Let your whole family in on the iTunes experience. Here's how…
For those of you who have multiple users on your Mac, you'll notice that iTunes creates individual folders for each one in Home/Music.
That's great if you'd rather not listen to your daughter's Glee soundtrack collection, but it's not so good if you want to share lots of stuff - music, movies, TV shows, and so on - because you could end up with gigabytes of duplicated content, a rapidly shrinking hard disk drive and a lot of wasted hours as everyone spends time on your Mac populating their own iTunes folders.
The smart way around this is to create a shared iTunes folder that lives either in Your Mac/Users/Shared on an external hard drive that's connected to your Mac either physically using FireWire, USB or Thunderbolt cables, or wirelessly using Apple AirPort.
Either way, everyone who uses your Mac can still have their own customised iTunes library - the only real difference is the way in which all of its media contents are stored. You can find out how to do this below in How to Share Music, Movies and More…
The only tedious thing about merging an existing set of previously separate iTunes folders is that your new library will inevitably be filled with all kinds of nasties, from duplicated content to incorrectly tagged files with missing artwork.
Your only option at this stage is to put in some hours trying to sort the whole mess out, but there are a few tools that can help you. You can track down the most obvious duplicates by going to File > Display Duplicates and then select which ones you'd like to delete, or you can use something smarter such as Dupin ($15/£9, Doug's Apps For iTunes, www.dougscripts.com), which gives you a higher degree of control over what's kept or deleted.
You can also clean up dodgy file tags (artist name, album name, track name, and so on), either by selecting Advanced > Get Track Names from the iTunes menu bar (you'll need an internet connection for this to work) or to use something such as TuneUp (from $40/£25, TuneUpMedia, www.tuneupmedia.com), which uses audio fingerprint technology to identify songs, correctly label them and download artwork.
You can also get artwork for your Media Library from the iTunes Store by selecting Advanced > Get Album Artwork.
Other user accounts
Once you're happy with the contents of your new tidy iTunes Media folder, you now need to do the same for each user account. The best way to do this is to go to File > Add To Library again, but this time select only the contents you want to add. That way, every member of your family will have the media they want - and you'll have an overview of the whole library so you can manage the contents.
The only slight downer with iTunes here is that you'll periodically need to go through the Add To Library process again from time to time, since new content or changes made by other users of your Mac won't show up automatically when you open your own version of the iTunes library.
Of course, if you have multiple Macs at home, sharing iTunes content between them becomes a whole different ballgame. You won't have to worry about duplicated content taking up space on your hard disk drive for one thing. But you can still share stuff between different Macs using Home Sharing, or you can just stream content from one Mac to another via Wi-Fi.
To do either of these things go to iTunes > Preferences and then select the Sharing tab. To share music with other Macs in your household select Share my Library and then choose whether you want to share the whole thing, or just selected Playlists. If you want to, you can set a password that other users have to enter to get access to your library - something that can come in handy if you want to share a playlist of sweary comedy records with your partner, but not your kids.
Home Sharing takes the concept one stage further by enabling you to copy the contents of your iTunes library between five different computers or devices using the same Apple ID. It's a great way to share the same content on a desktop Mac or a laptop at home, or even a computer at work.
You can rate and change the play counts of songs in your library from another Mac - the only catch is, you can't share content between different Apple IDs, only the same ID five different times. For more details, see How to use Home Sharing below.
As we've already hinted at in this feature, there may be some stuff in your iTunes Media that you simply don't want to share with younger family members, such as songs with explicit lyrics. This is where iTunes' Parental Controls come in. You can choose to restrict material by age range, rating, content (that is, whether or not it is labelled 'explicit') or even choose to switch off certain options altogether, including Podcasts, Radio, the iTunes Store and Shared Libraries.
You can also manually tag specific tracks, albums and other content using third-party apps such as Subler (donationware, Damiano Galassi, http://code.google.com/publisher) or MetaX (free, Rodney O. Kerstetter, Kerstetter.net).
How to share your music, movies and more
01. Share your Media library
The best place for your new library is in a shared folder on your Mac or on an external disk drive. Select iTunes > Preferences > Advanced; click on the Change button to swap the default iTunes Media folder location from iTunes > Music > iTunes to its new destination.
02. Get and stay organised
To make sure your files go and stay where they're supposed to select iTunes > Preferences > Advanced and choose Keep Media Folder Organised and Copy Files To iTunes Media Folder When Adding To Library. You'll need to do this for every user account.
03. Consolidate your library
Now you can copy any existing media files to their new location. In iTunes, go to File > Library > Organise Library and then select Consolidate Files. You can also keep your iTunes Media files organised in categories by selecting Re-organise Files In The Folder 'iTunes Media'.
How to use Home Sharing
01. Turn on Home Sharing
Home Sharing makes it easy to share content from one Mac with up to five other Macs. But it only works if you have an Apple ID and use the same one to log into each Mac. To activate Home Sharing, select Advanced > Turn On Home Sharing from the iTunes menu bar.
02. See and share
Home Sharing appears in the Source Bar in the main iTunes window. Listed below it are iTunes Media categories you can share between Macs. Selecting the Settings button enables each Mac to automatically be updated when you buy something from the iTunes Store.
03. Copying over content
Once you've found a track, album or movie you want to copy from one Mac to another, select it and click on the Import button. You can update playlists and ratings in your master library by selecting the Home Sharing option in iTunes > Preferences > Sharing.