When I’m away from home, I still want to listen to the music we have at home (well, I can live without the LPs). We had well over a thousand CDs so that’s a lot of music, 12,286 tracks ripped into Apple Lossless. Except for a few MP3s from, well, never mind. This instalment of the De-Google Project is about ways to do that with less Big-Tech involvement.

The former Google Play Music, now YouTube Music, allowed you to load your tunes into the cloud and play them back wherever your phone or computer happened to be. Except for it used to be easy to upload — just point the uploader at your iTunes library — and now it’s hard, and then Google removed YouTube Music’s shuffle-your-uploads feature from Android Auto. Also they fired a bunch of YouTube Music contractors who were trying to unionize. So screw ’em.

I discovered three plausible ways to do this. First and most simply, dump the tunes onto a USB drive; wherever you are in the world, you can usually plug one in and play tunes from it.

Second, there’s Plex; you run a Plex server on one of your computers at home (in our case a recent Mac Mini) which you point at music and video directories, and it’ll serve them to clients on the Web or on phones or on platforms like WebOS and Roku.

Also, it’ll serve your media to anywhere in the world, using UPnP to drill an outgoing hole through your firewall. Obviously, this could make a security-sensitive person nervous and does bother me a bit, because UPnP’s history has featured some nasty vulnerabilities. I have a to-do to check whether the version on my dumbass telco ISP router is reasonably safe. I believe that Tailscale would offer a better security posture, but don’t want one more thing to manage.

Finally, Apple Music can apparently do what YouTube Music does; let you upload your tunes into the cloud and play them anywhere. But moving from one Big-Tech provider to another doesn’t feel like progress.

Does it work? · Setting it up on Plex was a Just-Works experience. The process even reached out through our modern Eero mesh to the old telco router and convinced it to set up the appropriate UPnP voodoo. If you open the Plex server admin interface it occasionally complains about a double-NAT situation but works anyhow.

Getting the USB working was kind of hilarious. First of all, I bought a 512G USB stick. (My Mac says it only has 460GB, but what’s 50G between friends?) USB-A because that’s what the car has. It took a couple of hours to copy all the music onto it.

Then I plugged the USB stick into the car and it showed up instantly in the “Sources” tab of the media player, but greyed out. I snickered when I noticed that all the car infotainment menus were crawling and stuttering. Asking the car’s mighty electronic brain to index that mountain of music was making it sweat. Anyhow, after a few minutes, I could access the USB and now it works fine, mostly.

By “mostly”, I mean that when I tell it to play music off the USB, it takes a few seconds for the music to start, then a minute or more to get its shit together and present a coherent picture of what it’s playing. And on one occasion, the music player just randomly switched over to the radio. So I suspect my inventory is pushing the poor little toy computer in the car pretty hard. But once it’s going, the presentation is nice:

Jaguar infotainment showing current music and weather

A few items to note here:

  1. “Musick” is the name I gave the USB key.

  2. That recording is Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, a truly unique piece of work by British composer Gavin Bryars. Opinions vary; I think it’s magical but it’s one of the few pieces of music that I am absolutely forbidden to play anywhere my wife can hear it.

  3. The car software is way more flexible than Android Auto; this is just one of the car’s three screens and there are a lot of options for distributing your music and weather and maps and climate control across them.

Which is better? · It’s complicated. Obviously, the USB option doesn’t require any network bandwidth. And I think the album-art presentation is nicer than Plex’s. (You can see that here).

The audio quality is pretty well a wash. Plex is a little louder, I suspect them of Loudness-War tactics, which is probably OK in a car with its inevitable background noise. Plex also crossfades the song transitions, clever and pleasing but really not essential.

Plex is really nice software and I feel a little guilty that I’m not sending them any money. They do have a “Pro” level of service; must check it out.

Then of course Plex needs Android Auto. Which on the one hand I’m probably going to be running a lot if I’m driving around town to appointments. But… Android Auto is already a little shaky some days, not sure whether it’s crashing or the car software is creaking or it’s just yet another lousy USB-C connection (I am developing a real hate for that form factor).

Realistically, given that our car (a Jaguar I-Pace EV) wasn’t a big seller and is five years old, can I really count on Google and Jaguar to do what it takes to keep Android Auto running?

At this point I need to say a big “Thanks!” to everyone on Fedi/Mastodon who gave me good advice on how to approach this problem.

