Inspired by this post, which mentions something called Plex:
I used to have a bunch of music that I owned available through Google Play Music. Basically, IIRC, it scanned your music library, and then it made those tracks available to you via the cloud on any device it way installed on.
That service shut down recently, and you had to download your music back to a computer in order to still have access to it. Amazon also recently changed how it manages the stuff you own, which has made it harder for me to listen to my own music. (And I hate their new app, which is clearly oriented to driving you to their channels and “unlimited” service.
I am wondering if any app out there can do what these used to do, and give me access to the music I own without me having to store the music on that device. I’d like to be able to make playlists, and, ideally, have them be available across devices as well. If there are any, how do they work, and how do you add new music as you buy it? Any direct comparisons to the Google or Amazon apps?
My understanding is Google Music was replaced by Youtube Music. I’ve been using it on my phone and it works similarly to Google Music but the UI isn’t quite as good. But it does keep all your music in the Cloud and stream/download when you need it. There was a link to seamlessly copy your Google Music library to Youtube Music. I don’t know if it still works.
Looking at it again, I really don’t like the UI, and it doesn’t seem to have all of my music. I need to double check against what I’ve downloaded back to my computer to be sure. But you’re right, if I can get used to the UI, it will do what I want. It does put its own music service upfront, which I’d like to get away from, but maybe that’s just inevitable.
Yeah, I don’t much like the UI for Youtube Music either, and I don’t like the extra button presses necessary to skip the service content and get to my content. If there are better alternatives, I’d like to know about them too.
@pulykamell , can you tell me more about Plex? I didn’t want to hijack the other thread, and wanted to throw it open for other possible options. But your post is what made me suspect there was something out there that might fit the bill.
Thanks! I’ll take a look at the articles. Building my own music and video server sounds like overkill at first glance, but then again, it could simplify some storage issues I have. I’m not sure how much is involved, but I’m going to look into it. It may wind up being an even better solution than I was thinking of.
Plex is a multimedia server and manager that runs on your computer and home network. It’s free. From what I remember, installation was pretty straightforward. I’ve had this on my computer for a decade now, so I can’t remember exactly. I have an external hard drive where I put all my media: video and audio (you can also do photo) in their own folders. I then tell Plex to scan my media folders and it populates its menus with my media, as well as downloads from the internet (if you want) cool things like cover art, IMDB info (in the case of movies), Rotten Tomatoes scores, etc.
Once everything is imported (oh, you have to set up a free account along the way), Plex runs in the background and you can access it with remote devices by downloading the app to your phone, or your iPad, or your Apple TV/Roku.
Basically, Plex runs a server from your computer that you can access from anywhere. With that, though, you have to make sure your computer is running, obviously, and you need to make sure Plex is running to be able to serve the files you need.
One fun thing is you can share your libraries with other people running Plex. So, for example, my brother has a Plex server, and he invited me to his server, and now I have access to all his audio and video content, as well.
I’m not sure I’m explaining this in the best way, but I love Plex, and I use it to stream both music and movies when I’m away (or even if I’m upstairs in the bedroom, I just open Plex on my iPad to watch movies I have on my Plex hard drive downstairs.)
Yeah, given your description, I did think you might want something a little more hands-off. Plex isn’t terribly difficult to deal with, but, yes, you do have to be in front of the computer running Plex to organize the content. The short of it is that you just tell Plex where your media is, tell Plex to scan that folder so it could update its library (this can be automated, although I do it manually), and then it will appear on your server that you can access with your app. I don’t find it that difficult. I have a folder on my external named “Music.” Say I just burned my Pixies collection. I drag all those folders over to Music, have Plex scan it, and voila, I have Pixies available wherever I want. Plus it’ll give you bells and whistles like downloading the cover art and all that.
But you can do something like point Plex to your iTunes folder (or whatever), set it up for automatic scans, and when you purchase something on iTunes and it gets downloaded to that folder, Plex will see an extra folder in there, scan it automatically, and add it to your library. I’ve never set up this feature, but I just looked it up and apparently it can do that.
