Posted by Curtis on 10 November 2015

How to fix duplicate songs in iTunes

If you're like most people, your music library has lived on multiple computers since you began building it. Adding music from multiple sources, restoring from backups, copying songs from old CDs, merging with family members, it's pretty much inevitable that as your music library grows so do the number of problems that will creep in. The biggest problem most people encounter are duplicate songs hiding in every corner of their collection.

Solution #1: Use features in iTunes

Apple has included basic functionality in iTunes to track down duplicates. In iTunes, select the menu item View > Show Duplicate Items to switch into "Displaying Duplicates" mode. If you're on Windows, you may need to press Ctrl+B to tell iTunes to reveal its menu. In the resulting list, by default song names and artist names must be exactly the same in order for the songs to be listed as duplicates.

You can also hold down a modifier key (alt on Mac, Shift on Windows) when selecting this command in order to require that album names also be the same to be considered a duplicate.

After you get the above type of list, now you decide which duplicate songs you want to delete and then select and delete them one by one. You'll likely want to ensure that iTunes is displaying columns for useful information to help you decide which tracks to keep and which to delete, such as the Time and Plays columns.

When you're done, click the big "Done" button in the upper right of your iTunes window.

The upside:
  • It's free
The downside:
  • Almost no control over what is considered a "duplicate"
  • Removed songs will disappear from playlists containing them
  • Must select songs to delete manually

For more specifics, you can read the official Apple page about using this feature in iTunes to remove duplicate items in your music library.

Solution #2: Use Song Sergeant

A more "hands-free" solution is to use software designed to fix problems like this. iTunes can't cope with slight spelling and punctuation differences, doesn't care about songs with dramatically different lengths, and whole host of other issues. You want to keep the track that sounds great, but the one with bad audio has the album name and artwork that you want. This software deals with all of this stuff for you.

The first thing you notice is that it has automatically chosen what it considers to be the best audio and the best metadata, which aren't necessarily from the same track. You can mark different tracks to keep, and quickly preview any of them to see if you agree with its choices.

It's helpful to have a look at Song Sergeant's preferences, particularly the "Duplicates" and "Automark" sections. The defaults are fine for most people, but if you're not manually using iTunes to get rid of your duplicates you probably want to take advantage of some of the fine-tuning you can do here. For example, a lot of people have crusty old DRM-laden music and it's helpful that you can tell Song Sergeant to always prefer non-DRM music when given the choice.

Here you can see that I don't care about the album title, and I figure that the same recording might vary by up to 15 seconds. If they vary more than that, they are almost certainly different versions that I don't want to be considered as duplicates! Awesome. There's also a button on the main window to mark particular selected duplicates as distinct tracks so that you never, never, ever will see them show up as duplicates again.

The upside:
  • Flexible control over what is considered a duplicate
  • Automatically & intelligently selects what songs to keep
  • Merges best track info & artwork with the best audio data
  • Preserves playlists containing deleted duplicates
The downside:
  • Not free to fix the duplicates automatically
  • Fixes other kinds of problems you may not care about

Here are links to download for Mac OS X and Windows. It's completely free to use Song Sergeant to scan your library for duplicates.

Final note

Duplicate songs are probably littering your library, taking up space and sometimes making your library confusing. It's not so big of a deal on your computer, but it becomes more serious when you're putting your music library on your phone where space is at a premium.

But hey, it's easier to fix than you thought!