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
37 Comments
  • How come when I stream a song from iCloud on iPhone 5s it then shows the song(s) in settings under about. This is recalling annoying especially when the device sees it as taking up storage. Help!!!!! Thanks :) Sent from the iMore App
  • Caching.
  • Ryan, Its my understanding that the music only streams to mac's and pcs. The phones and iPads actually download the music to the device.
  • Ryan - I just clear the music files created from ITM on my iPhone / iPad once in a while to free space. Spotify does the same, storing files as I stream. With Spotify I have to delete the App and reload to get the space cleared. My experience with ITM has been good and it keeps me from purchasing a larger capacity iPhone. I use my data allowance from Verizon when WiFi is not available (rarely based on the locations I frequent) and have yet to be without music on a run or while driving.
  • Welcome to 2 years ago....
  • ... And it's still just as flaky and unreliable as it has been at launch. I will continue to pay for iTunes Match because I like when it works but the problem is that it is yet another example of Apple coming in town blowing its trumpets and then forgetting about it once they pass the crowds.
  • I don't find it to be flakey and I stream it to my iPhone quite often. Works faster than any other streaming service and I very rarely have issues.
  • Wow Peter! And I though I had a big music collection at 20GBs. I did not think anyone had as much music as you say you have. I never gave too much though on using iTunes Match, but I am definitely considering now as I am always running out of storage on my computer.
  • I have nearly 70,000 tracks, virtually all of them are lossless, from CDs that I own. Disk space is 1,751 GB.
  • I thought you could only use iTunes Match with less than 50 GB of music?
  • You can buy a 2 terabyte hard drive for 3 years of iTunes Match, and you don't have to suffer the indignity of paying for something to temporarily store something you already own. And if you stop paying for a subscription, you don't lose all of that music you deleted from your computer. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad deal, but if apple would just let you load songs onto your phone in MP3 format, you wouldn't have to use the iTunes Player and you could store them any way you want. Like Dropbox, which most people have anyway.
  • I've got a newsflash for you. You've always been able to use MP3s in iTunes, iPods and iPhones. Apple doesn't sell them, but you can load your devices with all the MP3s you want. I know, I have thousands of them.
  • Maybe times have changed, but when I had iTunes Match I saw absolutely no benefit to it. The reason why I decided to give a try is continue syncing my music via iTunes as usual, then if there was a song I wanted to listen to, sinply enable iTunes match and go. But god forbid Apple will make things work to how the user wants it. Everytime I enabled iTunes match, it would automatically delete ALL my music on my phone. Then I actually had to disable iTunes match if I wanted to sync music back, and on top of that, I will have to go back to rearrange what Artist I synced beforehand, adding more time and inconvience. After 6 months, I gave up on it and simply decided that it wasn't for me. Don't miss it!!
  • There is a "Show all Music" toggle, enabled, it would show all the music, including the songs not on your device and you were free to download as you wish, when its disabled, only songs that are already on your device would be availble, thus saving you from sucking all your data when youre away from wifi. iTunes match works, you just used it incorrectly
  • Agreed. iTunes Match saves me 20GB on my iPhone. Love the service.
  • I turned it on and lost all sorts of CDs that had owned and ripped. As much as I like Apple and am a huge fanboy, iTunes Match made a complete mess of my collection, which included lots of CDs that Apple didn't have. Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to make a copy of all my songs before I turned on iTunes Match; I've ended up buying some things for the 2nd time because I really wanted to have them, but my faith in iTunes Match was permanently damaged.
  • Spotify less than 100mb space Sent from the iMore App
  • how I saved 140 gb : delete all the stupid backed up apps in iTunes
  • Now this sounds like a plan. I have 54GB of app backups, loads of them seemingly old versions and deleted apps. Do I need them to restore my phone if I get a new one maybe ...or will they just download again anyway? Sent from the iMore App
  • Yeah that's why SSD is not ready for prime time for serious users, along with its reliability issues. The 140GB is really nothing these days, I have 3TB of video and game archives. I have around 220GB of music, but at least half of it wouldn't be on Apple's iTunes Match (I've tried) and their super slow uploads mean it would take weeks of uptime to actually get it there, plus if you use lossless formats Apple simply doesn't support that (I mostly have mp3 because my ears can't tell the difference but I'm pretty rare when it comes to collectors these days in that regard). The best option is your own network attached storage, which you can set up for about $150, use from anywhere in the world, and since it's in your own home you know the plug isn't going to get ripped out from under you.
  • "Reliability issues?" Not to thread hijack, but are SSDs unreliable? I just spent a mint getting a MBP with the largest SSD available, thinking it was the best future-proof option. You telling me I need to start worrying about its reliability after having filled half of it already?
  • Don't listen to him. SSDs are incredibly more stable and reliable than HDDs. Every computer I've owned has had a HDD die. I've yet to have an SSD die yet.
  • First we were on our way to simple and dependable $50 cell phones with bateries that lasted four days, then Apple convinced us we needed to play Angry Birds everywhere, but we had to pay a lot more for finicky smartphones and the battery would last less than a day.
