How to Stop iTunes AutoFilling Unwanted Music Onto an iPhone / iPod touch / iPad

May 26, 2014 - 19 Comments

Stop Unwanted Music Autofill in iTunes to iOS

Have you ever wanted to just copy a song or two over to your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad from iTunes, only to have iTunes try to sync a whole barrage of unwanted music to the iOS device? That happens due to iTunes AutoFill, a feature that some users may enjoy as it will fill up an iOS device automatically with music, but it can be very annoying if you just want to manually add a few songs over yourself without having a whole set go along with it.

Typically if you manually manage music, you can add some music with a simple drag and drop song transfer that will not force syncing of everything in iTunes. But if the iOS devices music library has been pre filled through a recent sync or backup, it will try to autofill more stuff along with that action, regardless of whether you are manually managing music or not. The simplest way to identify this is happening is that when you try to copy a single song over in iTunes, you’ll see the iTunes progress bar indicating something like “Updating Files on iPhone – Copying 1 of 254: Song Name”, so what we’re aiming to do here is to remove those 254 songs that iTunes wants to autofill over to the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

Unwanted music autofill to iOS from iTunes

Sure, you can get around this by copying music to iOS devices from the desktop instead, but most users don’t manage their music that way. We’re offering two solutions to this nuisance, one is quite simple, and the other is a little more convoluted simply because the AutoFill behavior is overly quirky.

Solution 1: Create a New Updated iOS Backup with iTunes

This is the easiest way to go. Because the iTunes Music AutoFill list populates itself based upon your most recent iOS backup made to iTunes, you can simply make a backup in iTunes that is new and freshly updated to get around the weird autofill behavior. This works because the backed up playlist into iTunes now matches the playlist on the iOS device, preventing the behavior of the unmatched playlists trying to match each other.

  1. Launch iTunes on the computer
  2. Connect the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to the computer with wi-fi sync or USB
  3. Go to the “Summary” tab and choose “Back Up Now” and let the process complete

This will backup everything, and along with it, the Music playlist that is on the iOS device, with a side effect of matching the two music libraries, thereby preventing autofill from dumping unwanted stuff onto your iPhone / iPod / iPad.

Remember, if the current backup doesn’t match up with your current music playlist, the difference in music will be what is attempted to transfer over. This is why making a new backup is important, it will remove any difference in the playlists.

Don’t want to do a backup with iTunes for some reason? You can also just trash the AutoFill library and all the music that is trying to sync to the device.

Solution 2: Clearing Out the iTunes AutoFill List to Prevent Random Music Copying to iOS Devices

Note: This process will remove the autofill library list, and as a result, may also remove music from the iPhone / iPod / iPad in the process as well. This is because the autofill list is, by default, the same list of music on the device – or that wants to be on the device – the discrepancy of whats currently stored on the iOS device versus what’s in this list is what accounts for the unwanted autofilling music that gets copied over when trying to add a single song or two. Make sense? Yes, it’s confusing, mostly because it’s a weirdly implemented feature that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, there’s no simple “Disable Autofill Completely” option, so if you want to stop the random music copying over along with a single song or two this is what we’re left with for the time being. Due to the way this works (or rather, doesn’t work), this is best used if you are starting off with a blank iTunes library on the iOS device, or if you don’t mind simply re-adding the songs you do want back to the iOS device.

  1. Open iTunes and connect the iOS device to the computer (either with USB or Wi-Fi Sync)
  2. Show the sidebar in iTunes so that you can see the ‘Device’ list by going to the ‘View’ menu and choosing “Show Sidebar” – many users may have the sidebar already enabled and you can skip this step if so
  3. Select the iPhone / iPad / iPod touch from that “Devices” list in iTunes and choose the “Music” library listed under the device name – this is important, do NOT choose the “Music” tab
  4. Shown is a list of songs and music that are either currently stored on the iOS device or that are in the Music AutoFill queue – basically if what you see here is not currently on the iPhone / iPod, this is the list of songs that will ALL try to copy over when you are simply attempting a single song or two – this leaves you with two options:
    • Option 1: Remove only the unwanted songs from this autofill sync list by selecting them and deleting them manually
    • Option 2: Delete all songs from this list by hitting Command+A and remove them by hitting the “Delete” key and confirming the removal – again if you have these songs stored on the iOS device they will also be removed from the iOS device
  5. Now use the normal drag and drop trick to copy music over from iTunes to the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch as usual – only the songs you dragged and dropped will now transfer over without the entire Autofill library going with it

Obviously this is kind of weird, and it could use some serious improvement for usability sake. But this does work, so if you’re trying to copy a single song or a group of songs from iTunes to an iPhone and a whole ton of music is trying to go along with it, this is probably why, and this is how you can prevent it.

Again, the autofill list is typically based upon the most recent device backup, so if you backed up an iPhone to the computer with a different set of music than what’s currently stored on the phone, or if it doesn’t match because you deleted some songs from the Music app in iOS, that discrepancy in the two libraries will make iTunes try to autofill what was based upon the most recent backup. That’s why the first solution offered is simply making a recent backup.

Know of a better way to clear the autofill list and prevent it from trying to populate an iPhone even with manual music management enabled? Do let us know in the comments!


