Want your whole music collection available when travelling?

A Sonos blog quoted research showing that 50% of music is listened to while away from home. It also observed that we have passed the tipping point in a migration from personal music collections, towards streamed music services.

I think that “away from home” and “streamed music services” are somewhat connected, as the former is part of the push towards the latter. This doesn’t need to be the case, as technology has made whole collection availability while “away from home”, achievable at reasonable cost, and with minimal hassle, and without assistance from the bloat of someone else’s streamed collection.

Attractions of streamed music services
  • reduced cost?
  • wider choice of music?
  • wider choice of locations where you can listen to music?
  • increased convenience regarding music played while away from home?

If you are reading this blog entry, you are likely to be a music collector just like me. This affects two of the above benefits:

  • reduced cost … nope, we have already spent the time & money to build our own collection
  • wide choice of music … we already have this covered. We have a carefully curated collection, and are flat out finding time to fully engage with it. 

The next two benefits do present challenges while away from home.

  • wider choice of locations where you can listen to the music … I want my collection to be available when staying away from home, and I also want it while commuting. And I want my whole collection to be available.
  • increased convenience … It is such a drag having to rotate & refresh the limited amount of music which can fit onto a mobile device. Made worse if you have ripped your collection as large lossless copies, as you have also make smaller mp3 copies, just so that a reasonable selection can be synced across. I would really appreciate increased convenience.

I add one further wish into the mix. AlbumPlays playlists have reintroduced a sense of intimacy with my music collection. These playlists enable focused browsing, just amongst a smaller auto-refreshed subset of my collection; ie. those tracks or albums which I haven’t heard for a while. I would like these active playlists to be automatically available, wherever and whenever I get a chance to enjoy my collection.

  • whole collection available when staying away from home, also when commuting
  • AlbumPlays playlists available in all locations
  • remove hassle associated syncing music to mobile devices

This sounds a tall order for someone with a large music collection, but current technology has solutions, and at reasonable cost.

Option 1: get a small portable WiFi USB hard drive

WiFi USB drive

Something like a MY PASSPORT WIRELESS from Western Digital:

  • 1tb & 2tb models; ie around 6,500 albums, or 80,000 tracks, even if ripped losslessly … there are larger devices if your collection is greater
  • an incremental backup tool will monitor your collection, and keep the drive current by copying across just your new and re-tagged tracks
  • connections: WiFi & USB
  • sufficient battery capacity for 6 hours of continuous use
  • multi-user: can service up to 8 independent mobile devices simultaneously
Pros
Can contain your whole collection.
Listen via your mobile device with headphones, or a Bluetooth speaker, or cast to a Chromecast device.
All plays are scrobbled to Last.fm, and therefore update your MediaMonkey play history.
AlbumPlays multi-target playlists are automatically generated, refreshed, and distributed. They work with these drives, just as they do against your main music collection at home.
Listen to music away from home without consuming your data cap or generating mobile data charges.
Cons
Regardless of the battery, a spinning hard drive is not really suited for the bumping about experienced while commuting.
How to ... Options ... Issues ... Advice click for details

Which size WiFi drive should I buy?

MediaMonkey can display the size of your music collection: File|CreateReports|Statistics.

  • display collection size

This shows that my collection is 943gb, which is almost 1tb.

You need to allow space for the drives operating system and overhead, say 200mb. Also allow capacity for collection growth, plus any other files that you may backup to it.

I bought the 2tb model.

Which manufacturer?

I have tried two manufacturers; Seagate & Western Digital. From this limited sample my recommendation is:

  • buy Western Digital
  • avoid Seagate
Click to read the reason behind my choice

This recommendation is based upon two factors:

  • firstly there is what I have seen described as the dirty secret of WiFi hard drives. It is that the storage space may be vast, but their embedded computer chip is feeble. This may be good as far as cost & battery duration goes, but it takes them forever to index a large collection.
  • secondly the Seagate product seemed to want to re-index each time the drive was turned on, regardless of whether there was any new or changed content.

The combination of these two factors made the Seagate a poor choice for me. It took over an hour to index 40,000 tracks (ie. just 1tb on a 2tb drive). This was a one hour delay, before I could use the drive(!!), each and every time I powered the drive on. The device was fine if I left it running.

I went to the Seagate community support forums, where other customers also complained of the same issue. Neither customers, nor Seagate, were able to resolve the problem.

