How to Copy iPod Music to Your Mac

Copy iPod music to your Mac with iTunes 9

You just accidentally deleted some of your favorite tunes and videos from your Mac, and you don't have a backup? Well, all may not be lost if you use iTunes 9, and you've been keeping your iPod synced with your desktop iTunes library. If so, your iPod can serve as your backup. You can copy your music, movies, and videos from your iPod to your Mac and then restore them to your iTunes library.

Information in this article applies to Macs running OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) or earlier with iTunes 9.

What You Need to Transfer iPod Music to Your Mac

  • An iPod with your music and other content intact
  • A Mac with iTunes 9 and OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or earlier
  • The cable that came with the iPod

If you need instructions for a different version of iTunes or OS X, take a look at how to restore your iTunes music library by copying the music from your iPod in other iTunes and OS X versions.

To restore your music to iTunes from an iPod you need to accomplish several things:

  • Prevent the iPod from syncing when you connect it to the Mac.
  • Make invisible files visible so that you can copy them.
  • Locate the Music files on your iPod and save them to a folder on the Mac desktop.
  • Unmount the iPod.
  • Configure the iTunes preferences.
  • Move the recovered music to the iTunes library.
  • Re-hide the hidden files you made visible.

Yes, making a backup is easier, but if you are desperate, this method works.

Prevent Automatic iTunes Syncing With Your iPod

Before you connect your iPod to your Mac, you must prevent iTunes from syncing with your iPod. If it does, it might delete all the data on your iPod. At this point, your iTunes library on the Mac is missing some or all of the songs or other files that are on your iPod. If you sync your iPod with iTunes, you'll end up with an iPod that's missing the same files.

iTunes interface

Disable Syncing

To prevent the iPod from syncing with iTunes:

  1. Make sure your iPod isn't connected to your Mac.

  2. Launch iTunes, which is located at Applications > Utilities.

  3. Select Preferences from the iTunes menu.

  4. Click the Devices tab.

  5. Place a checkmark in the box labeled Prevent iPods and iPhones from syncing automatically.

  6. Click OK.

Connect the iPod 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 + Command keys and plug in your iPod to your Mac.

    iTunes launches and displays a dialog box to inform you that it's running in safe mode. You can release the Option and Command keys.

  4. Click the Quit button in the dialog box.

iTunes quits. Your iPod is mounted on your desktop without any syncing between iTunes and the iPod.

Make Music Files on Your iPod Visible for Copying

After you mount your iPod on your Mac's desktop, you might reasonably expect to be able to browse through its files using Finder. However, if you double-click the iPod icon on your desktop, you see folders named Calendars, Contacts, and Notes, but you won't see any music files.

Mac Terminal interface

Apple chose to hide the folders that contain an iPod's media files, but you can make the hidden folders visible by using Terminal, the command line interface included with OS X. You can't copy the music to the Mac until you can see it.

  1. Launch Terminal, located at Applications > Utilities.

  2. Type or copy and paste the following commands in two lines, as shown. Press the Return key after you enter each line.

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
killall Finder

The two lines you enter into Terminal allow the Finder to display all 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 that the changes can take effect. You may see your desktop disappear for a moment and then reappear when you execute these commands.

Locate and Identify the iPod 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.

Music files

To go to the music files on your iPod:

  1. Double-click the iPod icon on your desktop or click the iPod's name in a Finder window sidebar.

  2. Open the iPod Control folder.

  3. Open the Music folder.

The Music folder contains your music and 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, audiobooks, podcasts, or videos associated with that particular playlist.

Even though the file names don't contain any recognizable information, the internal ID3 tags are intact. As a result, any application that can read ID3 tags can sort out the files for you. You need to look no further than your own computer; iTunes reads ID3 tags.

Use the Finder and Drag the iPod Music to Your Mac

ipod music files

The easiest way to copy the iPod media files to your Mac is to use the Finder to drag and drop the files to an appropriate location, such as a new folder on your desktop.

  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 you can remember later.

  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, and so on and 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 selected music files to the iPod Recovered folder.

The Finder starts the file copying process. This may take a while, depending on the amount of data on the iPod.

Add Recovered iPod Music to Your iTunes Library

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.

iTunes interface

Dismiss the Dialog Box

  1. Select iTunes by clicking once on the iTunes window or on the iTunes icon in the Dock to reveal the iTunes dialog box left open earlier in this process.

  2. Click Cancel.

  3. In the iTunes window, click the Eject button next to the iPod's name in the iTunes sidebar to unmount the iPod.

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 checkmark next to Keep iTunes Music folder organized.

  4. Place a checkmark next to Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library.

  5. Click OK.

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 copies the files to its library. It also reads the ID3 tags to set each song's name, artist, album genre, and other information.

Hide the Copied iPod Music Files

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

  1. Launch Terminal, located at Applications > Utilities.

  2. Type or copy and paste the following commands in two lines, as shown. Press the Return key after you enter each line.

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles FALSE
killall Finder

That's all there is to manually recovering media files from your iPod. Keep in mind that you 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!