How do I music
June 16, 2023 11:15 AM   Subscribe

What is the simplest way for me to purchase and own music in 2023?

In my middle age I find navigating various platforms and hardware increasingly challenging, but I am so sick of the rent-seeking-Spotify-industrial-complex. I want to purchase music and own it.

Places I listen to music:
At home
My car
On walks (via my phone)
At work (on my work laptop but could be on my phone

Things I already have access to:
A Mac laptop
A samsung phone
A windows computer at work
A car with bluetooth access on the sound system
A sonos speaker at home

What is my simplest solution? Buying a hard drive for music? Using some cloud services? What service? I am open to the reality that I maybe can't have access to the same music in all venues if I also want to own the music.
posted by latkes to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I have seen similar questions here in the past - I think I may have asked the same question in the past - but this stuff seems to change very quickly.
posted by latkes at 11:16 AM on June 16

The other useful data point is how much music do you want to own and carry with you? 100 albums? 1000 albums? 10,000 albums? Do you already have a collection of CDs or not?

For most people with small-to-midsized CD collections, their laptops/desktops and their phones are more than enough, even with 128 gigs of storage. If you want to have every piece of recorded music for all time, on the other hand, then you start to have to seriously consider streaming.
posted by Kyol at 11:24 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]

Bandcamp and a secondhand iPod seems to be a fairly robust solution.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 11:27 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So band camp would be where I 'store' my music and then listen on an iPod?

I am not a huge collector. I do have a bunch of old CDs I haven't listened to in years but I mostly listen via Spotify unfortunately now.

I would imagine I would likely ultimately own no more than a few hundred albums worth of music total that would take me a number of years to collect.
posted by latkes at 11:29 AM on June 16

> So band camp would be where I 'store' my music and then listen on an iPod?

Bandcamp would be where you purchase the music, then download as mp3s or whatever other format the artist offers. Then you would load the music files onto an iPod and listen to them on there. The music files would live both on the iPod and on your laptop.
posted by mekily at 11:37 AM on June 16

Buy MP3s, e.g. on Amazon, and put them into to listen to almost anywhere there is internet. Not perfect by any means, but the last solution of its kind as far as I know.
posted by oxit at 11:37 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I buy stuff on bandcamp when I can. This probably won't work for certain kinds (many kinds?) of music though, it all depends. Bandcamp is definitely more oriented towards smaller artists, smaller labels, artists who have control over their own copyright.

If you buy something digitally on bandcamp, you get a download as well as streaming access via the bandcamp site / app (also will work as streaming on sonos, etc). Often, artists will sell physical media (e.g. records) in which case you still get digital access as well. So I have downloaded music on my phone and one computer that has the complete collection, and stream it elsewhere; at one place I spend a lot of time via sonos. I don't use a general cloud solution to store my music (except insofar as I do have the complete collection backed up with a cloud backup service, and sometimes move it between computers with dropbox).

When I can't get something on bandcamp and I don't want it on vinyl (in which case I try the few remaining record stores around if I can) then I tend to buy it via amazon or apple (sigh). This is still possible, even though they (or at least amazon, it's been a while for apple) will lately try to aggressively redirect you to streaming it (and subscribing for that). For both of those, once purchased, you can then use their cloud services to stream / sync (though I'm not sure how apple will work on a non iphone).
posted by advil at 11:48 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

My kid wanted to "own" music, but digitally. Here's what we decided on:

1) We bought a used iPod 5th gen with a dead battery for $40. We chose this one because it offered the best combination of available space for upgrades and compatible upgrades.
2) We ordered a new faceplate, buttons, and backplate from Elite Obsolete Electronics. We also ordered an upgrade kit that let us replace the hard drive with four MicroSD cards, and a new, smaller battery with triple the battery life. All of these were pop-in/pop-out repairs, no soldering or advanced skills needed. We put four 64 Gb cards into the memory, but we could have gone as high as four 1 Tb cards. The entire repair/replacement part took about 10 minutes. We did also buy a kit to convert it to USB-C charging, but opted not to bother. The end result looks very cool.
3) We replaced the OS with Rockbox, an alternate system that doesn't have a max cap for songs and is loaded via drag and drop, as opposed to having to use iTunes. it's also skinnable, which is cool.
4) We ripped all of the CDs that I have and that my kid has that they wanted and started there.
5) We went to the library, over and over, checking out 25-50 CD's each time, bringing them home and ripping them. We primarily did this for mass market things we had already owned at one point and/or had no hesitation not paying for. (Paul McCartney doesn't really need my money. Not again, anyway.)
6) We've been stocking up on the indie artists kiddo likes via Bandcamp, primarily on Bandcamp Fridays (on which BC waives their fees, meaning all revenue goes to the artist).
7) We also backed everything up to Google One, to which I was already subscribed. this way, it all exists digitally and is backed up.
8) CloudPlayer (an Android app) lets them stream directly from Google storage.

