Take Control of Your iTunes Library with TuneSpan

The latest iteration of the Macbook Air was released this year and it caught my attention immediately. It was such a beautiful device. I found myself going to the Apple Store website over and over to look at pictures and mull over the specs.

I felt like this version of the Air covered almost all of the shortcomings I saw with previous versions. In fact, it was a more powerful machine than my current Macbook. The one factor that kept making me hesitate was the hard drive size. Would it be enough for me and for future growth? Can I work around the limitation? Should I work around that limitation? These were the questions bouncing around in my head. I decided the constraint would be a good thing and I’d figure out ways to work around it as needed. Enter TuneSpan.

The Situation

I purchased a 2011 Macbook Air with a 256GB hard drive. By today’s standards this isn’t all that large. In fact, it’d be on the small side, but the big differentiating factor is the fact that it is a Solid State Drive. The speed enhancements are huge and the cost follows suit. I had about 240GB occupied in my existing Macbook which would be under the storage capacity of the Air but not by much. I was a little worried about this, but decided other elements of the device weighed that out.

A month or so after I had my new machine set up I was working on some ways to manage my photo library between my Air SSD drive and my external drive. I found some interesting tricks and thought it’d be great to apply some similar principles to my iTunes library. I want to keep everything digitally stored, but some things I just don’t need to have with me all the time.

After some research, it seemed there were some manual ways to go about this, but they seemed pretty cumbersome and I had visions of creating a gigantic mess of my iTunes library. I then stumbled upon an application called TuneSpan. This app essentially takes all the tricky aspects out of that process and makes storing some media on an external drive while still keeping it in your iTunes library super easy. Let me take you on a tour of the application to show you how it works.

Spanning

Spanning is the core feature of TuneSpan. What is meant by the term is that you’re able to span your iTunes library to different storage spaces. In my situation, I want to store my movies and TV shows on my external USB drive. By spanning, my iTunes library is seemingly unchanged. The differentiating factor is that I’ll only be able to play that media when connected to my external drive or restore it back (we’ll talk about that shortly) to the SSD as needed.

The Spanning Process

TuneSpan will display your iTunes library and you’ll see all sorts of ways to filter and search your library for specific items. I only have an interest in spanning movies and TV shows right now so this is helpful for me to quickly locate those specific items. The interface is very iTunes-esque and for better or worse you should feel comfortable navigating the application.

TuneSpan just launched

TuneSpan just launched

You’ll see a long gray bar towards the bottom of the application window that reads “Drop Media Here to Select for Spanning”. You’ll see queues all over this application to aid you in performing each task. This works exactly as advertised.

File drop location

File drop location

Locate the media and drag it to this gray bar. You’ll see a running total of the items selected to span along with the total time and disk space. You can continue to add items to the bar for spanning and your running totals will adjust accordingly. Clicking on that gray bar will allow you to browse what files you currently have selected. If you’re doing a pile of items all at the same time this can be really handy to keep track of what you’ve already selected and make sure you didn’t miss something.

If you’re viewing all media you’ll see blue dots next to those items that are already spanned.

The second part of this process is selecting where you want these items spanned to. Here is where we pick a space on our external drive. I’m going to follow the queue and “click here” to open up a file browser window. I’m going to locate the iTunes Archive on my external disk, select that directory and press open. A subfolder per the iTunes organizational model will be created and if it already exists the item will be placed there. The selected directory shows in the space at the very bottom of the application window. Another method to selecting the span location is to simply open Finder and drag the director it into the lighter gray space at the very bottom of the application window. A dotted line box makes it pretty obvious where to drop it.

We're ready to span

We're ready to span

Once you’ve selected the items you’d like spanned and the location where you’d like them spanned to you can press the button at the bottom of the window to initiate the span. First an “are you sure?” dialog box will appear providing some useful information to make sure your span goes without a hitch. After clicking the span button on that box a window will appear displaying the progress of the span.

Status of the current span

Status of the current span

If you’re working with a handful of songs it will be really quick. If you’re dealing with multiple movies this will take some time. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes after all. If iTunes is open you will get notified to close it. This has caught me a couple times. I couldn’t figure out what was taking so long. TuneSpan was just waiting for me to close iTunes before continuing on.

