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How to restore a lost iTunes library

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Too often a hard drive crash or some unforeseen circumstance causes us to lose our library of tunes. This recently happened to my wife Megan, so I had a little project this morning to do what I could to restore it. I thought I’d take a second and share what I found and did. Of course, this assumes that you have no back-up (either a back-up drive or physical media such as CDs). Actually, after a little research it turns out it’s pretty easy.

1. Transfer what you can from your iPod to your new instance of iTunes.

A. Enable your iPod for “manual management of music.” You can do this by installing iTunes and then connecting your iPod. When it asks you, DO NOT tell it to erase and sync your iPod.  Hit cancel, then simply click the manual management box when your iPod comes up in iTunes.

B. Download Ephpod. This is a free little utility that allows you to copy music from your iPod to iTunes (iTunes doesn’t allow this itself). Ephpod will ask you to select your iPod hard drive when you fire it up. If you can’t see your iPod hard drive in the list then you need to go back to step A. Now select all of your music displayed in Ephpod and go to File > Copy to Directory. Copy everything into your My Documents > My Music > iTunes directory.

C. Go into iTunes and select File > Import Folder. Then import all of the music you just moved over. You should be good to go.

In the case where you have AAC files bought from the iTunes store, you will need to make sure you authorized the new computer to play them.

2. Still not everything? Well, you can send Apple an email and it’s been reported that they will allow you to download all your purchases made through them – but only once.

I did all of this this morning, and I’m still waiting to hear back from Apple. I’ll let you know if that last step works as advertised.

Update: My wife did hear back from Apple the same day that I sent the request, and when she didn’t respond immediately the nice woman from Apple reached out to her again. We were able to download our purchases again, as reported elsewhere. Another great customer experience with Apple. Libary restored. Thank you Apple!

Update 2 (11/16/2009): This continues to be a very popular post, it really seems to be a problem that lots of people have. It looks like since my original post Apple has changed their website and removed the support form I used to reference in Step 2 above when I say “sending an email.” However, now you can arrange a call with an expert by going here. which admittedly is better than submitting a form and waiting for a response. In general, if you find any of my instructions above can be improved or are outdated please make a comment on how to fix the issue faster – around 50 people read these instructions every day so you would really be helping a lot of people.

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