I also went through Seagate support channels. They were not across the problem, but did replace the drive. The new drive had exactly the same problem. …. My conclusion was that the Seagate drive was only suitable for small collections, ie. where the re-index task runs relatively quickly. … Also it looks like Seagate have now closed their Community Forums, which is not a very encouraging development.

I bought the Western Digital device. It also takes a long time to initially index the whole collection, but only needs to do it once. WD are confident enough in their support story to retain a Community Support forum.

collapse

  • I bought the WD MY Passport Wireless
  • there is also a new model named the MY Passport Wireless Pro
  • the new model is larger, heavier, more expensive, and has better battery life
  • for my needs, smaller, lighter, and less expensive were better … I use it for playing music when staying away from home, so I can plug it into a power point, making battery life a non-issue
  • the new pro model does have a couple of other distinguishing features, but as I don’t own one I can cover them authoritatively

Copy your collection to the drive

If your music tracks are on a NAS, it is best to sync your music to the WiFi drive using the backup facility that is part of your NAS, .

Click for details
  • you will have less impact on your home network if the NAS runs the sync, while it has the WiFi drive connected via a USB cable
  • plug the drive into a USB port on the NAS
  • sign into the NAS using your PC browser
  • configure a task to backup your music share to the attached drive. Specify an incremental backup, ie. each successive backup copies just new and changed tracks
  • the UI for this will be different for each NAS vendor; here is an illustration from my NAS
  • sync music to WD drive
  • the initial backup will run for a long time. Mine ran overnight, as I only have slow USB 2 ports on my NAS. (the USB 2 port runs at 480 MB/s; if your NAS has USB 3 ports they should run at 5 Gb/s)
  • collapse

If your music tracks are stored on your PC, you could just use the backup utility which comes bundled at no cost with the WD WiFi hard drive.

Click for details
  • here is a short YouTube video which illustrates the WD backup utility, and also shows how to obtain & install it
  • ignore the discussion regarding:
    • Dropbox connectivity, and the Pro version of the utility
    • also ignore how to restore the backup copies back onto your PC
    • and ignore the setting of the backup schedule … you just need to run on-demand backups, which are triggered by the clock icon, as illustrated below
    • WD backup utility
  • the backup copies will be placed on the WiFi drive, out of harm’s way in a folder named WD SmartWare.swstor
  • when the WD drive updates its media index, it will find your tracks regardless of the strange folder name
  • collapse


Rerun your chosen sync process whenever you have a significant change to your music collection .. updates will run much faster than the initial load up.


Using the WiFi drive

  • if you power up the drive by connecting it to your PC or NAS, via a USB cable, it operates as a simple slave hard drive. The PC or NAS controls the drive, and the drive’s computer does not boot up. … Use this mode when syncing tracks to the drive. You can also use this mode to play music using a laptop PC if connected via a USB cable.

  • if you power up the drive, when it is not connected to computer-like device, the drive’s computer boots to control it, and the drive will become a WiFi hot spot.. … Use this mode when playing music using your phone, tablet, or a laptop connected via WiFi

When the drives boots up, it will automatically detect and index any new content.

Get the drive’s User Guide from here:

  • section 5 shows how to connect your mobile device to the drive’s WiFi Network … nb: if you also want to use the Internet while listening to music, and an Internet WiFi connection is available where you are staying, you can configure the drive to join that Internet connection, and optional privacy options are available to secure your data from public access
  • section 8 shows how to play music from your collection … you need a media player on your mobile device (ie. your phone, tablet, or laptop)

I have the following:


  • Securing your data

You can secure your WiFi drive by:

  • secure access to the drive’s WiFi network
  • require a password to gain access to drive configuration facility
  • lock off usb access to the drive while you are travelling (ie. other people will need your WiFi network password to be able to access files on the drive)
  • hide data on the drive, where you have joined to a public, or someone else’s, network in order to gain access to the Internet

Details at this YouTube video here


Using AlbumPlays playlists

Obviously I am biased, but I think that AlbumPlays Playlists enhance enjoyment of a large music collection. See my blog entry on this topic.

One of AlbumPlays playlist features is that they are multi-target, meaning they may be used against your track master copies at home, as well as against the clone copies on your portable WiFi drive.

Also, there is a further reason why AlbumPlays playlists enhance a portable WiFi drive. As I mentioned above, the computer inside these drives is feeble, for cost & battery duration reasons. The downside of this is that browsing a large drive can be quite laggy. A playlist is an auto-refreshed, targeted subset of your collection. This smaller size allows the drive’s feeble computer to deliver targetted browsing in a much snappier manner.

