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Moving music off the iPod

Simple ways to copy music on an iPod back to a computer's hard drive

by Christopher Breen

Editor’s Note: The following article is excerpted from the second edition of the Macworld iPod and iTunes Superguide, a 78-page, $12.95 PDF with the very best iPod and iTunes information from the experts at Macworld and Playlist. This new edition, updated for iTunes 7 and Windows compatibility, shows you how to import music from CDs, cassette tapes, and LPs, organize and manage your music files, convert DVDs for playback on a video iPod, and more. In this excerpt, senior editor Christopher Breen looks at moving copies of your music from an iPod to your computer.

When you’re in the business of writing about the iPod for fun and profit, the question most often thrown your way is: “How do I get my music off the iPod and onto my computer?”

The difficulty in answering such a question is that it may be born of less-than-honorable intent. The person asking the question may wish to learn the secret of copying music from the iPod in order to pirate music. While there may be a few bad apples in this regard, more often than not I find people ask the question to find out how to recover music after their computer’s hard drive has crashed. It’s no fun losing thousands of songs at a single bad stroke (and even less fun if a goodly portion of those songs were purchased from the iTunes Store).

Given that I’m asked the question with such regularity, I’ve decided to point the way in the hope that it will help the virtuous among us. Those bad apples intent on stealing music will find a way to do it with or without my help.

Ghostly protection

For those who aren’t hip to the current state of affairs, I should explain that in order to deter music piracy, iTunes and the iPod were originally designed so that music would travel in one direction only—from the computer to the iPod. This has now changed somewhat. With iTunes 7, when you attach an iPod you own to a computer authorized with your Apple ID, iTunes will offer to copy protected content from the iPod to your computer. But that remains the only Apple-blessed way to move music from the iPod to your computer. When you double-click on an iPod mounted on a computer, you’ll find no folder within that holds the device’s music. Yet the music has to be there somewhere.

It is. It’s invisible.


Yes. When Apple designed the iPod’s copy-protection scheme it did so understanding one of the fundamental laws of this new millennium: That which can be locked will be unlocked (by a 12-year-old boy).

Rather than dump millions of dollars into a complicated copy-protection scheme—which would almost immediately be broken by one of these wily 12-year-olds—the company did the wise thing and protected the iPod in such a way that honest folks wouldn’t be tempted to pilfer music off another’s iPod. The company’s engineers did so by doing nothing more than making the iPod’s music folder invisible. Therefore, the trick to getting the music off the iPod is accessing this invisible folder.

Brute force techniques

Though fairly graceless, one of the easiest ways to recover your music from an iPod is to make the iPod’s music folder visible and then drag it over to your computer’s desktop. Once there, simply add that folder (and the music within) to iTunes by dragging the folder into iTunes’ main window or using the program’s Add to Library command (found in the File menu). Here’s how to do this on either a Mac or a Windows PC.

Macintosh The Mac doesn’t include a utility for making invisible files visible so you must download one. My favorite tool for this job is Marcel Bresink’s free TinkerTool. Once you’ve downloaded TinkerTool, follow these steps:

In earlier versions of iTunes you could simply drag this Music folder to iTunes’ main window and the music within it would be copied to iTunes’ music library. This is no longer the case. You must now open the Music folder, open the the folders within (these folders all begin with the letter F), and then drag the contents of the folders into the Library entry in iTunes’ Source list.

The songs you copied from the iPod will be added to iTunes. If you’re a tidy type, before copying those files to iTunes, open iTunes’ preferences, click the Advanced tab, and make sure the Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized and Copy File to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library options are enabled. Enabling these options will organize your iTunes library in the way iTunes prefers.

Windows At the risk of making my Windows readers feel like second-class citizens, please follow the first four steps outlined in the instructions for Mac users. Once you’ve done that:

The folder and all the items in it are now visible and can be dragged into the iTunes library.

Note that although the music files bear a seemingly incomprehensible four-letter title (AHLK.m4a, for example) when viewed outside of iTunes, their titles will appear properly once you’ve brought them into iTunes.

More-refined methods

Scan sites such as hotfiles.com and versiontracker.com and you’ll discover that there are a host of utilities designed to pull music off your iPod and onto your computer. Some are more sophisticated than others—allowing you to copy not only the music the iPod carries, but its playlists as well. Here are a few of my favorites.


Senuti: Whitney Young’s free Senuti offers a straightforward interface for moving media off your iPod. Like similar utilities, it allows you to select tracks and videos on the iPod and then copy them to a location of your choosing. Unlike with some other utilities, you can copy not only single items and songs grouped by artist and album, but also complete playlists from the iPod.

This solves a tricky problem that has plagued some iTunes users. Suppose that you lost your computer’s entire iTunes library. You could recover your songs from the iPod, but how would you re-create your carefully wrought playlists? As Senuti’s Help says:

Playlists can be added through drag and drop, too. All of the songs in the playlist will be copied to your save location, then added to iTunes. If a playlist with the name of the one you’re dropping exists in iTunes, songs will be added to that playlist. Otherwise a new playlist with that name will be created.

iPodRip: The Little App Factory’s $15 iPodRip is another good utility. Like Senuti, it lets you recover songs, albums, podcasts, videos and playlists from your iPod to iTunes. It also supports all song information that’s stored by iTunes, including ratings, play count, and last played. iPodRip features an iTunes-like interface for easy operation. You can find a version for Windows here.


TuneJack: If you have a Windows-formatted iPod, iPodSoft’s $10 TuneJack offers a simple wizard for transferring music and video files—including playlists—to Windows. As with Senuti, it will copy only those songs to iTunes that aren’t already in your iTunes library.

For even more features, check out iPodSoft’s $15 iGadget, which not only helps you transfer songs and videos (including playcounts, user ratings, and last-played dates) to your Windows machine, but also lets you transfer data such as e-mail, RSS feeds, notes, weather and more to your iPod.


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