Whether you’re using iTunes or the new Mac Music app to manage your tunes on your Mac, PC, iPad or iPhone one problem persists: that of duplicated music and other audio files. Sometimes iTunes and the Music app end up with multiple copies of the same song, or even two copies of an entire album. This might be because you have imported an album from a CD and also bought a greatest hits album from the iTunes Store. Or perhaps you have downloaded a version of the track from the Apple Music subscription service despite already owning the track.
You might want these duplicate files: perhaps you have an acoustic version and an album version, or even a concert recording. But sometimes it’s exactly the same track and duplicated files are annoying because they waste space, make searching more complicated, and sometimes you end up playing the same song repeatedly. In this feature, we show you an easy way to delete unwanted extra copies of songs and albums from your music library.
Before you start deleting there are a few things to be aware of: The tracks might not actually be taking up any space on your computer, iPhone or iPad: If you subscribe to iTunes Match or Apple Music your entire music collection could be stored in the cloud thanks to iCloud Music Library. In that case only tracks that you choose to download (perhaps so you could play them offline) will be stored on your Mac, iPad or iPhone. If you were to delete those tracks they’d be deleted from the cloud - which would mean you wouldn’t be able to play them on any of your devices. If you are trying to save space then right click on one of these downloaded tracks and choose Remove Download, that way you won’t be removing the track from iCloud Music Library.
If you want to just see the tracks that are actually stored on your Mac go to View > Only Downloaded Music. Alternatively, when you look at the All Music view you’ll see a cloud icon beside any tracks that are in the cloud.
You may also want to be cautious about deleting what might actually be two different tracks. As we said above, you could own an acoustic version as well as the album and want to keep both. In that case. If you follow our steps below for identifying duplicates you should be able to avoid this. However, because mistakes happen it would be wise to back up your library before you start. Here’s how to back up your Mac.
How to delete duplicated music on a Mac
The good news is it’s really easy to delete duplicated music on your Mac. We’ll show you how to identify the duplicated tracks in iTunes and in the Music app as well as how to make sure that they really are the same so that you don’t accidentally delete something you want to keep.
If you are aware that a particular track is duplicated you could follow these steps:
- Click on the search field and type in the track name.
- Click on Your Library to see all the tracks that fit that search term and are stored on your Mac.
However, the problem with this method is you can’t see enough information about the tracks to know if they are really the same. Luckily there is a way to get your Mac to identify actual duplicates.
Using ‘Show Duplicate Items’ in Music or iTunes
If you have updated your Mac to Catalina your iTunes app will have been replaced by the Music app. There’s not actually a huge difference between the two apps but you can read about how to use the Music app here.
- Open the Music or iTunes app on your Mac.
- Click on any of the options under Library in the left-hand column. e.g. Recently Added, Artist of Songs.
- Click on File > Library.
- Click on Show Duplicate items. This will show up every instance of a recording of a song by the same artist.
- Make sure that you are sorting the columns by Name so that you can see which tracks are duplicated. However, if you think you have imported an album twice you might like to sort by Album so you can quickly spot a duplicate.
You'll see all the duplicated tracks, however there are a few things to note:
- Two songs with the same name by different people won’t show up here.
- Tracks can be identified as duplicates but they might not be the same: check for the length of the track and the album name. For example we have two versions of Give It Away by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. One is from the Greatest Hits and one from Live at Hyde Park. The latter is over 13 minutes long.
- Don’t select the lot and delete everything - that will delete every instance of that track. You need to select each track you want to delete individually (we’ll show you a simple way to do that below).
- Also beware of deleting a version of a track that you might have added to a playlist or one your have a rating attributed to.
The big problem with this method of identifying a duplicate is that if can show you duplicates that aren’t true duplicates. For example, there might be two versions of the same track but they might be quite different versions that came with different albums. Luckily there is a simple way to avoid this as we’ll explain next.
Using ‘Show exact duplicates’ in Music or iTunes
What if you don’t want to delete tracks that aren’t really the same. There is a simple way to get iTunes and Music to just show the tracks that really are identical but you need to press an extra key.
- As above click on File > Library.
- Choose Show All Items (you need to do this first if you have already chosen to Show Duplicate Items).
- Now when you click on File > Library press the Alt/Option key and you will see a new option: Show Exact Duplicates.
- Press and hold the Alt/Option key and click on Show Exact Duplicates and you will see only exact duplicates.
This will still show you two versions of a track on two different albums, but it should avoid the issue where two very different tracks are incorrectly identified as the same (such as the concert version of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers track mentioned above.)
Show Exact Duplicates returned 87 items on exact duplicates and Show Duplicate Items returned 685 items for us, so it’s probably wise to start here if you are pushed for time.
How to decide what to delete
Don’t just delete everything you see. Apple’s not showing you the duplicates you can safely delete. It’s showing the duplicates and letting you choose which ones to get rid of.