    Now we were on our way to cheap 3Tb machines where we could store everything, but here comes Apple to convince us that we only need one small SSD as long as we are online all the time and pay for their cloud services.
    Gee, thank you, Apple.
  • Love iTunes Match. My iTunes Library is 302 GB, Music alone is 172 GB. iTM has been a godsend, all my music is available to me everywhere I can get an internet connection; and digital "hard copies" on my local hard drive and another backup as well. $24.95/year is a steal, as far as I'm concerned. The problem with iTM is getting all your media ready for it before you begin scanning (something that, unfortunately, most users don't realize they should do). Proper metadata, album artwork, and bitrate, etc. If you've got all that in place before the initial scan, you'll have far fewer issues. There will still be a percentage of tracks that SHOULD be matched and aren't... which is annoying, particularly when it's only one or more songs on an album that otherwise is matched. But still... once you've got it under control, it's a solid service.
  • I use Google music as a back up since it's free. You can have as many as you have gmail accounts. But all my music is on an external drive anyways. My issue is, one, i got about 130gbs of music backed up in several places. those gbs are nothing compared to the 2 terabytes of movies, home videos, sporting events etc that i have. with my phone these online services just aren't reliable enough because i constantly lose cell signal, especially in mountaings. But i know plenty of stores where i've been streaming tunein or google music and it cell service cuts off 20 feet deep in a store. So i need local storage on my phone at least. But for me i've got like 3 google play apps. they all work good enough, and it's free. To me I just can't justify spending money on itunes match. My thing is macbook pros used to have like 1tb and djs would install seperate drives for even more storage. My biggest issue with new mac laptops is they've gone backwards on storage with less not more. Personally, i'd take more storage and a normal drive anyday.
  • Wow, there's a lot of anti-iTM going on here. When I set up my new Retina MacBook Pro I already had iTM but I stored zero media on it. It always works so I'm not sure what you're all doing to jam it up. Purchased iTunes music doesn't count toward your 25,000 song limit by the way. I've had the service two and a half years and am more than glad to pay the $25 every February when my annual subscription renews. Sent from the iMore App
  • iTM DESTOYED my library. I am extremely anal when it comes to artwork and metadata so I know that wasn't the issue. The first track of hundreds of albums inexplicably went missing or was created as a seperate album despite having identical metadata. After months of frustration but nevertheless trudging along iTM stopped syncing my library all together. Would reach the final step of the scan process and would just stop working. The scan would continue endlessly. Luckily I did have the foresight to backup everything previous to the experiment so I restored my old flawless library (approx. 120gbs) and have used wired syncing ever since.
  • This is a really good idea indeed.
    However I don't like the way iTunes Match works. When I used it two years ago it made a complete mess of my library and it took me weeks to fix everything again.
    The problem is (and they don't tell you this when you're setting it up) your version of your library disappears forever. This includes cover art, titles you changed etc
    What happens next is they create a new version of your library in the cloud. After that you don't really have much control of it.
    I just couldn't live with that but they gave me a refund without asking questions! Also, if you've been buying most of your music from iTunes since the beginning you already have your last 10 years or so worth of your music on the cloud for free...
  • So now, when the power goes out for a week, you'll have nothing except a hopeless solar power phone charger to catch a few days of music. I'll have my hard drive full of 78 days worth of non-stop music. I'm just having trouble putting my 255gbs into the cloud (and then deleting them) because if I don't have internet, I'm screwed..
  • If you don't have power you don't have a computer either.
  • I love iTunes Match simply for this reason but I wish there was a better way to customize/handle my music in the cloud. Not make a change, click "Update iTunes Match" and hope for the best. Also I wish there was a way to do this with iPod Classic syncing or something (I know I'm a little old school haha) but when on road trips through shotty service towns it's always good to have a hard storage of music to keep the tunes rolling lol Sent from the iMore App
  • I want to rely on it but limited data still makes it a no. My library is just under 30GB so I am content for now without match. If Verizon would ever go back unlimited, I'm there.
  • I am going to make the move and free my mac from these huge music files. A large portion of my lib is audio books. Audio books are not part of iTunes Match, correct? Is my only solution to keep these audio books on my mac or an external HD?
  • My question would be, what happens if you decide to cancel iTunes Match?
  • Peter, I'm curious how your (nearly) 25K song library is only 140GB and I have a mere 3600 songs that consume 71 GB? I'd like to use iTunes Match, even with my 3600 songs, but with only a 3 GB bandwidth allowance with Verizon for both me and my wife, I'm sure I'd eat it up quickly.
  • Hi, just this one question. After deleting your iTunes music from the library, where does iTunes then keep the' iTunes Library.itl' file?
  • I think iTunes match should supplement your local music library as a separate app ( not your music app ). Why? If you often find yourself without signal at work/school, you an still access local content. When you have signal, you can open the iTunes Match app and access your entirely library via their service. You have the best of both worlds, and will never be separate from your music by the lack of signal from your wireless carrier.