As a result of all of this, kiddo has a massive library of songs which can be added to easily, are backed up, and can be played from a single neat device.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:48 AM on June 16 [55 favorites]

Bandcamp is a great point of purchase for music, and Amazon (bleh) is pretty okay for stuff that isn't on there. Amazon is better for buying single MP3's if you don't want the whole album. And as others have said, bandcamp is generally geared towards smaller labels and artists (but lots of larger labels will host stuff on there too; this is becoming more common).

In either case, your purchases are stored under your account, and you can re-download the music at will if anything happens to your local copies, or you

This cycle has blessedly become a longer one, but whenever an old phone of mine 'dies' (usually due to battery life, or software no longer being secure and supported) I strip everything strippable from it, remove the sim, and kick it down to 'music box' duty with the most recent parts of my music collection on them. This gets plugged into car stereo, or home stereo, or bluetooth as needed.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:50 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]

I keep MP3s on my computer (backed up to cloud storage), and curate a phone playlist that I change up every couple months.

To get the full collection at work, I could log into the cloud and download from there, or else copy to a portable drive and take it home to sync periodically.
posted by mersen at 11:50 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

That is so insanely cool, DOT. So cool!!!
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 11:50 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]

I strongly suggest keeping a dedicated music library directory on (or at least attached to) your primary computing device. Nothing too complicated, literally just a folder where you have all of your audio files neatly organized into subfolders by artist/album in whatever consistent structure makes sense to you.

For a few hundred albums, that should require no more than maybe a hundred gigabytes of hard drive space, either on the machine's internal HD or on an attached external drive. (I also encourage having a similarly-sized backup volume that you make frequent backups to, just in case)

But the key thing is keeping as much of your digital music as you can in the same place, so you can browse and listen easily and have an organizational structure for adding new files later, and not have to worry about things "disappearing" as will sometimes happen with subscription-based services like Spotify.

Seconding/thirding/fourthing Bandcamp and any other music site that sells straight-up MP3s without unnecessary DRM, especially ones that are operated directly by the artists. Also check with your local record shoppes! Many old-school boutique vinyl/CD stores now have digital storefronts on their websites that will allow you to order physical releases direct from them, as well as purchase and download digital music for prices comparable to Amazon.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:59 AM on June 16

Something I forgot to mention about Rockbox OS for iPod, as we haven't used it yet: It supports FLAC, the lossless audio codec. So if you're a sound quality person, that is amazing.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:08 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I have a Raspberry Pi in my office with a big external hard drive full of music. The music comes from Bandcamp, ripped CDs, etc. The Pi acts as a streaming server that makes my music available at home (on my computer and stereo) and in my car (via my phone), etc. The easiest streaming solution I use is Plex Media Server, which is pretty glossy and full-featured but you have to pay for certain stuff (a lifetime license is available and sometimes on sale for idk like $80). Other streaming servers are available too. For example, mpd works very well if the streaming client is a PC (but idk if it's good for phones).

Overall, the Pi solution is very good if you are willing to mess around with Linux a bit but could have a substantial learning curve. However, since the computing requirements for something like this are quite minimal by modern standards, you might be able to like dumpster dive an old Windows PC to use as a server instead. The Plex server will run on Windows as well. Plex is pretty good about finding a route to your server, so you shouldn't have to do much in terms of networking setup. (You can also use something like Tailscale to put all your devices on a virtual network.)
posted by grobstein at 12:12 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

Uh cost estimates for the above:

1tb external hdd (should be enough space indefinitely, maybe too much): ~$50 for name brand
Raspberry Pi 3 or 4: ~$35 (supply has been disrupted so some dealers are still charging much more, watch out)
Plex Pass (lifetime): $84-120 (watch for sales)
posted by grobstein at 12:25 PM on June 16

I have no recommendations on acquiring the music - I use a combination of buying MP3s (usually Amazon), ripping CDs (including buying CDs from Amazon sometimes), and back when I had them, digitizing my vinyl. However you acquire your music, you're buying it rather than streaming it.

I _would_ recommend that you have music in folders on your laptop, and that is where you put your acquired music initially. Back it up with whatever you back up everything else with. My folder structure for MP3s is Music/Album MP3/album artist/album title/track name.mp3

THEN- I recommend you create a Music directory on an SD card and copy everything under Album MP3 to that directory and put that SD card in your phone, then use your phone for listening to music. You can pair it with Bluetooth to headphones for walking, to a nice Bluetooth speaker for listening at home, and to your car to play it through your car's stereo system. You also have the advantage of experimenting with various music apps on your phone until you find one you like. One you might want to try in Black Player since you have an Android phone.