AlbumPlays playlists also have a special option for whole-album listeners. An album-based playlist includes just the first track for each album, meaning that you get a compact playlist, which is more convenient to browse. The album is identified by its cover image.

Once you have selected an album, tap the row’s three dots, to popup a menu to bring up the whole album, allowing it to be queued.

album-based playlist

If you wish to use AlbumPlays playlists with your WiFi drive, you need to point the _playlist_track_location_prefix_usb option to the drive location where your tracks have been synced to.


Tips

  • avoid frustration by testing the drive before leaving home, especially if you have synced new tracks to the drive since you last used it …. attach the drive to your PC via usb … open AlbumPlays, and refresh the drive’s playlist (Action|AlbumPlaysPlaylists, unless the playlist is set to auto, in which case you only need to Open & Close AlbumPlays) … eject the drive from the PC, and boot it up … allow it to index any new material … test it by playing a track or two

  • even though the drive is a portable device, remember that it is a spinning hard drive … so don’t knock or move it while it is operating

  • remember that the drive computer is feeble … if it is (slowly) doing something, it is best to be patient, and wait until it completes, before adding new action into the mix

  • always eject the drive, before unplugging the cable, after you have been using it as a USB slave drive connected to your PC .. either use the the (1&2) WD Quick View icon in the PC’s notification area, or use USB icon … if Windows won’t release the drive review the following advice from WD

  • dismount the USB drive

  • the WD drive is “Formatted ExFAT for Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 operating systems and Mac OS X”. Most NAS devices run under Linux, ie. not one of those OS choices. … The backup utility of your NAS may not work with the drive until you reformat it to NTFS … only do this if you are using the NAS backup feature to sync tracks to your drive, and the NAS backup facility asks for NTFS

collapse

Option 2: store your music collection on Google’s Play Music steaming server
streaming my own album while away from home
My album streamed to my tablet. I know that it is my copy, because King Crimson albums not currently available via streaming in my region.

Stream your own tracks from Google Play Muisc, via the Internet, when away from home. Google allows you to store up to 50,000 of your own tracks, onto their streaming server in the cloud, at no charge.

  • music uploads accepted in the following formats: FLAC, MP3, AAC, ALAC, WMA, Ogg
  • tracks stored as 320 kbit/sec MP3
  • cost: free
  • limitation: 50,000 tracks with their free offering
  • available in 59 countries
  • telecom upload costs are minimised, as Google fingerprint all tracks in your collection, and then only upload those which they don’t already have in their own massive collection
  • Google continuously monitors your collection, and automatically uploads or registers your new tracks
Pros
Enough capacity to store 4,000+ of your own albums.
Very acceptable audio quality.
Listen via your Google Play Music client on your mobile device, or cast to a Google Chromecast device. Meaning that your music collection is available when away from home, including while commuting.
AlbumPlays playlists are auto-refreshed & auto-distributed into your Google Play library.
Plays are scrobbled to Last.fm, and therefore update your MediaMonkey play history. Scrobbles use your own tags, not the tags used by the streaming service.
Cons
Mobile telecom charges, or data cap consumption, apply when playing from a streamed service such as Google Play Music
How to ... Options ... Issues ... Advice click for details

November 2016: … I am working on this … coming soon.

collapse


Summary

It is quite achievable, and straight forward, to:

  • enjoy your own music collection wherever you roam, work, or commute
  • and to maintain a central record, in MediaMonkey, of all of your play history, collected from all locations
  • and to have your active playlists auto-refreshed, and auto-distributed, for use in your mobile music clients, just the same as at home

Contact me if you have any suggestions, questions, or corrections.

Restore intimacy to a large music collection

In the good old days I was more familiar with my music collection. Not only was the collection a whole lot smaller, but I could store the albums in a way which meant that a new album was less likely to be bought, played, filed, but then forgotten.

I could shuffle through my album covers, admiring their artwork, until settling upon something to play. When I returned the album to the shelf I would file it on the right. The next day I could chose to shuffle from the right, amongst the newer and recently played albums, or from the left where old friends would finally surface. … I am reliably informed that this was rather peculiar, but it worked for me 🙂

MediaMonkey, like most music browsers, offers a browsing mode to replicate cover browsing. But as the collection grows larger it is becomes overwhelming, and cries out for more targeted filtering options. The human brain is busy, and is tuned for quick pattern matching. If I start browsing through my full collection, I am quickly going to find something I feel good about hearing. It will happen early in my search, and this leaves a lot of dark corners which I never even passed over, and which I may never revisit. If that is the case it pretty much kills my satisfaction from collecting.

