If you're looking to get your music fix today, chances are you'll open up a streaming service such as Spotify, or Apple Music. But despite the ubiquity of these apps, there are artists who maintain exclusivity on their work: Jay Z's 4:44 is still not on Spotify, Beyoncé's Lemonade is only on Tidal, and Adele's 25 didn't hit streaming for seven months.
In other cases, music labels don't grant services global rights, which means albums available elsewhere are sometimes missing in your region. And then there's the absence of large swathes of Indian music, since the demand for it isn't quite there yet.
Most of these issues can be ironed out by buying your music digitally or physically, which is what some artists want to go back to in the first place. The trouble with the former is that you get locked into one platform – songs bought on iTunes will only play there, for example – and the inconvenience of the latter is why people have signed up for streaming services.
But what if you could put all your music files – purchased legally of course – together in one place, and create your own in-home Spotify? Here are a few different things you can do.
1. Build your own home streaming setup
If you want to access all of your music tracks from a central library, then you can use Kodi or Plex to get the job done easily.
Kodi, formerly known as XBMC, has long been a favoured choice for media enthusiasts. It's open source for one, and it costs nothing. It can run on seemingly all device types, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Raspberry Pi, Android, and iOS, among others. Plus, it has support for limitless customisation, including add-ons and visual skins to overhaul the experience.
Kodi can organise your library which can be run through an old laptop or something similar, and it can be set up as a DLNA library, accessible to all the devices in your house on the same network.
To get Kodi for your device, head to the official website, and select your OS. From there, follow the instructions and proceed with installation. Once that's done, open it up and you'll be greeted with a screen that looks like this:
To add music to your Kodi collection, follow these steps:
- Head to Music in the left sidebar.
- Then choose Enter files section.
- On the next page, click Add music... > Browse.
- Select the folder(s) where your music files are located.
With Kodi, your music doesn't need to be present on the same device, so you can specify multiple locations on your hard-drive(s), network storage, and so forth. Kodi doesn't create a copy of your music, so if you choose a folder on an external hard-drive, make sure it's plugged in when you want to play your music.
Once you've chosen all the folders, click OK. Kodi will then start to load info from your files, and organise it for easy browsing, and can also grab media information online.
This keeps the music on your local device though, such as an old laptop. Now, if you want to play music from that library to your phone or other devices, you need to set up Kodi as a server.
To make Kodi's collection available on the same network, follow these steps:
- Go to System > Settings > Services > UPnP/DLNA.
- Select Allow remote control via UPnP.
- Select Share my libraries.
Now, any DLNA capable app on your phone can connect to the Kodi server you're running, and play music all over the house using just the Wi-Fi, even when there's Internet access.
For those willing to invest a bit more, and get more features in return, Plex is a great alternative to Kodi. Some features are locked behind its premium offering – Plex Pass – but there's a lot you can do with your music on Plex without ponying up a single dime.
Plex consists of two parts: a media server that needs an always-on system, and then an app which lets you access your files. The former is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Nvidia Shield TV, and half a dozen network-attached storage (NAS) devices.
Once you've decided on your platform of choice, head to the official website, and download Plex Media Server. From there, follow the instructions and proceed with installation. Once that's done, open the Plex Web app.
To add music to your Plex collection, follow these steps:
- Hover over Music in the left sidebar, and click the three dots.
- Choose Edit.
- Go to Add folders > Browse for media folder.
- Select the folder(s) where your music files are located.
Plex doesn't require your music to be present on the same device, so you can specify multiple locations on your hard-drive(s), network storage, and so forth. Plex doesn't create a copy of your music, so if you choose a folder on an external hard-drive, make sure it's available when you want to play your music.
Once you've chosen all the folders, click Save changes. Plex will then match your artist, album, and song names with an online provider (Last.fm by default), and neatly organise your collection.