Here are a few tips to help you decide what to delete:
- Check how many plays you have associated with the track - if you don’t have a plays column right click on the columns header and choose Plays. This way you can delete the version you have played less, which is less likely to be associated with a Playlist or have other information attributed to it.
- Check to see if you have Loved or Rated a track (as above right click on the column header and choose the relevant view).
- Wondering if the track is in any of your Playlists? Right click on the track and choose Show in Playlist. You’ll see if it’s in any of your favourite playlists.
- Look in the Time column to see if one version is longer than the other. If there are more than a few seconds difference the two tracks are probably slightly different and you may want to keep both. We have two tracks from The Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy coming up as the same and yet one is 3 minutes the other 1.41 mins. So they aren’t the same even though both are showing as played twice.
- Another good idea is to sort by bitrate, which could help you avoid deleting a higher quality version by accident. Add a Bit Rate column by right clicking on the column header.
How to delete music
So, now you have identified your exact duplicates how can you remove them from your library?
As we mentioned above these tracks will not be taking up space on your Mac (or iPhone or iPad) if they have an iCloud icon beside them, so if your motive for doing this is to save space then you won’t be helping yourself much by deleting them.
Also remember what we said about being careful about which tracks you delete - you might also be removing then from playlists, or you might have a rating or other information associated with a track.
Deleting is simple though: You can delete one track at a time by clicking on the track and then pressing the Delete key on your keyboard.
If the song is stored in your Cloud Music Library you’ll see a warning that “Are you sure you want to delete this song from your Cloud Music Library?” Which will mean you will no longer be able to access it on any of your devices.
If the song is stored on your Mac you’ll see a similar warning: “Are you sure you want to delete this song from your music library?”
This could be a pretty time consuming process if you had to delete each track individually. Luckily there is a simple way to delete more than one track at a time:
- On a Mac hold down the Command key and click on each song you want to get rid of. (On Windows you can hold down Shift for the same effect).
- Once the multiple items are selected just press Delete.
- Click Delete Songs or Move To Trash/Bin if the latter is an option for you. You may also have a Keep File option that will allow you to remove a track from iTunes but keep the original file on your Mac.
- When you've finished, click Done (either in the bottom right or the top-right corner) to return to your normal iTunes view mode. You will now see your entire iTunes library (hopefully) free from duplicated tracks.
If the music is housed on your Mac rather than in iCloud you will still be able to recover it from the Trash/Bin, but if your music is stored in the Cloud then it will be deleted - so beware.
If you have music stored on your Mac and also have iCloud Music Library then you can remove the download from your Mac to free up space. Just right click on the downloaded track and choose Remove Download. The track will stay but you’ll see a download icon beside it.
If you do delete something by accident that you bought from Apple iTunes Store or downloaded from Apple Music you will easily be able to download it again without paying anything.
How to delete duplicated music on an iPhone & iPad
There is no equivalent to Show Exact Duplicates or Show Duplicate Items on iPhone or iPad but you can still clean up your library on your device. However, we’d advice that, assuming you sync your library between all your devices, you use your Mac or PC to delete items because it will be simpler.
Having deleted the tracks on your Mac or PC the music library will either sync automatically with your iOS devices (if you have iCloud Music Library turned on) or you can sync with your iPhone or iPad over Wi-Fi or your USB cable.
However, if you want to delete music from your device, perhaps to make some space there are two ways:
- Open the Music app
- Tap on Library.
- Tap Songs. Any songs that are stored in the cloud rather than downloaded on your device will have a download icon beside them.
- If you want to remove a track that is on your iPhone or iPad tap on the track so that it appears at the bottom of the screen.
- Tap on the name of the track so that it opens with the lyrics.
- Tap on the … to open up more options.
- Now tap on Remove.
- Finally Remove Download to simply remove it from your device rather than from your lIbrary.
The other way to delete music from your library on your iPhone or iPad is via Settings:
- Open Settings
- Scroll to and tap Music.
- Underneath Downloads tap on Downloaded Music.
- You can quickly remove any artist with a swipe left, or tap on the artist to see if there is more than one song, in which case you can swipe left on each song to delete.
Best third party options for deleting duplicates
While iTunes and Music both offer a simple way to locate the duplicates you still need to delete them manually. Are there solutions that can do the hard work for you?
Luckily there are and we have listed a few options below.
Gemini 2: The Duplicate Finder
This utility from MacPaw will do more than remove duplicate tracks. It will locate any similar or duplicate files on your Mac and remove them safely. The tool costs £18.49 a year subscription (or £19.99 as a one off) here.
TuneUp from GMGP is a £19.99 app that does a lot more than delete duplicate tracks. It fixes miss-labelling information, adds missing cover art and more. The latest version is a couple of years old now though so it may not work with new versions of iTunes and Music. It's available here.
This £15.99 app states that it will “Clean yo your music library”. It does more than locate duplicates. It will also get missing artwork and track details and more. There is a Mac and Windows version. It's available here.
Hyperbolic Software’s Tidy Up app will locate any duplicates across your system including music, images, PDFs and more. It costs £33.99 from the Mac App Store here.