Home > Computing, Music > What to do when your PC crashes and burns, and all your music in iTunes is “lost”

What to do when your PC crashes and burns, and all your music in iTunes is “lost”

Let’s say the worst happens: your computer (the den of all your iPhone/iPod music and media) fails. It could be just a freak thing, or it could be your husband accidentally downloaded some malware that effectively knocks your PC’s lights out (I’m not pointing fingers or looking at anyone in particular… ERIK!). But hey, it happens, right?

Now, if you’re a responsible iTunes user, you made sure to back up your media, yes? Pat yourself on the back because you rock, seriously. But let’s just say that SOME folks will not get the chance to do a backup. That means your music is sitting there on your iPhone taunting you, saying “You can’t add more music, chick. Deal with it!”. After all, iTunes is known for not playing nice with new machines, much less giving you a way to copy the music straight from the iPhone (earlier generations did, but no more).  Sometimes that Zune looks more and more appealing, I swear.

But fear not, because after hours of trial and error (and a few times where I wanted to throw my phone against the wall), I came up with some steps as to how to move your music from your iPhone to your new machine AND get iTunes to be happy with it.

Please note (and this is why I have this in bold letters): I am not a Microsoft or Apple professional, merely an iTunes user whose machine crashed and burned. The steps involved include letting iTunes wipe out your music to complete the process, so if you’re not comfortable with that, don’t follow these steps.

If you have an old iPod or Nano to test with, try with that first.

I can’t stress this enough… back up your library. Don’t do like I did and let fate decide to pwn your collection. iTunes has a nifty backup utility that’s very easy to use. I don’t have a large library, so I fit it all on one DVD. You may need several as DVD-Rs generally hold about 4.5 GB.

Go to File > Library > Backup Library and get to it:

Back up your Library here

Now… to the nitty gritty…

1. Download an app called SharePod (http://www.getsharepod.com). Give the author some financial love if you feel like it, because the app is free and it just provides good juju. Sharepod is cool, because it gives you a few options that come in handy: Copy To Computer, Copy To iPod, and Backup iPod. In this case, I copied all my files directly from my iPhone to my computer’s My Music directory. Select all the files, and copy away:




What I found cool was this: I’m very bad at organizing my music, so I had songs and artwork scattered in various folders on my old machine. SharePod doesn’t care where they used to live, just that they live in the iPod currently. So, when you finish doing the copy process, your artwork will come along for the ride 🙂

A Quick Note About Enabling Disk Use

The  newer versions of iTunes do not like you trying to move new music from a new machine, or even have the ability to add files to your player’s root directory. That’s a big reason why folks go to other MP3 players. Earlier generation iPods were able to act as flash drives, where you could drag and drop files willy nilly. Nowadays, the new stuff doesn’t allow for that.

If you are interested in enabling disk use on your iPhone without having to jailbreak it, TouchCopy works very well (http://www.touchcopy.com). There is a trial version, but only the paid version (about 25 dlls US) will let you try out enabling disk use.  DiskAid (http://www.digidna.net/diskaid/download.php) is another app that can do this, and the trial version WILL let you drag and drop files into your iPhone. Trial is only for 14 days, though (paid version costs about 10 dlls US).

Back To The Task At Hand

2. So back to iTunes. I just downloaded it today to my new PC, so it’s a completely fresh install. Because it’s a fresh install, it’s not going to want to recognize your old library but still wants to see one. What do you do? Create a new blank library. Steps here (also shown at http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1589):

Steps to create or choose a different iTunes Library file

  1. If iTunes is running, quit iTunes.
  2. If you are using Windows, hold down the Shift key and from the Start menu and choose All Programs > iTunes > iTunes.
  3. If you are using the Mac, open iTunes and immediately hold down the Option key.
  4. You should see one of the following screens:



Create the new library and it will automatically go in your Music folder. Open it up and you’ll see iTunes Media > Music. Niiice.

3. In iTunes, go to File > Add File to Library. Here, you can navigate to your Music folder (where all your songs are stored currently) and copy all the song folders. It’ll take a while depending on how much music you have. When it’s done copying, you can go back to the iTunes Media > Music folder and see the files now happily living in the correct directory.

The above steps for creating a library are also good if you have multiple iPods/iPhones but just one computer. Each gadget can have its own library in that one instance of iTunes, which is very handy.

4. Go to Files > Library > Organize Library and check Consolidate Files. This option puts copies of all your media files into the iTunes Media folder, but will leave your original music files where they are. This provides a little peace of mind in case you think “Oh no, everything is gone yet again!”


Organize Library

Click OK here.

5. Next thing to do is go to Edit > Preferences > Advanced. In this screen, you’ll see the iTunes Media folder location (where everything is going to be stored). Check “Keep iTunes Media folder organized”, and “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library”:


iTunes Advanced tab


6. One more thing… make sure Sync Music is checked. I didn’t do this the first time, and I spent an hour in frustration trying to figure out why the music was showing up in iTunes but not my phone. Duh, need to sync the music! It was my Derrr moment of the day (the first of many).



Sync it, for the love of little green apples!


7. Now, up until this point, we hadn’t wanted to really do much as far as syncing iTunes, because we know what’s going to happen: It’s going to want to erase the music files you currently have in your iPhone since you don’t have your old library in this new machine. If you’re comfortable with that, go ahead and let it erase. If not, then don’t sync and forget you ever read this bit :).

Remember all those boxes we checked earlier in iTunes? That’s what’s going to get your music populated into iTunes and back onto your phone. Depending on how big your library is, it’ll take some time. Once you’re done, your new machine will have your music, and so will your iPhone. Good times.


The music is back, ladies and gentlemen!


You will also get a prompt asking if you want to authorize this machine and de-authorize your old one. Since my old one is no longer in existence, I had no issue with that. Proceed with the authorization, sir/madam.

Once everything is done and you’ve got your library nice and populated with your good tunes, you could go to back to the root of your Music/My Music folder and delete your old files to recover some room.  Your computer will probably be happy to reclaim that extra space.

The downside to all this is your playlists will be wiped out. It’s sad but true. But, do like I did. Look at is as a chance to clean up the old playlists to include stuff you haven’t heard millions of times.

Categories: Computing, Music
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