You’ll be notified when completed and can either hop back into TuneSpan to continue spanning or close the application and move about your business. Your iTunes library will look unchanged. All of the spanned media will display as usual in iTunes. The big difference now will be that the spanned media will only play if the external drive is connected.

The span is complete

The span is complete

Restore

The reversal of what we just accomplished is also possible and TuneSpan calls this a restore. At the bottom of the application there are a couple buttons. They essentially act as a switch telling the application what to do. By default the Span button is selected. To restore we simply press the Restore button. You’ll see an updated set of queues at the bottom of the window.

Ready to do a restore

Ready to do a restore

TuneSpan remembers the original location of the items you’ve spanned so we don’t have to worry about that step while restoring. Just as with the spanning process you locate the files that are spanned and drag them into the space that now reads “Drag Media Here to Select for Restoration”. As you would guess, once you have your items selected, pressing the Restore button will initiate the process. A progress window will appear to let you know how things are going and when it has completed its work.

This may be handy for multiple situations, but the major one that I see is that I’m able to easily move media back and forth as needed depending on my situation. For example, if I’m going to be doing some traveling and won’t have my external drive along I may restore a few movies back onto my Air drive. I don’t have a need to have these on my Air all the time, but knowing that I can easily move them back and forth is comforting to me.

Final Thoughts

TuneSpan has really been a key application, and will continue to be, in my disk space management. The bulk of my drive space is occupied by media so managing that a little more intelligently makes all sorts of sense. I will say that I’m actually enjoying the restriction the Air disk space puts on my computing world. I’m more thoughtful as to what I install and what I save. It’s resulted in a much more tidy machine and the minimalist in me loves that. On the flip side I do want to have, maintain, and sometimes access all sorts of digital media that I just wouldn’t have the disk space for on the local drive. TuneSpan allows me to manage all of that content in a simple, smart way, while still keeping it all very accessible.

TuneSpan isn’t an incredibly complicated application and it essentially does one thing very well. It performs a useful function for a growing crowd of people. The people who’s media libraries are growing faster than their disk space. If you’re one of those people (and I suspect some of you are) I would highly recommend trying out this free application. And if it works for you I’d encourage you to throw a few bucks at the developer.


Summary

Effortlessly move your iTunes library to an external drive. iTunes will work just like always and you can restore the library back to your computer when you need it.

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  • Richard D. Morey

    What advantages does this have over simply adding things that reside on an external drive or network, and not copying them to your local iTunes directory? There’s an option in iTunes you can set for that, and as far as I can tell it would accomplish the same thing without extra software. It’s what I do.

    • http://www.rickysmithson.co.uk Ricky

      I was wondering that exact same thing. I currently adopt the system of adding files myself without copying across.
      Putting files onto a FAT32 drive also allows me to use it on a bootcamp OS without the need for additional software.

      If this app has some advantages I seem to be missing I would be interested in giving it a try, but for now it seems like extra software for something I already do.

    • http://mattreich.net Matt Reich

      Ricky,
      To my knowledge there isn’t an easy, flexible way to store files in your iTunes library in multiple places. You can store your entire library on an external drive very easily. You can manually add media to your library rather than copying the files to the iTunes Media folder (that leaves the originals where they started). TuneSpan allowed me the flexibility and ease of use I was looking for.

      If I disconnect from my external hard drive I won’t have access to my movies right now, but I will have access to all of my music. If I want to bring a movie or two with me I simply restore it. Without TuneSpan this bouncing back and forth would be a lot more involved.

  • Infrarat

    Can you share what you do to solve this type of problem with photos? That would be super helpful!

  • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

    Try one of these for iPhoto:
    iPhoto Buddy (free): http://www.fatcatsoftware.com/iplm/
    iPhoto Library Manager ($19.95): http://www.fatcatsoftware.com/iplm/

    • Ben

      you repeated the same url for both links…not that one can’t google iphoto buddy!

  • Simon

    iTunes? Is that like an offline Spotify? ;-)

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