iTunes library (playlists and music files) accessible from each computer… You have a couple of choices.
      • Copy everything to each computer over the network. This will put a physical copy of the iTunes library and all of the music files on every computer you want to share with. You’ll need to use a program like SyncToy or Allway Sync to keep your iTunes library and music files copied over the network. Honestly, I don’t recommend this option.
      • Keep your music files on a central network drive and only copy the iTunes library file across computers. This is common and is way better than the “copy everything” option. Lifehacker has a nice tutorial that explains how to do this.
    2. If you have multiple computers and you want to manage iTunes on one computer and just listen from the other computers… the easiest solution is to use iTunes library sharing to enable sharing on the master computer and then attach to that shared library over the network from the other computers. You will be able to listen to the music but will only be able to synchronize devices from the master computer. There’s a decent tutorial about how to set up iTunes library sharing on About.com.
    3. If you have multiple computers and only run iTunes on one but need the music files on all of them (for whatever reason), you can store the music files on the network, no problem. Lifehacker has a tutorial on how to do that, just skip the bits where you set up something to synchronize the iTunes library file. At the time of this writing, that’s steps 6 and 7 on the tutorial that you can skip.
    4. If you don’t have multiple computers… continue on. Nothing to see here.
  • Do you have multiple user accounts? That is, when you sit down at your computer, do you “log in” as you or does everyone just sit down and start using the computer?
    1. If everyone uses the same account, your options are limited.
      • Live with one iTunes library. This is probably what you have now.
      • Create a separate iTunes library file for each person. Every time you open iTunes you’ll have to remember to hold down Shift when you click the link to start iTunes or it’ll just open up the last library that was used. There is an Apple knowledge base article about how to open and create alternate libraries. This is a big pain and I wouldn’t recommend it. If you do this, you have additional options…
        • Share your music files. Each iTunes library will use the same set of music files. This may be problematic because when you change certain things in iTunes (like the artist name or the song name), iTunes will actually modify the physical file and may even move it to a new location (if you’ve told iTunes to keep your library organized). That will mess up other libraries that assume the files stay in the same location.
        • Keep separate copies of your music files. This could eat up space really quickly, but hard drives are cheap. Doing this would mean that each time you add a file into one library, you need to create another copy of the same file and add the copy into the other library.
    2. If everyone has a different account, things open up.
      • Share your iTunes library and music files across user accounts. There is an Apple knowledge base article that explains how to do this. I have a tutorial on this as well and while it’s a little more lengthy, it’s my preferred way.
      • Each user has their own iTunes library but shares music files. The key here is that each user will fire up iTunes and create a new library – making sure the “Keep iTunes music files organized” option is the same for each user – and pointing each iTunes library to the same central location for music files (Edit –> Preferences –> Advanced and change the music folder location to the same place for each user). When you add a music file to one library, each other user will need to manually add the file to their library as well. Or not, as the case may be. Note, again, that if someone changes an artist name, song name, etc., it may move the files out from under someone else, so this may not be great.
      • Each user has their own iTunes library and their own music files. This is how it works by default when you have multiple user accounts. If someone adds music to their library, the other person can make a copy and add it separately, later, to their own library.

Things to think about…

  • You can mix and match. For example, if you want to keep your music on the network because you have multiple computers and you want to share iTunes across multiple user accounts on those computers, you can do that. It’ll take some work to figure out which parts of the various tutorials out there need to be fixed up, but it’s possible.
  • You will probably run into issues with iTunes Store purchased music and apps. As soon as you get into music sharing that involves copying things around, separate libraries, etc., you will most likely start running into problems where one user can play purchased music but another can’t. This is technically by design – one person purchases music and that person owns the music. That’s the problem with DRM (digital rights management) today. Other sources like Amazon MP3 don’t cause this problem because they don’t have DRM.
  • Have a backup plan. When you switch this stuff around, you have a chance of accidentally hosing things up. Make sure you back things up before you do anything.
  • Take your time. Especially if you’re a non-technical person, some of the stuff explained in the above tutorials may be a bit daunting. It’s not too hard, but it’s not fall-down easy, either. Set aside some dedicated time to work on this and if it becomes too much, take a break. Write down all the stuff you’re doing so if you have to undo it (or restore from backup, or ask someone for help – NOT ME), you can.

As always, all of this is AT YOUR OWN RISK and SELF-SUPPORTED. I haven’t actually tried every combination of all of these things so I can’t guarantee all of it works. IF IT DOESN’T WORK, YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN. I can’t offer you individual help on this. Sorry.

posted on Thursday, January 06, 2011 7:03 PM | Filed Under [ Media ]

Comments

Gravatar # re: iTunes Sharing options
by Joe at 1/24/2011 10:25 AM
Hi

Thanks for the very informative post.

But I always have questions and doubts about Central Purchases.

It would be nice to have multiple account dump to the central itunes library when itunes music is purchased via itunes music store.

Would this also work for purchases made via other means and then dumping to the itunes folder?
Gravatar # re: iTunes Sharing options
by tillig at 1/24/2011 10:33 AM
If you have a system where one computer has multiple user accounts and you set up multi-user iTunes ("Share your iTunes library and music files across user accounts" above) then if each user signs in and authorizes the computer from their account, all user purchases go into one library and all users on the system can play all songs.

That's how my wife and I do it now - she buys a song and when I log in, I can play it; and vice versa.

That said, I did put a word of caution in about purchased music at the bottom of the post. When you start getting into iTunes purchased music and computer authorizations and such, you are bound to run into trouble and there's no way I can put all the "what-if" scenarios here since so much can go awry. You're on your own if you try getting multiple people with their own purchases to all work together in one library.

Of course, your BEST OPTION is to stay away from things like the iTunes store with DRM and computer authorizations and all that garbage and use something like Amazon MP3 where things just work.

And, yes, if you buy stuff from other places and put it in iTunes, it works. When I refer to "music files" in the post, it is not specific to where they came from - ripped CDs, purchases from iTunes store, purchases from other locations, etc. I was intentionally non-specific about it.
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