Music library on multiple devices—iTunes? Alternatives?
May 30, 2018 3:33 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I have a somewhat complex setup of many shared devices that I manage, all OSX or iOS. I've set up an Apple account for each of us. We're musicians who play together and have a large common collection of music. Since there's very little music we don't want to share and since I end up doing all the managing anyway, I would love to have just one collection of music that could be synced on all our devices and accessed by both users.

The devices in question: we have three laptops (OSX) that we share—one is fixed in our workshop, there's one heavier MacBook Pro and one MacBook Air for travel. We both have iPhones and at the moment have one iPad (this might get to be one each ultimately).

I'm open to all sorts of solutions. I've been using Resilio Sync to have music in folders and that's good at keeping it synced everywhere. But it's difficult to actually listen to music off it, and it's impossible of course to make playlists. iTunes would be great, but I can't see how to do this. I tried creating an iTunes library and using it on both users on a computer but the whole thing crashed! Maybe another music-playing app?

I need your ideas!
posted by miaow to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Also—I have briefly considered iTunes Match, but it seems an unnecessary expense (perhaps I'm wrong). I'm already paying for a larger iCloud drive.
posted by miaow at 3:49 AM on May 30, 2018

I have been on Apple stuff since 1986 and have finally ditched in the ecosystem - the issues you're having were a huge reason. I have a massive music collection and it was merged with my wife's - she dislikes having to wade through all my stuff. I was never able to make iTunes work (it's a bloated buggy piece of crap trying to sell you stuff all the time).


We moved to Plex ( for our music/media needs and it's been great. Some notes:

1. Easy to try and test - download the free version, install and then create a library with a copy of all/part of your collection - it'll scan these files (AAC, MP3, FLAC, etc) and create the database.

2. It's free and open source, but there is a pay model too - I paid cause it's imho worth it.

3. You have playlists, complete control over the metadata (ie. can replace images and info) and allows for Collections (my wife puts her tunes in a collection and then when she is using Plex, she filters and see only her stuff).

4. It handles a big collection well. If you sign up for paid account, I believe it also gives you the ability to stream from your home to (say) work - we don't do that. Oh - you can easily sync tunes to the Plex app on an iPhone, so taking music from the main collection works great too.

We have a Roku3 and it "knows" how to talk to the PlexServer, so we have a seemless experience on the TV - we use the Roku as interface to music (Plex), stored movies (Plex), streamed video (Netflix, etc).

Completely happy with this set up - a WAY better user experience than iTunes imho.

Good luck -
posted by parki at 3:59 AM on May 30, 2018

Should have also mentioned - the web UI for Plex is really great and intuitive. Just point any browser at the server and you can play music.
posted by parki at 4:03 AM on May 30, 2018

I've just started playing with Plex, in fact just upgraded to a paid account last week. I'll second everything parki said. The paid version (which is only $5 a month) also has the ability to sync your local server with cloud storage, although I haven't quite figured that feature out yet myself.
posted by COD at 4:51 AM on May 30, 2018

I'll third Plex - we tried a shared iTunes library, synced folders, and nothing worked short of running a server which was a pain for when we traveled/did not jive on mobile. Plex provided the UI/ease of use that we looked for and let us remote in easily on WiFi. Its database is also robust and does not suffer the bloat of more feature-rich software solutions.

It also let me maintain a folder structure of my own choosing which is a godsend. We're also fully using it for TV shows that are not available on Netflix and it does a good job of capturing HDTV content via our antenna.

I am also slowly transitioning to Plex for photos because it is pretty good now for organizing photos and the camera upload is a lot better than it used to be.

Only limitations are - my wife still uses an iPod shuffle and syncing music to it requires us to load iTunes occasionally to load that device. It also does not feature a full cloud backup of content so we have to run something seperate to do that too. For smarter devices, with a Plex subscription you can load music to the device now which is great.
posted by notorious medium at 5:19 AM on May 30, 2018

Yes, you can do this easily and intuitively with iTunes Match. It is exactly what I used to do for my family.

If you set up iTunes Match on your Apple ID, it will put all of your music in the cloud, and you can access it on all devices that you are signed into. At around $2 a month, it is well worth the expense.

The trick is that your partner should also be signed into your Apple ID, but only for iTunes.

Since there's very little music we don't want to share

The only problem might be that with this approach, you do have to share all music. In the end this is what got us to switch to a family Apple Music subscription, as our teenage daughter's music tastes started to diverge too much from ours, and we got frustrated with dealing with each other's tunes.

