iTunes: Weeding Out Duplicates

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To some, cleaning out their iTunes libraries may seem a Sisyphean task. Others wonder if I put it that way just to be able to use a fancy word. In any case, it’s actually not difficult at all because Apple’s built in a couple of ways to weed out duplicates. After we go over this, your collection of music will be cleaner and more awesome. And if you go download some Pink Floyd, it’ll be even MORE awesome. 

Let’s get started with the first method to de-dupe your music. In iTunes, choose the File > Display Duplicates menu item, and you’ll see a list of everything in your library that has the same song title and artist name.

From my perspective, though, this isn’t as helpful as it could be. As you can see from my screenshot below, I have a Roger Waters song from one of his live performances and the same song from one of his studio albums. 

Obviously, I want to keep both of those, you silly iTunes. If I didn’t pay attention to what I was doing here, I’d delete one of them thinking I was cleaning things up. So here’s what you can do to avoid such a tragedy. To go back to your normal iTunes library view after looking at your duplicates in this way, choose the menu item File > Display All or click on the button with the same name at the bottom of your window.

Then if you choose the File menu again but hold down Option as you do so, voilà! Display Duplicates switches to Display Exact Duplicates.

What this means is that only songs that have the same artist, song, AND album name will be shown. Apple suggests that the best method for cleaning things out at this point is to click on a column header to sort by it, and they also recommend that you use the “Date Added” column as an easy way to see which versions of your duplicates were added when. To insert a “Date Added” column if yours isn’t showing already, right- or Control-click on one of the existing column headers first.

From the menu that appears when you do that, choose what you’d column you’d like to add to your view.

After that, it’s simple to sort and delete duplicated music, and you’re done! You can also use this on some of your other media types in iTunes (like TV shows) by just clicking on them from your Library list before you choose File > Display Exact Duplicates.

That’s great and everything, but that doesn’t seem nearly so useful. After all, how many people do you know who own as many shows as they have songs? If I owned 10,000 TV show episodes, I’d worry about my sanity more than I already do. 

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Display exact duplicates? Cool!
I’ve had to re-import my library a couple of times and have a lot of duplicates.

Now if there were only a way to scan for exact duplicates in iPhoto…

Ross Edwards

Now if there were only a way to scan for exact duplicates in iPhoto?

You said it, brother.

As an added bit for the article, if you have iTunes Match, it will automatically mark exact duplicates for removal and will only upload or match one file to the cloud.  Note that this means duplicates in terms of the data contained in the file—the matching algorithm does not care about metadata for this function.  Usually this is great but sometimes what you discover is that you have data-identical tracks on, say, an original album and a compilation, and you’re not inclined to break either assortment up.  At least then you can keep the local file.


Great tip thanks!

I have up to 5 copies of the same song (original album, remaster, compilation, live). I always keep complete albums even when two different compilations contain an exact duplicate of the original studio track. However, I’ve got over 8700 songs so there’s a fairly good chance that there’s some exact duplicates in there.


Now if there were only a way to scan for exact duplicates in iPhoto?

The problem with iPhoto is that both cameras and standard prints come in a variety of aspect ratios. If I crop a photo so I can get some 4x6’s printed and then later decide to use the photo for a 5x7 or 8x10 there’s no way I know of to get back the previously cropped pixels without reverting to original and that throws away all my careful colour adjustments.

So my current workflow is to import photos and leave them full of bad highlighting, red eye, etc. until such time that I choose to share them with others. At that point I duplicate the good photos and edit the dupes. The original stays untouched so I can always go back to it without destroying the adjusted copy. It does mean making a lot of the adjustments more than once and filling up my library with duplicates, but that’s what iPhoto makes me do.

Anyone got a better solution?


I rename all live performances thusly: “Amused to Death [Live]” so I can visually see which is the live version and which is the studio version at a glance from just the song name. I also can then create a smart play list of ALL live performances by simply looking for the “[Live]” tag. Do this before attempting to eliminate dupes and you job gets allot easier!


Great tip Melissa!



That is a great tip.  The other question though is how do you but songs back into an album after iTunes slits the album into two albums with the same name?

Melissa Holt

Thanks for the kind words and extra suggestions, everybody. My cold, black heart is slightly less cold and black now!

StevenJ, if you select a song (or a group of songs) and hit Command-i (Get Info) and then click on the Info tab from the window that pops up, you can edit the information for those items. Thus, you could rename the offending items to match their friends on the rest of the album.

Hope that’s helpful!


I tend to avoid the iTunes “display duplicates” function as it shows both originals and duplicate files in one place and sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the two.

I have been using third party tools to and in general to clean up my iTunes library.

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