Friday, 29 August 2008

iTunes: The song could not be played because the original file could not be found

This morning I awoke to an iTunes nightmare, one which has happened to me a few times before and one that has caused me to lose whole days trying to fix in the past. The problem goes like this:
  • Boot up iTunes
  • Select some tunes to play only to see an exclamation mark beside the track name
  • A dialogue box appears telling me that the song could not be played because the original file could not be found. I've added a screen shot below (click through for full screen):
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I scanned through the rest of my library and little exclamation marks popped up everywhere.

Now I have a library of over 25,000 tracks the vast majority of which were missing. If you only have a few tracks missing then, okay, you can merely locate each individual track by double clickiing it and locating the file in Explorer/Finder which shouldn't take you too long. However, 25,000+ tracks is a serious time suck.

I will detail an easy solution to this problem in a moment, but before I do that I will detail exactly what happened.

It seems like iTunes had took it upon itself to create a subfolder within my user designated music folder and was only looking in there for my music, hence it couldn't see the larger library - see the image below:

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iTunes had created a new directory at D:\My iTunes\iTunes Music when it should have been D:\My iTunes\ as it had been 24 hours prior. You can find where iTunes stores your music by hitting [ctrl+,] on a PC or [⌘+,] on a Mac. Alternatively click Edit - Preferences - Advanced - General.

I have only recently just reinstalled XP on my office desktop, cleaned up all my files and created multiple partitions - one for system files and programmes, one for data, and one specifically for music in the event that if something went wrong on one, the others would be fine.


My solution to this nightmare was rather straightforward. I've learned from previous mistakes you see. In the past I had been told in the Apple forums (by some noob!) to select all my files in iTunes and hit delete, then reimport them again (be selecting File - Add Folder to Library). Be warned, this is a laborious process which takes an age and also erases all your ratings, playlists, and sometimes even your ID tags. Not ideal. Apple have a related article on their support site which advises similar, but is more a touch more cautious and involves the import command.

Other solutions I have seen involve hunting down your iTunes Library.itl file and rebooting iTunes by clicking on its icon (either in XP's Quicklaunch Toolbar or from OSX's Dock) whilst holding down the Shift key. You can then point iTunes to the library file. This solution only works if that file is intact and not corrupted in any way. It is a good idea to make regular backups of your important files - I have a folder set up in which I keep a weekly backup of the iTunes Library.itl file in the directory above my iTunes folder (see below):

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This has saved my music collection a few times and I can't recommend it enough! It's well worth backing this file up to an external source somewhere too, in case you have a total hard drive failure.

Anyway, like I said, my solution to restoring my iTunes collection was pretty straightforward. I selected Preferences - Advanced - General, changed the location of my iTunes Music Folder back to where it should have been (D:\My iTunes in this specific instance) and iTunes automatically did the rest. I had to do a quick scan through the library to see if there were any outstanding exclamation marks or duplicate files, which took a few minutes.

There were between 10-15 tracks which did just seem to have vanished from my hard drive, for which I have no explanation. As I said above, it is good practice to regularly backup files - I use the free version of SyncBackSE from 2BrightSparks to schedule a regular backup of my music to an external drive. It's easy to use and a godsend. It was a simple matter of dragging files from my external to the correct location on my internal with iTunes open - they played straight away.

I did notice some other strange behaviour within iTunes' preferences. I always have iTunes make a copy of the music it imports into my music folder but this option had been disabled - see below:

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I have no idea how or why all this happened but I'm glad I spotted it as files recently imported from utorrent had stayed on my E: drive which I usually erase very frequently. I did recently uninstall Adobe CS3 using a WinCS3Clean Script before reinstalling. I have had a few system problems since then, notabley utorrent reporting its inability to downloadsome files (error: requested operation cannot be performed on file with user-mapped section open).

