This post originally appeared on Medium.
I think a lot about process. I pay attention to all of the steps that make up the journey from Point A to Point B and I often stress about them. When it comes to getting things done on computing devices like laptops, tablets and mobile phones I have spent perhaps too much time reflecting on how I’m doing things, how many steps are required and how many apps it’s taking me to get to a desired result. I’ve started documenting these things more because what I find is doing so helps other people who are struggling with the same problem, but maybe don’t know how to optimize what they’re doing.
I recently got into a discussion with Sean and Tara about managing music. Honestly, I spend less and less time managing it. Over the course of a few years, I’ve gone from managing terabytes of digital music to streaming pretty much everything. The only exceptions have been live shows, needle drops and the occassional album pre-release which I still manage in a folder structure in the cloud. I’ve moved any music files I care about to the cloud, both for playing and as a backup. Since Sean and Tara asked me about how I do it, I figured maybe there are a few other people that would be interested in reading through my somewhat convoluted setup and workflow.
It’s been a long time since I’ve ripped a CD and frankly, even though I hate iTunes, it’s probably the easiest and fastest way to rip CDs if that’s what you’re looking to do. I haven’t connected a drive to my MacBook Pro for years at this point, but maybe you still have some CDs laying around. Storage costs are so low there’s little reason to not use a lossless codec and if you’re using iTunes, I recommend encoding using Apple Lossless (ALAC). It’s worth noting that while the codec was developed by Apple and was initially proprietary, the codec is open source, royalty-free and widely supported by devices I use every day. Depending on who you talk to FLAC might be more widely recognized as the go-to lossless audio format, but it is not as widely supported by devices and it’s for that reason that I convert FLAC files to ALAC.
I use XLC (don’t let the “retro” website throw you) for file conversion. There are some other tools out there, but I’ve been using XLC for so long, it’s just what I’m comfortable with. It can rip, convert and decode which means you probably won’t need anything more. If you like it, donate to the developer so he keeps developing it.
Most of the digital music files I download are meticulously tagged already. If they aren’t, I probably just kind of live with it simply being organized into a simple artist / album folder structure. Before I got wise to lossless, like most people I was working with MP3s and used a utility called ID3 Editor. If I were going to endeavor on a quest to manually clean up the metadata on my digital music collection, I might use something like MusicBrainz Picard or Metadatics, which people seem to like and looks to be in active development. There’s also TuneUp, which people seem to have nice things to say about. I’ve never tried it so YMMV.
Everything gets played through Sonos speakers in the house. Full disclosure: I work for Sonos, but I’d still have their products in my house regardless. Aside from using various streaming services like Beats Music (RIP soon), Spotify, Tidal and Google Play, I interface with all those services via the Sonos app at home. This allows me to search and play my own digital music collection, which increasingly lives in Google Play, along side everything I stream, which isn’t easily achievable using any other method. When I say easy, I mean easy enough for my mom to use. When I’m in the car, on a plane or on the go I just use the apps on my iPhone.
Sometimes I just want to hunker down with my laptop and some headphones at my desk or on the sofa and plow through stuff. In that case, I’ll use a combination of the Spotify desktop app for streaming and Vox for my own collection in full lossless fidelity. Vox is beautifully simple and generally speaking all I want to do is play music. I have only ever used their desktop app, though they do have a mobile app and a cloud service. I can’t imagine uploading my digital music anywhere else except Google, Apple or Amazon. I’ll talk more about that in a minute though.
Aside from the complete lack of cultural sensitivity when it came to naming their app, Tomahawk is a pretty awesome piece of software. I might even go so far as to say it’s the single best music app out there. I just wish they would pick another name. The product lead of the open source project, J is a super-talented guy who I like a lot. Having spent a good part of my career in music tech, I can say there are few devs like him that have been thinking about solving the problems he’s trying to solve with Tomahawk. I like supporting friends and have given the app a try over the time it has been in development, but for my own purposes it was overkill. I do use it from time to time, but I find the simplicity of Vox satisfies my needs most of the time.
I’ve been uploading my entire digital music collection to Dropbox for archiving and to Google Play to stream everything. The only significant to me drawback (for me) is that my lossless files are converted to 320 MP3s. The only time I care a lot is when I want to listen to my needle drops at full fidelity, otherwise the convenience wins out. I would think for most people, this isn’t going to be much of an issue. I have looked around at other solutions, but for the money and piece of mind that the company isn’t likley to go anywhere anytime soon, it’s tough to beat Google.
A Little Bit of Automation
Getting my music to Dropbox and Google Play is all handled automatically. I use a handy and amazing utility on my Mac called Hazel, which does a lot more than just help me with uploading music to my Dropbox. Another article perhaps. Hazel monitors a folder on my harddrive for music files and when it sees them, it moves those files to a specific Dropbox folder. The Google Play app also monitors folders that I define and uploads the music in the background, which is then accessible via Google Play on my Sonos.
Let me know if you have questions and by all means share how you manage your music. Also, If you enjoyed reading this and found it at all useful, please click on the little heart to recommend it to others and/or share it with people on your social network of choice.