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, iTunes, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Daniel Gentile says:

    I have a pc Microsoft computer controlling my iPhone

  2. Steve says:

    I will be jumping ship, too, when my phone and tablet next need changing. Apples “it just works” idea died the death a long time back. I am tired of fighting with their software to try and trick it into doing what I want from it, instead of it doing what it wants and wasting so much of my time doing it…

    I am a musician in a band and have many hundreds of songs I’ve downloaded because I need to learn them. I don’t want to listen to them again and most of them I don’t even like – yet Apple insists on constantly spamming them to my phone and iPad, which makes it such a PAIN to find the music I do want to listen to for pleasure :(

    I followed the advice above, which mostly worked, but for me the missing step was to go to Settings>General>Storage & iCloud Usage.
    Tap Manage Storage>Music, then click Edit at the top right corner>All Songs and tap the Delete button.

    You then have an empty phone to refill.

  3. JCD says:

    It appears that AUTOFILL is only available when you choose to manually manage music. If you are like me and use Playlists, you will need to check the option to Sync only checked songs and videos. Either option is available via Settings Summary. If you are manually managing your music, you will need to CHECK the option to Replace All Items under the AutoFill Settings in the bottom right corner of On My Device, Music, Settings. As an added precaution, there is also an option to choose WHERE Autofill gets items from (bottom left corner) which I changed from Music to my desired playlist. On your actual phone, you want to go to Playlists and choose the option to Show only music on the device instead of Show All Music. You also need to go to the Music settings and turn off all options for Steaming and Downloads and for Library. I am honestly not sure if ALL of these things need to be done, but it seems to be working for me right now. Also keep in mind that software updates will sometimes RESET some or all of these settings. Good Luck!

  4. help says:

    This does not work at all. I can set music to manual, delete all the music on my iphone as described, backup, switch autofill to an empty playlist, and the damn phone is still phone of random music.

  5. Syd White says:

    This autofill crap is driving me nuts. I can’t believe Apply hasn’t set up a way to stop it, how ridiculous. My iPhone now has hundreds of songs that I haven’t added which results in prolonged gaps of silence between song shuffles because all the autofill songs are being skipped over by my iPhone. I have restored the phone and followed the above instructions and nothing has worked. What a stupid feature.

  6. Gordon MacLeod says:

    Seriously thinking of leaving Apple iPhone and iTunes. Can never get the music I want on the phone as it always auto fills regardless of u checking sync music and having manual manage selected. Spoils the pleasure- not worth it.

  7. awsomesause1014 says:

    Ok so, I actually DID this with the autofill…i didn’t know what autofill would do and deleted every song (and there was 188 songs) off of my Ipod nano (oldest generation i think) and is there a way i can get it back??? PLEASE if anyone knows i’m begging u!! i need this Ipod to ave the music on there because i have no Itunes money anymore!!

  8. SteveLaudig says:

    Apple is microsofting itself with crap like this…

    “Unfortunately, there’s no simple “Disable Autofill Completely” option, so if you want to stop the random music copying over along with a single song or two this is what we’re left with for the time being.” This is usually a microsoft move.

  9. A. Coles says:

    There is music on my iPod that does NOT show when I look at “On My Device” through iTunes when my iPod (touch) is connected to my desktop. So I can’t delete it “On My Device” in iTunes and I can’t delete it directly on the iPod. How do I get rid of it?

    I don’t even know why it’s on there. It is random music from my full iTunes library that I never did “autofill” with. I never manually transferred. I’ve already had to re-set this iPod twice and resetting the apps is a PAIN. I just want to delete some songs!!! How???

  10. thom says:

    Simple, don’t buy apple, I am getting sick of all these bugged applications and the like. The difference between windows and apple, windows keeps bothering you but you know what is happening. Apple on the other hand does tons of soop without you ever knowing.

  11. Andrea S. says:

    This just happened to me. To get rid of it, I went and deselected everything in the Autofill settings.

    I deleted all music on my iPhone. Then I went into my phone’s settings> Music and I deselected “Show All Music”.

    It deleted the whole library from my device and that’s when I went back and selected the few albums I wanted on my phone.

    • Zoe says:

      How did you deselect everything in the Autofill settings?????

      • Enki says:

        Lmfao, that’s exactly what I was wondering. How informative and helpful she was…

      • JCD says:

        From Music under On My Device, Settings… and AutoFill buttons are located in the bottom right corner of the Itunes window, depending upon the settings you have set for Syncing your music. Do NOT click the AutoFill button, instead use the Settings… button.

  12. MacNanny14 says:

    Service workers, leave your phones at home. When you are at work, you should be working, not worrying about when your BFF replied to your text message. And Bartenders and Servers, if you have not yet gotten the hint that the refill of my water is more important than your texting, don’t wonder why you only got a penny for a tip. I saw you. I’m watching and videoing you. You will be stuck on that minimum wage job for life, and when the minimum wage hits $9.00 an hour, no more tips for you.

    Text that to your BFF. Now go get me another pad of butter, Chop Chop!

  13. Chris Cheng says:

    How about disassociating music from backups completely? Silly to require that just to manually manage music

  14. Matt says:

    – Under the ‘Summary’ tab make sure “Manually manage music” is checked

    – Now go to Music tab on your iOS device in iTunes, and uncheck “Sync Music”

    Then as long as you keep regular backups to iTunes, you can copy or remove music however you want and nothing extra will try to sync over. This drove me nuts until I figured that out… Apple should probably change the behavior (or just force an automatic backup to iCloud if they weren’t so stingy with storage)

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