I can't get certain songs in my iTunes library to play - it displays an exclamation mark next to each problem track. What does this exclamation mark mean, and why can't I play that music track? How do I get rid of the exclamation mark and play my iTunes music again?

The exclamation mark ('!') you see next to an iTunes music track indicates that the music file is missing. Apple iTunes stores each track as a music file on your hard drive. This collection of music files is referred to as the iTunes Library and typically it lives in your Home directory: ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/Music.

When you add music to iTunes, the file should be added to the iTunes Media directory and the track is added to the list of tracks in iTunes. When you click the track in iTunes, the file in your iTunes Media folder starts playing.

But if the track goes missing from the iTunes Media folder without iTunes knowing - because you've either moved the folder or deleted the track - then iTunes loses track of the music file, and displays an exclamation mark next it to let you know. This is iTunes' way of saying: "Hey! I know I used to have this song, but I can't find the file to play it."

You need to give iTunes a hand.

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Why can't iTunes find my music: It displays an exclamation mark instead

Exclamation mark in iTunes

Sometimes iTunes loses the location of your entire music folder. This could be because you've attempted to move the whole iTunes Media folder from its original place - perhaps because the iTunes Music folder was taking up too much place on your hard drive, and you decided to move it to an external hard drive.

Or it could be nothing that you're aware of. Sometimes iTunes loses track of a music file for no apparent reason. But don't worry: we can sort it out.

Read: How to stop using iTunes, the best iTunes alternatives

How to locate missing iTunes music tracks

Locate missing track in iTunes

If you have just a few tracks that are missing in iTunes, you can fix the problem by following these steps.

  1. Open iTunes and double-click the file.
  2. Click Locate.
  3. Use the Open window to locate the missing file in your iTunes Media folder. If the music file isn't in your iTunes Media folder, then import it again.
  4. Click Open.

The track should now start playing.

When you delete a track from iTunes it offers you the option to "Move the File to Trash". This is the file it is talking about, the one inside your iTunes Media folder. If you ever want to delete music you should do it from inside iTunes, and not delete the files directly from the iTunes Music folder.

How to locate a missing iTunes Media library

Locate missing iTunes Media library

Sometimes you might find your entire music library has gone missing. This most typically happens when your tracks are stored on an external hard drive that is currently disconnected. If you store your iTunes Music on an external drive you should check the connection.

If your connection is missing you will receive a warning when you launch iTunes that says 'The folder containing "iTunes Library" cannot be found and is required. Please choose or create a new iTunes library.'

  1. Click OK.
  2. Click Choose Library
  3. Use the Finder window to locate your music files. Typically you'll find them in Home/Music/iTunes, but you might need to look further afield - such as the external hard drive we mentioned earlier. You need to find the folder with the iTunes Library.xml file.
  4. Click Open.

This will now sort iTunes and you should be able to play all the tracks from that iTunes music library. You can also use this technique to create, and swap, between different iTunes music libraries on your internal and external hard drives.

You can also access this alert by holding down Option when launching iTunes. This enables you to click Create Library to a new your library (say, for an external hard drive). You then hold down Option when launching the iTunes and click Choose Library to switch between the different iTunes Library folders.

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