Problems like this are few and far between but they do happen (too often!) and it makes me wonder why I persist with iTunes. However, being a PC and Mac owning household, the benefit of seamless file sharing from the PC into Front Row is just too good to give up on. I love being able to port my music around the house via the Macbook, connecting it up to any of the amps in the different rooms without having to clutter my smaller hard drive.

System: XP Pro SP3
Software: iTunes

If you've had similar nightmares, or if this advice has been of some help, be sure to let me know in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

I'll give this a try, I've been having the same nightmare. One of the things I have tried, which has sort of worked, was to located my iTunes library files (the xml file basically), and remove it from the iTunes music folder. I then restart iTunes. iTunes will now be completely empty. I shut down iTunes, and return the old XML file to its original location, overwriting the new file that was just created. I restart iTunes and it re-reads the old XML. This usually restores my song location info.

julia said...

Oh THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU soo much. You have just saved me the major headache of doing it the way the Apple iTunes support website recomends it: importing each individual album into my library again. WOuld have taken me HOURS. You have a very easy to understand, user freindly wesite explaining an easy solution to the problem. You are a life-saver.
-Forever Grateful

Anonymous said...

nice idea but didn't work for me. At least it didn't take long to try

Anonymous said...

Sorry, please ignore my previous post I was using the wrong music file, worked fine - Thanks saved me a lot of time.

Rob said...

I'm glad this worked for you guys. Honestly, keeping that .itl file intact is a god-send on PCs.

Anonymous said...

Wow - you ARE a lifesaver. I looked forever for the answer to this problem.

Anonymous said...

I dragged all my music files from an external hard-drive...if i go song-by-song it will locate them, but your suggested method didn't work for me. Any suggestions?

David said...

Thank you very much - I just changed the location to my external hard drive (original computer crashed)and your suggestion worked in 10 seconds. Saved me a lot of grief!
Can't say it enough - Back up your files!!!

Anonymous said...

Great solution!!! Been fighting this for days. Migrating to a new computer from old---same symptoms. Your solution fixed it completely, easilly, and fast! System here brand new Windows 7 Pro system on a monster new Dell Studio model.

Many, many thanks.... (and why isn't Apple as hip? --- probably 'cuz they resent having to write solutions for PC people
;-) Now I can finally get on with my life and my 8,000 + itunes tracks. --rj

Mel said...

Yeah! Thank you so much! This worked, quick & easy. (iTunes had the external hard drive as it's location or whatever.) I also have a dozen or so songs completely missing. That'll probably remain a mystery but I'm glad to have sorted this mess out. Thanks!

Enigma222 said...

Nicely done!! Worked PERFECTLY...thanks much for taking the time to explain your situation and provide the rest of us a way out of this FRUSTRATING problem!!! You da man!! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Winston Ary

This didnt help at all, because i cant play my music due to this message and i dont feel like deleting all my files on itunes because then i will have to re buy them. The following message is what i get when i try to play my freaking music!

The file cannot be located.

zilam said...

i cannot find my itunes folders, as show on your second image. I have windows 7. how can i find this folder?

Anonymous said...

Thank you! This worked instantly. It will prompt you afterward if you want iTunes to update your library. I clicked Yes and this seems to work. Oddly enough, any files I had already located and had been renamed were lost.

Anonymous said...

This helped so much! thank god i would of lost all muh music :P

Reg Ward said...

I must be missing something.You changed your music folder back to D..?
Isn't that generally ones CD Drive.
My location currently is C:\Documents and Settings\Reg Ward\My Documents\My Music\iTunes\iTunes Media
Is this what it should read...?

Rob said...

Hi Reg Ward

You can change the drive name and letter number to anything you want in Disk Management. I liked to keep my internal drives as C or D and my optical drives as letters further up the alphabet

Anonymous said...

Hi - I'm having the same problem. I have 27 songs that can't be located (which are marked with an exclamation mark) but my music seems to be stored in the correct folder (D:\My Music/iTunes\iTunes Music). The problem seems to be that all my songs are in the folder except for the 27 that can't be located. Can you offer any advice? Thanks.