For what it's worth, I have never had significant trouble with iTunes - certainly nothing beyond the standard amount of frustration that comes with using any piece of software - and I've been using it since the early 2000s.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:37 AM on May 30, 2018

I used iTunes Match for this reason for years, it works great. I eventually gave in and got Apple Music, which includes Match and pretty much everything else that’s ever been recorded too...
posted by togdon at 6:49 AM on May 30, 2018

I'm definitely going to consider both Plex and iTunes Match.

What do you guys think of a system where all the music is stored on a shared folder that's synced between all desktops, and I use some sort of automation to get iTunes on both users to "watch" that folder and maintain a collection?
posted by miaow at 9:10 AM on May 30, 2018

If you are even the slightest bit picky about your music metadata, or specific versions of songs, AVOID ITUNES MATCH LIKE THE PLAGUE.

Something you can try doing, if you have a spare computer or some network attached storage, is set it up as an iTunes Server, and have iTunes on each computer connect to it that way.

For your portable devices, you'll be able to sync music to them as files, like in the iPod days. That's how I roll with my locally stored library because I can't trust Apple to give me my specific metadata and my specific masters and recordings of albums.

Also, on your iOS device, if you're syncing music files, try a replacement player. I like Cesium. It's cheap, and it's super-functional!
posted by SansPoint at 9:15 AM on May 30, 2018

"If you are even the slightest bit picky about your music metadata, or specific versions of songs"

I am indeed!
posted by miaow at 9:18 AM on May 30, 2018

Ah, then iTunes Match is probably not for you. I'm picky about metadata, and I've never had issues with that, but I do know that there are times where Match has given me different versions of my songs. That's something I'm not generally bothered by.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:12 AM on May 30, 2018

Google Play Music does this for streaming. Up to 50,000 tracks from your collection online, for free, and accessible anywhere. The interface is great.

If you need the music to be offline, then why not use Dropbox or Google Drive? The setup would be something like this:

1. Setup dropbox account and pay the 1tb for $90 a year
2. Install iTunes on your first machine (important: see point 8 below). Load it up for the first time. Add a file or two just so it makes your library files.
3. Move all your music into your dropbox folder. Sync it (this will be slow, unless you have good upload speed. Go and use a library or university or something like that for super speed).
4. Find the iTunes library location on your machine. Google it. Copy your .tl and .xml itunes library files to your dropbox
5. Hold down 'Shift' and load up iTunes. Point it to your new copied itunes library files
6. Open iTunes preferences and make sure 'Keep iTunes Library Folder Organised' and 'Copy files to itunes library' are NOT selected. Choose the directory where your music library is located in the window at the top.
7. Now add all your music - located in your dropbox folder - to itunes.
8. Once all this is done you can move on to the next machine. The trick is to install everything in the same locations on BOTH machines. If you are using external drives then they need to have the same names/locations or this won't work.
9. Install Itunes and Dropbox on second machine.
10. Sync all your music (or just copy it over in the same form and let Dropbox figure out it is all there). And sync the itunes library from machine 1.
11. Load iTunes by holding shift and point it to your synced iTunes library file.

OK. If everything is in place this SHOULD work fine. There is a little problem, which is that if you have both machines open and online and iTunes is running on both machines, then you might get dropbox conflicts. The way to solve this is to prioritise one of the machines. So that machine has dropbox on it open all the time, and that's the machine you add new music to itunes. The other machine doesn't load dropbox on boot, but every so often you load it up on the 2nd machine and sync everything, then close dropbox again and play your music.

As a bonus you can reselect 'Keep iTunes Library Folder Organised' and/or 'Copy files to itunes library' in the first itunes.

I use Dropbox to backup all my music (though just on one machine), and I also use Google Play Music.
posted by 0bvious at 12:13 PM on May 30, 2018

0bvious: sounds good, but do you think this will also work for both users on the same machine? I did give something like this one try and iTunes crashed, but I should do it again a little more carefully.
posted by miaow at 9:30 PM on May 30, 2018

@miaow I have no idea about that on mac, I'm sorry. I don't think I quite understand the use case. On a PC you could definitely have the same install of iTunes for two users. That would work out of the box, but there are more hands on ways to do it too.

I run two installs of Dropbox on my PC. A Dropbox install on each of two windows user accounts. But both Dropbox installs are logged into the SAME dropbox account. What I do this for is backup. I have one dropbox running constantly on my main drive, with a lot of stuff not set to sync from online. The other install is on the second user and syncs EVERYTHING on an external hard drive when I load it. I can then run the second user dropbox from the first user windows account with a couple of commands.

I tell you all this because there are ways to think outside the box. On a mac you can probably run another user's itunes install by using the command interface somehow.

Search around. Good luck.
posted by 0bvious at 3:25 PM on May 31, 2018

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