A couple of weeks ago, I completed a major project by finally moving my entire music collection into the cloud. It's taken several months, but I'm very happy with the results. I thought it might be useful to share with you why I made the decisions I made and how I went about implementing them.
I've been an iTunes user since I got my first Mac (an iBook G4) in 2003. Over the years, I've accumulated more than 20,000 songs, in addition to a large number of films, television shows, eBooks, and apps, all of which live in iTunes. In addition, I've become very comfortable with the way iTunes works with my Mac and my connected media devices, including my iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. In short, I'm deep in Apple's media and device ecosystem, and while I've tried services like Spotify and Rdio, I've yet to find a compelling reason to break free from it.
But with such a large media collection, I found myself spending more time managing my content than enjoying it, especially as I bumped up against my storage limits. My current MacBook Pro (summer 2011 model) has a 500 gb internal hard drive, and it's always been reliable. Still, it's never too early to start planning ahead, and it seems that the writing is on the wall where internal storage is concerned. I'll probably purchase another Mac in about two years, and given the move toward Flash storage, it may not have as large an internal hard drive as I'm currently using (I'm predicting it will have about 256 gb of storage unless I want to pay through the nose). Something had to give, and that something is my media collection.
What are my options?
I figured I had a few options on the table. The first and most obvious is to just commit to buying larger hard drives going forward. That's simple enough, but I assume that my media collection is going to grow with time as well, and I'm not comfortable always pushing my storage limits. In addition, if my collection grows faster than standard storage options, this could quickly become expensive.
The second possibility was to move all of my media to an external hard drive. I'd actually done this for several years, and am very familiar with the positives and the negatives. This option does allow for much cheaper storage over the years, but it also means that you can't listen to your music on your Mac without carrying a hard drive around with you. That becomes cumbersome quickly, and in a time when I'm trying to cut down on what I carry, rather than add to the pile, it's not very appealing. Lastly, I've run into issues with external hard drives failing me in the past. I've never actually lost media (backups are important!), but I've definitely lost sleep. Still, if you don't care about portability, this could work for you.
The third possibility was to buy a media Mac, probably a Mac Mini, and use that as my canonical media machine. My dad actually uses this system at the family home, and it works well for him. The idea would be to keep all the files on the Mac Mini, set up iTunes Match on the MacBook, and then stream everything from the cloud when out and about. The problem is that this would necessitate dropping $600 on a Mac Mini, and I just don't want to spend that kind of money right now. Down the road, I might return to this solution, but for now, it just wasn't right.
What I ended up doing was backing up my media to a local external hard drive while keeping my library on my MacBook, then backing it all up into the cloud using iTunes Match, and then finally deteting the files (but not the library data) from my Mac. Now I can stream all of my music to any of my devices from anywhere, and I have two backups from which I can draw if necessary.
This did require a little cash outlay, of course. I already had a perfectly good 500 GB external hard drive laying around, but if you don't, you'll need to pick one up that can fit your media collection. Then I had to commit to the $25/year iTunes Match subscription, which wasn't a big deal. If you've got some other cloud storage solution at hand that works for you, I suppose you can substitute that, but I prefer integrated solutiuons to piecemeal ones, and that made iTunes Match seem appealing.
So far, I have few complaints. It's working for me, and if you're an iOS user with a large media library, it might well work for you.