Rob said...

@ Anonymous (22nd Jan) - if you are using a Mac the easiest way to find these tracks is to open Spotlight (top right of the screen) and type in the file name. Finder will open at the file location. All you need to do then is put the file where it should be (or drag it onto your iTunes icon).

I haven't had a Windows system for a few years now so I'm a little rusty on that front I'm afraid

Reg Ward said...

Hi Rob,Thanks for your reply.I changed settings to my backup in G/. reloaded itunes, but found no I then changed it back to C/Docs and settings etc. with the same result. I must be misunderstanding this procedure.but thanks anyway.

reg ward said...

Hi Rob.
On further examination I have itunes 10. would this make any difference as access to the location folder is slightly different to your example.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rob - thanks for your comments and sorry to take so long to respond. I use a Mac at work, but we have Windows at home - which is where I initially set everything up. So it looks like I might have to keep working on a solution ... but thanks anyway!

Anonymous said...

Thank You Very Helpful

Anonymous said...

Thanks a billion!!!!!!!!!!! Had several hundred songs like this. Itunes had moved by usual music folder from my external hard drive H: to its default of C:

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much your method worked for me.


Anonymous said...

Thank You SOOO Much!!! I had so many songs and no idea how to fix this problem! You just saved me from a major headache!!

Anonymous said...


Geoff said...

Thank-you, you're a figurative life-saver; perhaps a literal life-saver, because I don't know what might have happened if I'd been forced to tell my family that all their music had been lost.

Anonymous said...

DOES NOT WORK. Went into ctrl+, to advanced, changed the media folder location to where my music is over 5 times, and all it does is make EVERYTHING unplayable. Can someone that actually knows how to fix this problem get back to me?

Anonymous said...

dude i hate you i did that delete thing n it deleted all my songs i downloadeed 100 hours down the drain thanks no help at all wtf so pissed ! I HATE TECHONIGLY why cant it just be easy =[ i feel like eating someones face now

Anonymous said...

Thanks, this worked for me. Can't tell you how relieved I am, thought I'd lost most of my stuff, but it's all there except a few odd bits and bobs that don't seem like too much of a loss compared to potentially losing the lot!

Luis Villalon said...

I have tried all the suggestions and nothing happens. I kept my old computer to be able to listen to my I-Tunes. I have almost 12k songs and I haven't bought anymore since I transferred to the new computer and got the ! problem. This should have been a simple thing to do. That's why I hate anything Apple, they seem to care only for techies with advanced degrees from MIT, not for computer idiots like me.

Anonymous said...

nice, thank you

Anonymous said...

Worked perfectly! Thanks so much!

Andy Acker said...

Did not work for me. I'm a DJ so I'm stuck now without my playlists. I held down the "shift" key while double-clicking on the "iTunes library" icon that I found after searching for the "iTunes library.itl" file. iTunes opened at after clicking the icon, but with the same problems as before and NONE of my music is playable. I still have all of the mp3 files but have lost HOURS of playlists. This is at least 2 days worth of work so if anyone has insight into my problem, please let me know!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! It worked well for me.

Anonymous said...

Worked a charm! Thank you

Fareed Bruintjies said...

Brilliant and simple solution by Rob. Thanks.

David said...

So I moved my itunes library to an external HDD and a bunch of files showed up as missing so I added them manually. Then my PC broke down and so I started using a different computer and again many files went missing. In fact files that I had just spent hours adding went missing AGAIN. I started checking the locations of these files since they are all still on my external drive and I have noticed that the DRIVE letters are different. Some files are located on the D drive, some on the E drive and some on the F drive (which is how the drive appears in the PC). How can I tell itunes that all the files are located on the F drive (that is where I tell it the media folder is located anyway)?

pete sekalias said...

what if i have music stored in D drive, AND and external hard drive(I) assuming if i change the location to one, it will leave out the other?

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