You can listen to your music right from the Web app itself, or you can download Plex apps for a variety of devices, including Windows, macOS, iOS, Android (and Android TV), PS4, Roku, Sonos, Xbox One, Alexa, Fire TV, and Kodi itself.
Apart from these two options, if you've got a NAS system, chances are the provider offers its own Plex-like solution, via apps and/ or the DLNA protocol. We won't get into the details here since the instructions vary per manufacturer, but it's worth looking into for NAS owners.
2. Access your saved files over the Internet
Once you've got your library on Plex, you might be thinking, "How can I listen to this music on the go?" Plex can actually solve that problem pretty well too, but you obviously need to keep your server - the computer or other device with the Plex library on it - powered up and online at all times.
We've already explained how to add your files to the Plex server in the section above. You can listen to music via Plex apps on your home network, but some additional work is required to make it available outside your home. Before you go ahead, note that you'll need a static IP for your Internet connection. Contact your ISP to know more.
To make your Plex files available online, follow these steps:
- Open the Plex Web app, and choose Settings in the top-right.
- Go to Server > Remote access.
- Click Enable remote access.
- If it says "Fully accessible outside your network", you're all set.
If it reads "Not available outside your network", you have to read the instructions on that page to figure out what's wrong. You might need to enable UPnP in your router settings, or configure port forwarding.
The trouble with using Plex is that everything is reliant on your home Internet connection, and requires an always-on system. If either of them ever go down, you won't have access to your music. If you can't bother with such a setup, consider the next option.
3. Upload your music to the cloud, and access it anywhere
Instead of having to set up your own online library, it's a lot easier - if somewhat more time consuming - to just upload all your files to the Internet, where you can then use a number of apps to listen to it. There are a couple of good options available for this.
Dropbox is one of the most well-known cloud services in the world, making it ridiculously simple to back up all your music to the Internet. Simply save your songs to the Dropbox folder on your computer, and they'll become instantly available over the Internet.
It'll take some time to upload your library initially, and there are limitations to how much free storage you get on Dropbox. If you have a large library, you might need to look at creating a separate account, just for your music.
Getting the songs online is the easy part, but how about listening to them? Turns out that this is equally simple - just install an app like JukeBox on iOS, or Beat on Android, to access your cloud library, or just play the songs directly from the Dropbox app.
Google Play Music
Apart from being a streaming competitor to Spotify and Apple Music, Google's own offering also lets you upload 50,000 of your own songs to the cloud, which you can them stream from anywhere. Better yet, this feature is available to non-subscribers too, so you don't need to fork over Play Music's Rs. 99 per month fee. All you need is a Google account, and you're set. Before we proceed, we have to remind you that putting bootleg copies of music is against Google's terms of service.
There are two ways to get your personal music onto Play Music: either via Google Chrome, or with the Music Manager app. To add music to Play Music, follow these steps:
- Make sure you’re running the latest version of Google Chrome.
- Sign in to Chrome with the same Google account that you use with Play Music.
- Open the Play Music web player.
- Click the hamburger menu button in the top-left.
- Click on Upload music.
- Drag and drop your music files, or choose Select from your computer.
For Music Manager
First, you need to download the installer for Music Manager.
- Open a browser, and head to the download page for Music Manager.
- Sign in with your Google account that you use with Play Music.
- Click Download Music Manager.
- Install and run the software.
Then, you can upload your own songs to Google Play Music by following these steps:
- Sign in to your Google account on Music Manager.
- On the next step, choose your music source: iTunes, Windows Media Player, or folders.
- Music Manager will then begin uploading your files to the cloud.
The app will live in your taskbar, and run automatically on start-up by default. That way, it can monitor if any new files are added to the folders, and keep updating your Play Music library. Your files are stored online, so you don't need to have an always-on system.
To enjoy your music, open the Google Play Music app on a compatible device, and make sure you're signed in with the same Google account as before. You'll have access to your personal music wherever you go, as long as you're connected to the Internet. For offline listening however, you'll need a Play Music subscription.