Gather and move nested audio files via command line

Over the years my brother has amassed a large music library of 20,000+ songs. He has a great taste for sound, but when it comes to technology his nerd DNA is dwarfed by his outdoorsman DNA. After several computer upgrades, multiple iTunes Library restorations and transfers, and no file file management whatsoever, a significant portion of his audio files were corrupt and wouldn’t play (via iTunes or in the Finder on his Mac). Music is a very important part of his life, so I set out to help him.

After tinkering for a bit I discovered that running bad files through an mp3 converter fixed the problem—the content was intact, but iTunes was having trouble reading them fully1.

Having discovered the fix for individual files, I faced another problem: those items were spread across a directory with thousands of nested folders, some several levels deep in the hierarchy. There was no way I was going to manually move 20,000 files.


My first crack at automating the process was finding an mp3 conversion tool that would search through folders, find files, and convert them in place. Switch seemed like it would do the job initially, but after several failed attempts I figured that some combination of names in the file path was breaking the process. I tried a few more programs unsuccessfully before remembering that I had no need to preserve the existing order as iTunes automatically generates an artist/album/song folder structure when you import new files.

After that, I turned to the terminal to see if I could efficiently gather all of the files into a single clean directory. (Scared of the terminal? Don’t be2.)

Exploring regex commands3 seemed promising until I realized that I needed to move multiple file types4. Frustration drove me to enlist my business partner (and hacker extraordinaire) Mason Stewart’s help.

We discovered that using a unix find command, file name specification, and move command for each individual file type worked like a charm.

The result: all of the audio files in a single folder, easily digestible by the mp3 converter.


1. More specifically, iTunes recognized the presence of a corrupt file in the library, but couldn’t actually play it and would skip to the next song.2. Even if you’re not nerdy by nature, knowing a few basic unix commands is super powerful. For example, find the Terminal (or command line app) on your computer and type “whois”.3. Mason showed me this amazing regex playground by Lea Verou. I still understand very little about regex, but the taste I had showed me that it’s an incredibly powerful tool4. “Some people, when confronted with a problem, think ‘I know, I’ll use regular expressions.’ Now they have two problems.” —Jamie Zawinski

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