Anyhow, as of now, we have two alternatives that work well. The De-Googling march continues forward.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Ivan Sagalaev (Mar 10 2024, at 19:40)

You mention carrying a USB with you, but another simple option is to dump it all into your phone and use it to play it. You car works as a Bluetooth headset.

Also, Plex is quickly becoming another content-pushing enterprise. Have a look at Jellyfin instead.


From: Tom Atkins (Mar 11 2024, at 02:12)

In case you're not aware, Plex have a dedicated music app, Plexamp, which I can recommend: https://www.plex.tv/plexamp/


From: Matt (Mar 12 2024, at 15:09)

I've been an avid Plex user for many years, I've even dabbled in their undocumented API to export playlists for the car or move track ratings from one instance to another. The Plex Pass has definitely been worth it for the remote access (via plex.tv), hardware transcoding, etc.

Plexamp has also been my goto music player since it came out. I can put it on my personal, work laptop, phone, etc and it all "just works." The wife also has a playlist and uses it for her runs. Okay, I've always wished they had a more powerful song rating and management system, but that's partially where the python scripting against their API comes in to play.

Putting it in a Docker container also makes management, backups, and moving it a snap. One hint, if you're doing any transcoding, mount the transcode directory on a ramdisk to save your SSD from premature wear and tear.


From: Dan (Mar 13 2024, at 08:00)

Thank you for posting this! I'm in the exact same spot: Google Play Music was pretty good at this, Youtube Music has been worse, I'd love a non-google alternative. Plex sounds like it'd be great for me. Thank you and all your Mastodon friends for doing the research!


From: Doug K (Mar 13 2024, at 11:02)

It's astonishing to me there are no better solutions.. guess we're all supposed to be streaming Spotify now.

I went to USB for car some years ago and it worked great, until I got a brand-new used car with original stereo that didn't have USB. Now use a dedicated MP3 player Zen Stone 16G, and refresh it occasionally. For non-car travelling another Sandisk MP3 player 32G. These work offline which is necessary on much of my travels. Also much cheaper than buying a phone with enough storage for that music..

Listening now to the Tom Waits version of Jesus' Blood.. on headphones as dear wife also don't care for it or Tom much. Ha.


From: JP (Mar 16 2024, at 02:44)

I’ve enjoyed Plex for a long while, and Plexamp (as others have pointed out) is superb. I bought a lifetime membership to that Plex “Pro” about 10 years ago and I’m incredibly glad I did, it’s been invaluable for collecting the media I *own* (rather than rent) — even if Plex is swinging over to hunting revenue a bunch now.

I’m not sure if they’re ’pro only’ features, but loudness normalising and being able to sync playlists to my phone are both things I can configure & use, which might handle some of your concerns there!

Finally, if you or anyone else is seeking a similar approach for audiobooks, I can highly recommend AudioBookshelf, a very similar affair that also handles eBooks.


From: T Wongkee (Mar 16 2024, at 05:57)

reading about your USB car limitations, and had just seen this:


Have not tried it myself (don't own a car)


From: Rob Sanheim (Apr 07 2024, at 01:42)

Roon (https://roon.app/en/) is what you are looking for.

You import your library at home on a local machine - it can be something very low powered, say an old laptop. Now you have a great album-centric experience for listening to all your music via their app.

When you are away from home, you use Roon ARC (https://roon.app/en/arc) to listen to everything you have on Roon at home. It all works pretty great, and no dependency on a big tech provider, and a much better experience than Plex.

You can also integrate some streaming services into Roon if you like, but if you want to stick with your own mp3s/flac you can do that too.

I love and use Plex, but it is just not that good for music.. Roon has always been centered on music, in particular the browsing and discovery that used to exist from listening to albums or browsing a record store.


From: david (Jun 02 2024, at 07:25)

I second roon. It can give you recommendation, have good browing capability for your local collection. It is easy to setup on a linux NAS (x86 at least), cost something like 15 $ / month, and does not require cloud access.

The client app works well on iOS, ipad and macos.

And then you have roon arc which allows access to your roon library from anywhere without the need for VPN, or any complicated network setup. I only wish the app also worked on non mobile platforms.

I am about to cancel my spotify after 6 months of usage.


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colophon · rights

March 10, 2024
· The World (150 fragments)
· · Life Online (274 fragments)
· · · De-Google (1 more)

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