Play around with it and see what you like. It won’t cost anything. I’m looking at the reviews in the app store and they’re 4.7/5. It really is a great piece of software, in my opinion. I had it sitting around for a couple of years before I used it, and once I did, I was cursing myself for not using it sooner.
There are paid tiers of service that you can get with Plex, but I’ve never needed anything more than the free one for my purposes. (And even the free one comes with some free channels or something I’ve never checked out. I use it – and my friends use it – exclusively to stream their own content. I believe when I first downloaded it, that was all that was available, anyway. The add-ons came later.)
There’s also other similar products like Emby, but I don’t know much about the various Plex alternatives.
I remember back when I was using media players on the computer, before my phone could do anything like that, and I had things configured so that my purchases were automatically downloaded, and the media player monitored that folder. So that sounds familiar and doable. I do have a computer I could set this up on, I think, with an external drive.
If you don’t mind, I have another, possibly dumb, question. The computer has to be always on and connected to the internet, of course, but i assume it can be locked, is that right? I have a pair of 7-year-olds that have discovered YouTube, and have to be locked out of computers except when they can be supervised closely. I imagine it has to work that way, but I just want to be sure.
Also note that if you set up a music server on your PC and want to access it from outside your house, you have to punch a hole (open a port) in your router’s firewall, which raises security issues, so be sure you’re comfortable messing with your firewall and understand the risks.
I don’t recall doing any sort of messing around with my router. Maybe I’m forgetting it, but I got a new router a couple years ago, and don’t recall playing around with the settings. Apparently Plex does some sort of automatic configuration if your router “supports the “UPnP” or “NAT-PMP” feature” according to the guide.
My computer is always password locked when I’m away from it, and, yes, it still streams.
According to this, Plex seems to handle router firewall configuration itself for some routers. If you homebrew your own server, you may need to configure it manually. But either way, you’re opening access to your home network to the outside world, and you need to be sure you trust the security of the server that uses the open port.
I originally wanted Apple or Google or someone to store my music and movies just because I didn’t want it taking up hard drive space, and I worried what would happen if my laptop died/stopped reading the hard drive/spontaneously combusted.
But in the midst of agonizing over which mega-corporation I was going to turn over my media to, I realized how far prices on external drives had fallen (and/or how much more storage you get for that c-note… hint, a bit more than my 44 mb Syquest drive).
Once I brutally weeded out duplicates and stuff I’d never watch/listen to again (and, to be honest, a bunch of crap movies)… hey, for a hundred bucks I can have a Five Terabyte Drive! that’ll fit ALL of it.
And I bet in a month or so I’ll get another one…
10,000 gigs, baybeeee!
I do not necessarily want it in the cloud. I do want to be able to access it on multiple devices, without storing it on all of them. So, a private server could work, as did the cloud storage provided by some apps. But just having it all on my computer would not work for that.
If you store your music on an external hard drive, you’d still have to be within Bluetooth range (~10 meters) to listen to it. If you upload it to the cloud and set up music streaming on the server, you can listen to it anywhere you have an Internet connection - so you can listen while driving, or shopping at the store, etc.
EDIT: not sure if you consider a private server, such as one from Amazon Web Services or DigitalOcean, to be The Cloud™
@pulykamell On the Plex website it says that the free tier only gets one minute of streaming for mobile apps. How do you get around this? Do you just connect to the Plex server through a mobile browser, instead of using the official app?
Huh. I haven’t the faintest clue. I checked my account; I have a free one. I have no payments on record. No subscriptions. But I can stream on my iPhone app without any issue. I just tried it right now, and I used it earlier today while picking up my daughter from school. Yes, I use the actual app.
ETA: It looks like there’s a $4.99 one-time in-app purchase to fully unlock the app and remove that restriction. I guess I must have purchased it when I first downloaded the app, but it was so long ago I don’t remember. It looks like the purchase is tied to my Apple ID which, I guess, is why it works across my various iOS devices. That must be what happened. Five bucks well spent for me. I have used the hell out of that app.