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How To Enjoy Your Own Digital Music

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Mike Harley recently wrote about making collecting an MP3 library popular again. It seems to be a hot topic in the circles I sometimes find myself in, and I’ve read a couple of interesting thoughts following Mike’s post on Mastodon.

As for myself, I slowly but surely came to the same conclusion as Mike: you shouldn’t use Spotify. When I was 13, I enjoyed buying a new album from the local music store. Since then, I’ve always been heavily invested in rap. First the popular stuff (Dr Dre’s Chronic), then the more obscure hip hop (Non Phixion, Jedi Mind Tricks), turntablism (Kid Koala), political rap (Immortal Technique), etc. Back then, albums cost as much as it does now (700 Belgian Franks, which is €17.5), thus effectively a lot more.

As I discovered more lovely “bullshit music” as my friends liked to call it, through the then-popular Flash-based discovery website Music Plasma, I started leaning towards downloading MP3s. It was the beginning of the MP3 CD players like the Rio Volt. The first generation iPod was yet to be released (in 2001). LimeWire-like software and news group “attachment” downloading was immensely popular among my then school friends. Peer 2 peer file sharing tools allowed you to yank everything of even remote interest onto your local PC—provided the early ADSL connection could hold up. I was only vaguely aware that this didn’t exactly help the artists.

In 2007, I finally bought my own iPod (6th generation?) to dump gigabytes of obscure rap on. It helped me get through some rough early work commuting times. But again, it did not help the artists that were struggling. Dr Dre and Wu-tang surely didn’t mind, but the underground MCs that never really broke through probably did. Eventually, the advent of streaming and the rise of Spotify at work made me switch to a Spotify account in 2012.

A couple of years later, I got rid of every audio CD I owned and deleted all my MP3s. ‘Cause, you know, who still does that when there’s streaming, right?. I was naive. I still am, but at least now I know you shouldn’t use Spotify. Artists still don’t make a dime out of it. Spotify started as nothing more but ease of use for pirates.

Last week on vacation, we happened to bump into a music store. For the first time in twenty years, I bought an album! Thanks, Mike. It was so exciting to rummage through these classic nineties albums. It reminded me that streaming and an endless array of choice takes away not only money from the artist but also a lot of joy from the buyer:

  • The CDs come with a booklet. So what? Well, sometimes, it has really cool art or photos on it, which I highly value. RJD2’s The Colossus even contains technical information on which samples were used and how they were scratched in, just because RJ loves these kinds of technical things. I love that attention to detail.
  • To me, the physical action of browsing through something is and always will be more satisfying than scrolling through a list on a phone or a laptop. See the insanity of collecting retro games.
  • I get to talk with the shop owner about the good ol’ days of Enter the Wu-tang (36 chambers). When I bought the album, he was like “Woah that’s old skool bro”. Yessir.
  • I get to support a local small business. The owner told me five different record shops used to exist in that same street. Now there’s only one left.
  • I own my own music. This is also true if buying from digital sources, of course, as opposed to simply streaming using Spotify. Seriously, what happened to my The Grouch & Eligh albumgs that suddenly disappeared?
  • Someone—and not something—can recommend me new and other releases. Even if “the algorithm” is likely to be more on point, as a human, I’d rather communicate with humans.

A couple of revisits later, I went home with four audio CDs. But I didn’t have a dedicated and CD-enabled Hi-Fi station anymore…

Anyway. I digress. Hey, I’m starting become one of them!

How to enjoy your own music collection?

What I wanted to say is this: I want to take up Mike’s call on buying (physical) music again. But how do you enjoy your own collection nowadays? I asked around. The prerequisite was digitizing the album. The answers I got were:

  • Just play it using VLC (or WinAmp!) and store it directly on your machine. No fuss;
  • Use MPD (Music Player Daemon) + a RaspPi + a cheap USB sound card + some external hard drive to control your installation using cmd-line;
  • Re-buy a retro MP3 player and carry that around like it’s 1999;
  • Deploy a home NAS and stream the music using the built-in software;
  • Install a custom music streaming service that supports the Subsonic API like the Go-powered Navidrome;
  • Install Plex and buy the Amp upgrade to enjoy their premium support;

Let me know if your current option isn’t on this list.

Edit: Mike reached out to me and added an option:

As for my music setup, I just store all my music on my linux desktop and use syncthing to sync my music collection to my phone and laptop. I then just use the Vanilla Music to play it on my CalyxOS phone and Audacious on linux.

I never heard about the Subsonic API before. Hosting Navidrome and using an appropriate app on your smartphone effectively allows you to host-your-own-Spotify! There’s plenty of apps on multiple platforms to choose from, and some of them support offline play (caching), which is a boon for when using your phone in the car as a music player. I’d like to explore this path and plan on setting up something like that myself in combination with a NAS to store the music itself. Navidrome has a live demo app that looks great (login with demo/demo).

Things don’t have to be complicated to enjoy your music. Yet the premise of streaming is alluring: any device can access your collection, regardless of where you are in the house. If you open up your NAS to the internet, regardless of where you are in the world. A bunch of “smart” wireless speakers like Sonos seem to support the Subsonic ecosystem (more like the other way around using the bonob service).

The only question remains: where to store those CD cases?

tags icon music self-hosted navidrome

Wouter Groeneveld reflects on the move away from Spotify and owning your music once again. He touches on such options as Navidrome and Music Player Daemon. I think the biggest challenge is convenience. I have read about people setting up their own p...

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I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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