Help! iTunes Can’t Find My Music

Count up the number of years that iTunes has been available on just about every platform, and it’s going to seem antiquated. However, in spite of its age, iTunes still has the occasional hiccup; if it can’t find your music someday, don’t worry, we’re here to help! Apple’s media management giant might be a bit long in the tooth, but it has more users than just about anything else. Because of that, we’re going to have plenty of help and experience when we need to debug the various problems that can crop up as a result.

And boy, oh boy, does iTunes ever run into problems. We’ll explain why, below.

Once upon a time (and we’re talking before the perennial years of the iPhone, here), iTunes was where you kept everything. Got a new CD? Rip those sweet, sweet tracks onto your computer’s hard drive, and keep them on iTunes. It was the hub of digital entertainment before streaming was even a commonplace practice. It helped to keep the iPod relevant when competition kept springing up around it, and when the iPhone did show up on the scene, iTunes had practically cemented itself as a gold standard.

And during the years since, it has maintained that place at the top of the mountain. However, whether or not that’s deserved any longer is something that’s frequently debated. Because as Apple’s mobile and entertainment ecosystems have expanded, so too has iTunes’ functionality. And it hasn’t always been graceful in the many ways that it’s grown. Implementation of Apple Music was lauded by some, and by others, it was met with scathing criticism. Managing a music library in iTunes is no longer as easy as it used to be, thanks to the conflation of the iTunes store and users’ personal libraries of music.

One error that frequently appears for many users—though the causes for it vary—is when iTunes has difficulty finding music tracks on a hard drive. Because so much of iTunes is automated, now, it’s very possible (very easy) for the music management software to cease managing your music when it loses track of where those songs are supposed to be found. Below, we’re going to show you how to troubleshoot this problem and illustrate how quickly it can be resolved.

iTunes

To be clear, most media management software doesn’t fit into the same category as iTunes. Look at something like Windows Media Center, Spotify, or any other application that lets you bridge streaming media with what you have on your hard drive. Though they each have respective features that help you to enjoy your music, none of them are quite so robust as iTunes.

However, when iTunes becomes frustrating, you might feel like robust is the wrong word. At times like these, you might just choose the word bloated.

Music, movies, ringtones, TV shows, movies. iTunes can organize and manage them all, allowing you to access your media library through a single interface. But the fact that everything is kept in one place, in addition to Apple Music, and in addition to the entirety of the online iTunes store means that you have almost too much under the umbrella of a single piece of software.

And when your music library goes missing—as indicated by those little exclamation points next to your unplayable tracks—it can get incredibly frustrating.

Music Library

Imagine this scenario:

  • You use iTunes to manage all of your media.
  • That library of media includes upwards of 400 songs, in addition to a few movies and a bunch of videos.
  • All of your media has been automatically organized by iTunes. You get new music, rip it to your computer’s hard drive, and carry on.
  • Suddenly, iTunes cannot find any of your music.

iTunes is just about the only part of the Apple ecosystem that has made it onto other operating systems. However, it’s not dissimilar from the rest of what Apple is usually going for—programs that are meant to just work, with minimal necessary oversight. It focuses on minimalism and ease of use, doing most of its own back-end work automatically. On Macs and iPhones, that’s a wonderful thing—it fits in well with the rest of the operating system styles and functions.

In Windows, it often means that iTunes is the only application that doesn’t tell you about the locations of all the files it’s using. So, when iTunes loses track of your files, how are you supposed to find them?

“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” – Steve Jobs

Debugging iTunes Problems

There are actually quite a few different reasons that iTunes might suddenly have a difficult time finding your music. If you’ve moved your music from one file location to another, it can definitely lead to this problem. If you’ve migrated your music onto a new computer, this can be another culprit. What about if you had to reset Windows—something that’s very easy to do in Windows 10.

Thankfully, no matter what has caused iTunes to lose track of where your music is, this is fairly easy to correct. You only need to figure out where your music is in your file directory and use a function with iTunes to point it to the correct location. After all, iTunes—the software and service—isn’t actually storing your music. It’s just locating it, wherever it’s kept on your computer’s hard drive, and playing it through the iTunes software itself.

When a Couple of Songs Go Missing…

By and large, the methods we’re going to walk you through are similar whether one song is missing, or many songs are missing. But they still differ slightly, so we’ve separated them into two, distinct sets of troubleshooting steps. The following is going to help you to locate a few missing songs. If entire swaths of your library cannot be found, skip down one section, to figure out how to grab them all.

To resolve the issue of a few missing songs…

  • First, use your computer’s search function to find the missing music on your computer’s hard drive.
  • Click on the missing song, until it gives you the “original file could not be found” error message.
  • Next, click on Locate.
  • Within iTunes, locate the missing song, select it, and then click Open.
  • iTunes should not be able to play the missing music file.

Keep in mind that none of this has actually moved the music from where it currently is on your hard drive; it’s just shown iTunes where to find it. In order to move it—even automatically—keep reading!

When Entire Albums and Collections Go Missing…

Sometimes, iTunes loses track of an entire music collection, or an album or two. This can happen when you perform diagnostic work on your computer’s operating system, move folders around, or remove detachable media from your computer that originally had the music on it.

Either way, these steps are going to be fairly similar to what you read above, with a few minor differences. Before beginning, ensure that you have some free hard drive space available. This method is going to end up duplicating the missing songs on your hard drive.

  • First, locate the missing music on your computer. Use your computer’s search function by typing in the names of albums, artists, or songs.
  • Next, in iTunes, click on File.
  • Select Library, followed by Organize Library.
  • In the following window, select Consolidate Files, followed by OK.

Here’s what will happen: iTunes will scan your computer’s installed media—hard drives, USB drives, etc.—and find any music files that it happens to be missing, or those that happen to reside outside of the iTunes folder structure. Then, it will duplicate those files and move them into their proper place in the iTunes folder. This ensures that the program is always able to find them. It does, however, mean that you will have duplicate files for every song that iTunes had to move.

You’ll have some cleanup work to take care of on your hard drive after doing this, but it’s worthwhile if it means an organized and functioning library.

Avoiding Lots of Future Hassle

Whew! Now that you’ve had the opportunity to get rid of all those annoying little red exclamation marks, you probably want to know how to stop this from ever happening again. Thankfully, there’s another very simple step that you can take to do just that. It gives iTunes greater control over the media stored on your computer, but that’s not really a big deal. iTunes and most other Apple software are valued due to the ways it minimizes the visibility of back-end work.

Meaning, as long as you’re all right with iTunes moving media around on your hard drive, you can prevent your music from ever going “missing” again.

  • Click on Edit in the iTunes toolbar.
  • Click on Preferences, followed by the Advanced tab.
  • Find and check the box that reads Keep iTunes Media Folder Organized.
  • Finalize your settings changes by clicking OK.

What exactly does this do? It ensures that every new song and media file that’s added to your library via iTunes is stored within the iTunes folder structure. Ultimately, this greatly minimizes the chance that any of your music will ever go missing, again.

We hope that the above guide has provided you with a bit of help! There is positively nothing fun about having to hunt down your missing iTunes music when the software can’t find it. If you have any remaining questions, hit us up in the comments below!

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