How I saved 140 GB of hard disk space using iTunes Match

Have a large iTunes library? Consider getting it off your hard drive and into the cloud

Ever since I started using Macs with SSDs, I've become keenly aware of how much storage space I use. Over the years I've built up a great library of archived articles I've written, files I've saved, applications, and media.

But it's mostly music. Music occupied a huge amount of storage space on my Mac until fairly recently. Here's how I got rid of it using iTunes Match, and without losing the music.

I've collected music since I was a kid, and have a vast library of audio CDs which I've ripped in iTunes. Plus over the years I've purchased quite a lot of digital music from iTunes, eMusic and other services.

Digital pack rat

Last time I checked, my iTunes library was about 140 GB. That's the biggest single chunk of space dedicated to anything on my Retina MacBook Pro, and it represents almost 30 percent of my available storage.

That's a lot of space, and I have to admit that I don't use all of it all the time. Not even close. Sure, I have my favorites, but much of what I've ripped and collected over the years I don't listen to regularly.

Occasionally I do like to thumb through my iTunes library and check out what's in there, replaying old favorites and hidden gems I'd forgotten about. I guess I'm a bit like Rob Gordon, John Cusack's character in High Fidelity, in that I connect emotions and memories with the albums and songs I've purchased over the years. Unlike Gordon, I don't have a house full of vinyl (though I hear it's making a comeback). I embraced digital formats long ago and are content with those.

Still, in this day and age, having 140 GB dedicated just to music is a difficult luxury to justify. It's a lot of space. If I were to buy a new MacBook Air today, I'd have to spend a lot of money to make it large enough to store both my iTunes library and all the other stuff I need to work.

It's not a huge problem to just move my iTunes library to an external hard drive, though it becomes a logistical hassle when you're working from a different location and want to access your music library. I don't want to have to sling a hard drive in my bag every time I leave the house.

iTunes Match

But making my music accessible no matter where I am and which device I'm working from is important to me. That's one of a few reasons I pay for iTunes Match.

iTunes Match is Apple's $24.95 annual service that enables you to load up your music into the cloud, accessing it from whichever devices you need.

With iTunes Match, new iTunes purchases are listed automatically, and music that you import from CDs (and other music services) is synced in the cloud as well. Music that's available on iTunes isn't duplicated in your iTunes Match cloud; instead, iTunes Match matches (as the name implies) what's in your library to what's already available in iTunes. Only the music you have that isn't already available in iTunes is uploaded.

With all my music in iTunes Match, I began to wonder, why should I keep it on my MacBook Pro drive?

With that in mind, I carefully copied my entire iTunes library onto an external hard drive for safekeeping. I simply opened up the Music folder and dragged the iTunes folder onto an external drive.

Sync with iTunes match

With that done, I made sure that my iTunes library was synced with iTunes Match (select the Store menu and then click on Update iTunes Match. Then I deleted all the music in my library.

Delete selected songs

iTunes popped up a dialogue box asking to confirm that I wanted to delete the copies of the selected songs. I was careful not to check the Also delete these songs from iCloud box, because that would have defeated the purpose of this exercise. Then I clicked Delete Songs.

Once I was done, I reclaimed almost 140 GB of hard drive space. But I can continue to listen to all my music, because it's been uploaded to iTunes Match. It streams over the Internet, so I need a Wi-Fi connection in order to hear it, but I'm no longer constantly looking for things to nuke off my drive to make space for big projects.

I'll emphasize again the importance of backing up your iTunes library before starting something like this. iTunes Match is great but I wouldn't put all my eggs in one basket by assuming that all my music is perfectly safe there, or with any other cloud-based music matching service. Better safe than sorry.

But it is working, at least for now. I'm a couple thousand songs away from hitting iTunes' 25,000 song limit. After that I'm going to need to break up my iTunes library into multiple libraries, with one of them managed in iTunes Match and one of them not managed in iTunes Match. But for now this will do.

Peter Cohen