Of course, I can reduce the browsing pool by filtering to show just those items recently added to my collection, or browse amongst this artist, or that genre, but that is not enough in a large collection.

Play counts

A key deliverable from AlbumPlays is that it will upload all of your play counts into MediaMonkey, from across all of your scrobbling music platforms. This gives additional browsing options to improve intimacy in large collections:

You can chose to browse amongst just those albums which you haven’t heard for a year … still too many? … make it just those not played for a year and a half, … or maybe browse amongst just your neglected Jazz albums, or just those forgotten albums which you have played less than 3 times in total.

cover flow browsing using MediaMonkey

The addition of inclusive play counts restores a much greater level of intimacy with a large collection, as it narrows to a smaller pool. One which is continually refreshed as you play from the suggestions, and which keeps throwing up great choices that you may otherwise never have gotten back to.

MediaMonkey allows you to design your own custom “collections”. In the example above I filtered out a couple of genres that I don’t care about, and then restricted it down to only albums which I hadn’t heard for a year. I also filtered out any album which I hadn’t played for over a year and a half, because if I hadn’t played it after six months worth of nagging, I should probably stop considering it.

The rules only need to set up once. As AlbumPlays harvests and imports your fresh plays, MediaMonkey will automatically update the browsing index for this “collection”.

Technical details ... click to open

Here is the specification of the index illustrated above.

define your own custom index

Sonos owners: I can browse these collections using my Sonos controllers. Sadly I can’t queue an album to my Sonos from them. This is due to a disappointing Sonos limitation (vote here to request that this get fixed), but the situation is not as bad as it initially sounds. The Sonos “universal” search feature makes it very efficient to relocate any album chosen while viewing a MediaMonkey index.

  • browse MediaMonkey using Sonos

Sometimes I like to listen to my collection when my PC is turned off, ie. when my MediaMonkey indices are unavailable. This could be late at night, or when I am travelling away from home.

AlbumPlays can also define, generate and housekeep, playlists which may be used across multiple situations. At night I play them using a pair of Bluetooth headphones and a UPnP client on my tablet playing from my NAS. When I am travelling I use one of those relatively cheap 2tb WiFi usb drives, upon which I have replicated my whole music collection. Or if I am commuting I use the playlists to stream from my Google Play Music library, where I took up Google’s offer to upload my whole collection to their servers, at no charge.

This means that I can browse, select and play a neglected album or tracks, in any of these situations, without having to pre-prepare by syncing music to my tablet, nor having to downgrade my large lossless tracks down to small tablet-friendly MP3 files.

And of course when I complete playing any re-discovered track or album, it is removed from the MediaMonkey “collection”, and also the playlists, because AlbumPlays will ensure that all of the scrobbled track plays find their way back into MediaMonkey.

Accuracy of play count data is key

If your play count data is to be useful in this manner, it is important that it be accurate and complete. This may sound pedantic, but it does make a significant difference.

  • You want to avoid having your date based indices becoming polluted and clogged up with part played albums:
    if I have played an album, I want it to disappear from my Recently Unheard index illustrated above. I don’t want the album to hang around just because a scrobble got lost somewhere, or because I missed playing one of the tracks

  • You want avoid your albums becoming fragmented in your date based indices:
    it is best if your date-based indices are based consensus date last played and play count for the album as a whole, rather than using the play data from each of the individual tracks … this is to avoid an album, with differing track play counts, from being broken apart when viewed filtered or sequenced by play count … also to avoid album break-apart if the most recent album play was interrupted by a track from another album.

AlbumPlays does a lot of work towards mitigating these issues:

  1. AlbumPlays extends MediaMonkey to add album-level last played and play count attributes
  2. if you are playing whole albums in their natural track sequence, AlbumPlays will notice if a track, or tracks, are omitted for some reason. If it determines that there was an unaccounted for gap in time, long enough for the missing tracks to have been played, it will resurrect the lost scrobbles unless you reject them.
  3. AlbumPlays has facility to generate a playlist comprised of any tracks missed from recently part-played albums. You can play that playlist to equalise the play counts for all of the tracks within an album
  4. if you are playing using a Sonos, and are using my scrobbler, you will experience significantly less scrobbles loss. I found that over 4% of my Sonos scrobbles had been lost prior to switching to AlbumPlays scrobbling. Other people using AlbumPlays have reported a similar level of loss using the native Sonos scrobbler.
    • Firstly I cache the play observations, so if Last.fm’s submission service is overloaded or you have an Internet disruption, it submit these when service is resumed.
    • Secondly AlbumPlays uploads your Sonos plays into MediaMonkey independent of whatever Last.fm does to mangle your scrobble submissions.
  5. AlbumPlays includes a facility to redact, from your MediaMonkey database, any unwanted scrobbles, which would otherwise include unwanted items into your MediaMonkey date-unplayed “collections”

