Copy Tunes From Your iPod to Your Mac

It's true, you can copy your music from your iPod to your Mac, essentially turning your iPod into an emergency backup of any of the media files you have stored on your iPod.

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.

A quick note before we begin: If you're using iTunes 7 or later, refer to Restore Your iTunes Music Library by Copying the Music From Your iPod.

If you're using an older version of iTunes, read on for the manual method of transferring content from your iPod back to your Mac.

What You Need

  • An iPod with your content intact.
  • A Mac in fully operational condition.
  • An iPod syncing cable.
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Prevent iTunes From Syncing

How to Find Your iPods Hidden Folders with Terminal
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Before you connect your iPod to your Mac, you must prevent iTunes from syncing 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 that your iTunes library is missing.


The following instrcutions for disabling iTunes syncing is for versions of iTune before iTunes 7. Do not use the process outline below unless you are using an older version of iTunes. You can find out more about the various versions of iTunes and how syncing is disabled at: Recover Your iTunes Music Library From Your iPod.

Disable Syncing

  1. Press and hold the Command + Option keys while you plug in your iPod. Don't release the Command + Option keys until you see your iPod display in iTunes.
  2. Confirm that your iPod is mounted in iTunes and on your Mac's desktop.

iPod Not Showing Up?

Getting your iPod to show up on your desktop can sometimes seem to be hit or miss. Before you pull your hair out, try these two tricks:

  1. Click on a blank area of your desktop, and select Preferences from the Finder menu.
  2. Select the General tab.
  3. Make sure there is a checkmark in the box labeled CDs, DVDs, and iPods.
  4. Select the Sidebar tab.
  5. Locate the Devices section of the list, and make sure there is a checkmark in the box labeled CDs, DVDs, and iPods.

iPod Still Not on the Desktop?

  1. Launch Terminal, located at /Applications/Utilities.
  2. At the Terminal prompt, enter the following:
    diskutil list
  3. and then press return or enter.
  4. Look for the name of your iPod under the NAME column.
  5. Once you locate your iPod name, scan to the right and find the disk number, located under the IDENTIFIER column. Make a note of the disk name; it should be something like disk with a number after it, such as disk3.
  6. In the Terminal window, enter the following at the Terminal prompt:
  7. diskutil mount disk# where disk# is the disk name found in the Identifier column, as mentioned above. An example would be:
    diskutil mount disk3
  8. Press enter or return.

Your iPod should now be mounted on your Mac's desktop.


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View Your iPods Hidden Folders

Terminal command to view hidden folders
Use Terminal to uncover your Mac's hidden secrets. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

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 will 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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Locate the Media Files on Your iPod

Finder showing music files on an iPod
The hidden music files do not have easily recognized names. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

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 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.)

Copy the iPod's Data to Your Mac

Now that you know where your iPod store's 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. I 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 folder from your iPod to the newly created folder on your Mac.

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 the Recovered Music Back to iTunes

iTunes preferences
Let iTunes manage your library. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

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 use the Add to Library command in iTunes to add the files to iTunes.

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.

You may run into one strange little quirk, depending on which iPod you have and which version of iTunes you're using. Occasionally when the Add to Library command is used on recovered iPod files, iTunes won't be able to see the media files inside the music folder that you copied from your iPod, even though you can see them just fine in the Finder. To work around this problem, simply create a new folder on your desktop, then copy the individual music files from the iPod Recovered folder to the new folder. For example, inside your iPod Recovered folder (or whatever you chose to call it) may be a series of folders called F00, F01, F02, etc. Inside the F series of folders are your media files, with names like BBOV.aif, BXMX.m4a, etc. Copy the BBOV.aif, BXMX.m4a, and other media files to the new folder on your desktop, and then use the Add to Library command in iTunes to add them to your iTunes library.

Send Those Formerly Hidden Files Back Into Hiding

During the recovery process, you made all the hidden files and folders on your Mac visible. Now whenever you use the Finder, you 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 Terminallocated 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!