How to Copy iPod Music to Your Mac

There are few things that Mac users dread more than the sudden loss of data, whether it's from a failed hard drive or the accidental deletion of files. No matter how you lose your files, you'll be glad you've been performing regular backups.

What? You don't have any backups, and you just accidentally deleted some of your favorite tunes and videos from your Mac? Well, all may not be lost, at least not if you've been keeping your iPod synced with your desktop iTunes library. If so, your iPod can serve as your backup. By following these instructions, you should be able to copy your music, movies, and videos from your iPod to your Mac, and then add them back to your iTunes library.

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What You Need to Transfer iPod Music to Your Mac

  • An iPod, with your music and other content intact.
  • A Mac with iTunes 9.x or later.
  • An iPod USB/syncing cable. The specific type depends on the iPod or iPhone you're using.

A quick note: Need instructions for a different version of iTunes or OS X? Then take a look at how to Restore Your iTunes Music Library by copying the music from your iPod

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Prevent Automatic iTunes Syncing With Your iPod

iTunes interface.


Before you connect your iPod to your Mac, you must ensure that iTunes won't attempt to sync with your iPod. If it does, it might delete all of the data on your iPod. Why? Because at this point, your iTunes library is missing some or all of the songs or other files on your iPod. If you sync your iPod with iTunes, you'll end up with an iPod that's missing the same files your iTunes library is missing.

Disable Syncing

  1. Make sure your iPod isn't connected to your Mac.
  2. Launch iTunes, located at /Applications/.
  3. From the iTunes menu, select Preferences.
  4. Click the 'Devices' tab.
  5. Place a check mark in the box labeled 'Prevent iPods and iPhones from syncing automatically.'
  6. Click 'OK.'

Connect Your iPod or iPhone to Your Mac.

  1. Quit iTunes, if it is running.
  2. Make sure your iPod isn't connected to your Mac.
  3. Hold down the option and command keys (Apple/cloverleaf) and plug your iPod into your Mac.
  4. iTunes will launch and display a dialog box to inform you that it's running in safe mode. You can release the option and command keys.
  5. Click the 'Quit' button in the dialog box.
  6. iTunes will quit. Your iPod will be mounted on your desktop, without any syncing between iTunes and your iPod.
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Make Music Files on Your iPod Visible So They Can Be Copied

Mac Terminal interface.


Once you mount your iPod on your Mac's desktop, you would reasonably expect to be able to use the Finder to browse through its files. But if you double-click the iPod icon on your desktop, you'll see just three folders listed: Calendars, Contacts, and Notes. Where are the music files?

Apple chose to hide the folders that contain an iPod's media files, but you can easily make these hidden folders visible by using Terminal, the command line interface included with OS X.

Terminal Is Your Friend

  1. Launch Terminal, located at /Applications/Utilities/.
  2. Type or copy/paste the following commands. Press the return key after you enter each line.

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
killall Finder

The two lines you enter into Terminal will allow the Finder to display all of the hidden files on your Mac. The first line tells the Finder to display all files, regardless of how the hidden flag is set. The second line stops and restarts the Finder, so the changes can take effect. You may see your desktop disappear and reappear when you execute these commands; this is normal.

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How to Copy iPod Music to Your Mac: Identify the iPod's Music Files

Music files.


Now that you've told the Finder to display all hidden files, you can use it to locate your media files and copy them to your Mac.

Where's the Music?

  1. Double-click the iPod icon on your desktop or click the iPod's name in a Finder window's sidebar.
  2. Open the iPod Control folder.
  3. Open the Music folder.

The Music folder contains your music as well as any movie or video files you've copied to your iPod. You may be surprised to discover that the folders and files in the Music folder aren't named in any easily discernable manner. The folders represent your various playlists; the files in each folder are the media files, music, audio books, podcasts, or videos associated with that particular playlist.

Fortunately, even though the file names don't contain any recognizable information, the internal ID3 tags are all intact. As a result, any application that can read ID3 tags can sort the files out for you. (Not to worry; iTunes can read ID3 tags, so you need look no further than your own computer.)

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Use The Finder And Drag the iPod Music to Your Mac

ipod music files


Now that you know where your iPod stores media files, you can copy them back to your Mac. The easiest way to do this is to use the Finder to drag-and-drop the files to an appropriate location. We recommend copying them to a new folder on your desktop.

Use the Finder to Copy Files

  1. Right-click a blank area of your desktop and select 'New Folder' from the pop-up menu.
  2. Name the new folder iPod Recovered, or any other name that strikes your fancy.
  3. Drag the music files from your iPod to the iPod Recovered folder. These are the actual music files located on your iPod. They are usually in a series of folders named F0, F1, F2, etc., and will have names like BBOV.aif and BXMX.m4a. Open each of the F folders and use the Finder menu, Edit, Select All, and then drag the music files to your iPod Recovered folder.

The Finder will start the file copying process. This may take a while, depending on the amount of data on the iPod. Go have coffee (or lunch, if you have tons of files). When you come back, proceed to the next step.

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Add Recovered iPod Music to Your iTunes Library

iTunes interface.


At this point you have successfully recovered your iPod's media files and copied them to a folder on your Mac. The next step is to unmount your iPod and add the recovered music to your iTunes Library.

Dismiss the Dialog Box

  1. Select iTunes by clicking once on iTunes window, or on the iTunes icon in the Dock.
  2. The iTunes dialog box we left open a few steps back should be visible.
  3. Click the 'Cancel' button.
  4. In the iTunes window, unmount your iPod by clicking the eject button next to the iPod's name in the iTunes sidebar.

You can now disconnect your iPod from your Mac.

Configure iTunes Preferences

  1. Open iTunes Preferences by selecting Preferences from the iTunes menu.
  2. Select the 'Advanced' tab.
  3. Place a check mark next to 'Keep iTunes Music folder organized.'
  4. Place a check mark next to 'Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library.'
  5. Click the 'OK' button

Add to Library

  1. Select Add to Library from the iTunes File menu.
  2. Browse to the folder that contains your recovered iPod music.
  3. Click the 'Open' button.

iTunes will copy the files to its library; it will also read the ID3 tags to set each song's name, artist, album genre, etc.

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Hide the Copied iPod Music Files, Then Enjoy Your Music

iTunes interface.


During the recovery process, you made all the hidden files and folders on your Mac visible. Now when you use the Finder, you'll see all kinds of strange-looking entries. You recovered the formerly hidden files that you needed, so you can send them all back into hiding.

Abracadabra! They're Gone

  1. Launch Terminal, located at /Applications/Utilities/.
  2. Type or copy/paste the following commands. Press the return key after you enter each line.

defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE
killall Finder

That's all there is to manually recovering media files from your iPod. Keep in mind that you will need to authorize any music you purchased from the iTunes Store before you can play it. This recovery process keeps Apple's FairPlay Digital Rights Management system intact.

Enjoy your music!