Oh -- make a 2nd SD card just in case.
posted by TimHare at 1:57 PM on June 16

one more place to look to buy mp3/ogg/wav/flac files from (especially if you hate Amazon from the ebon abyss of your black heart, like me) is individual record labels. i buy a lot of drum&bass albums (for example) from individual labels.
posted by glonous keming at 2:06 PM on June 16

Kiddo also reminded me: if you're not of a mind to upgrade/dink around with an old iPod to get it to where you want, you can buy one that's already supercharged from the fine people at EOE.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:16 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]

I can also recommend the Qobuz store. This is not to be confused with their streaming service, which is similar to (although much better quality than) Spotify.

The Qobuz store is a straightforward old school, "I pay for the thing and I get the thing." model. Qobuz downloads are DRM free. You can play them from any music player of your choice.

You pay a higher price if you want the 24-Bit/96 khz versions, but even their entry level tier is "CD Quality" and only Flac files, not Mp3.
posted by jeremias at 2:39 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

If you're using your Windows laptop as a hub for your music, I highly recommend downloading the free software MusicBee to manage your collection, to sync to your phone or music device, ripping CDs, and for listening at your computer.
posted by Leontine at 3:25 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

Bandcamp absolutely - over the last couple years they also started doing 'Bandcamp Friday' once a month, where the proceeds of album sales go 100% to the artists/labels, waiving the already fairly modest slice that BC takes (much less than just about any other platform I know of). If you feel like getting just a little technical, you can also set up a Subsonic client on your home machine that will let you stream your own music to phones or other also allows for cached downloads to those other locations so you can listen from your phone even without an active internet connection.
posted by FatherDagon at 6:13 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I host my music collection on an old Dell SFF PC using Plex. It uses very little electricity and for £3.99 a month + a £5 one off purchase of Plexamp on my Android Phone, I can access my approx 200,000 song music collection from almost everywhere, and it works fabulously well. I can stream to/from my PC via the web app, my phone via Plexamp, TV either by casting or by using my TV's Plex app.,

Where have I got the music from? Much of it is trance that I've ripped from CD using Exact Audio Copy, either that I already owned or purchase on Discogs. Much of it is chillhop that I've downloaded from Bandcamp, mostly for free - I've also got a lot of trance and other bits and pieces that I've bought from there, almost exclusively on Bandcamp Fridays so the artists can get the most money from it.

Bandcamp and Discogs will serve almost all of your needs, regardless of what genres you listen to. Plex is so easy to use with so little configuration it will almost certainly fill your need, unless you're a metadata fiend, because it does struggle a little when tracks/albums have multiple artists. It suits my needs well.
posted by daysocks at 7:54 PM on June 16

You can buy music from Amazon, download it to a computer and play it in the Amazon music app
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:42 PM on June 16

This is the simplest for me. An mp3 player from Best Buy Sandisk Clip Sport Plus 32GB MP3 Player - Black for $55.99 and can hold a pretty decent amount of music. Can do bluetooth and has 3.5 headphone jack. Windows has a stock music player so I buy a cd I want from and put it in laptop which prompts the music player and then rip the cd. Then I plug in the mp3 player into computer using provided cable and drag and drop the music.

I have a dedicated Music folder on my computer. I have used both Linux and Windows even though the included manual says can be used with Windows only. I will say though to be careful not to lose the provided cable as I haven't tried it with any others so not sure if it works with any others.

Target sells a bunch of cds and vinyl online. Mp3 player has decent battery life and there's some youtube reviews on it that could be helpful. I love this solution. I used to do Amazon music but didn't want to pay a subscription to listen to music and support Amazon. I have been trying to own as much physical media as possible. Ripping cds is pretty easy and I really enjoy that mp3 player.
posted by VyanSelei at 12:06 AM on June 17

I also buy music directly from the artist's website when I can. A cd can be shipped and digital albums are usually sent as an email that provides a link to download a .zip but that way you can only download a certain amount of times, I think, 3? If you click the link on the email on a computer, it takes you to the download and I verify it downloaded and plays fine and go about my business. I haven't ran into any issues.
posted by VyanSelei at 12:10 AM on June 17

If you prefer not to spend money at Amazon, may be an alternative.

I keep my music library on Dropbox and use CloudPlayer to play it from my phone, keeping favorite albums or playlists on the phone for offline play.
posted by amk at 10:10 AM on June 18

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