Collection statistics

New facility added to AlbumPlays: Collection statistics

If you already use MediaMonkey and Last.fm, you are not short of statistics about your music collection and your listening habits.

MediaMonkey will show you the size of your collection, measured in tracks, albums, total duration, and in gigabytes. Last.fm can display your play history, and your Hit Parade.

For quite some time I didn’t bother to add any statistics into AlbumPlays, as there seemed to be little point.

But then there is that small nagging angst, arising from continuing to collect CDs once your collection passes a certain size, while in the face of a glut of availability coming from an ever increasing number of streaming services.

That little doubt planted by my parents, who grew up in the Great Depression, tends to fire up whenever I acquire yet another CD. “Is that really necessary? Is really it worth all that money, time and effort?”

Friends don’t help; “How do you find time to play all those things? Why do you bother?” either said dismissively or with some pity.

The MediaMonkey and Last.fm stats don’t really help to calm these thoughts. I wanted to see whether I was continuing to play these albums. I wanted some reassurance that there was still some point to my collection, and that collecting hadn’t become some kind of sad pointless compulsive habit. I wanted some idea of the trend of the actual usage of my collection.

The collection statistics which I have just added to AlbumPlays go some way to addressing this.

Example

The facility maintains statistics over several periodic ranges; monthly, quarterly, 6 monthly, and annually.

It focuses down into the main body of your collection, by filtering away albums and tracks that you don’t care so much about; kid’s or partner’s albums, duplicates, bonus albums, audience recordings, etc.

The statistics show the change in your collection, and the use of your collection, over a period.

  • collection size in album and total hours
  • hours played
  • distinct hours played, ie. excludes duplicated plays
  • hours worth of music which has been unplayed for n months
  • segment your albums into total play count ranges

You can tailor the statistics to suit the size of your collection, and the amount of play history that you have available.

The facility can go back through your play history to build statistics for all of the periods which pre-dated this new facility.

Use with caution. There is a difference between idly wondering whether your collection is starting to grow beyond a useful size, and knowing that your collection has grown to a bloated state, where much of it has become a stranger to yourself.

My site has free tools to produce your own collection statistics.

How safe is your scrobble history?

How safe are our scrobbles given the current financial difficulties and lay-offs being experienced at Last.fm?

It is great that Last.fm has collected all of our play history, and that it is available in a number of interesting and useful formats.

Take this facility for an example:

LFM eye candy

A nice facility. Click onto any of the bars to drill further down into a period. The facility is somewhat hidden at the Last.fm web site. Try it here

Nice, but really just eye-candy I suppose. I may look at it once with some interest, but where my scrobbles become really useful to me, is when I can use them to return some intimacy to what has grown to be a reasonably large collection.

My site describes how the free AlbumPlays application can be used to harvest your scrobble history, and then use it to shine light into the dark corners of your collection.

I would really miss the loss of my MediaMonkey indices such as:

  • “Albums unplayed for a year”
  • “Played less than 3 times, and not within the last 6 months”.

In the light of this, what should we think of the current financial results from Last.fm?

Here is the headline from Billboard magazine; Last.fm Posts Further Loss as Revenues Slide

“In line with the fall in sales, staff numbers at the CBS-owned, London-based company fell from 61 to 35 over the same period, with the majority of staff redundancies coming from technical roles.”

That doesn’t sound too good.

http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/digital-and-mobile/6281370/lastfm-posts-further-loss-as-revenues-slide

As of today Last.fm boast that they have collected 90,260,311,798 tracks scrobbles since inception.

So if some Accountant decides to turn off the last lights, at Last.fm, they are going to pay to setup a service so that we can all queue up to to get our data?

I don’t think so.

I wish Last.fm the best of luck, biut it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, knowing that whatever happens to last.fm, I have my own copy of my own scrobbles, safe in my own hands.

My site has free tools to allow you to liberate your scrobbles, just in case.