Believe it or not, an awful lot of people still buy CDs. When digital music purchases surpassed physical music sales in 2011, one would have thought that the world had forever changed and no-one was buying CDs anymore.
Then it was all about on-demand music services like Spotify, Rdio, Beats Music and Google Play’s All Access. When it was reported that digital music sales dropped in 2013, many thought this was the beginning of the end of digital music sales. Looking at the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s annual Digital Music Report for 2013, physical format music sales still account for 51 percent of revenue whereas digital revenues, which includes both purchased and on-demand subscriptions, account for only 39 percent worldwide.
So if you happen to be part of the group that is still buying physical CDs, the following guide will show how to manage your music library and review your options for storing your music in the cloud:
Curating your music files
Digitizing CDs – When preserving the highest quality music possible is important to you, consider using X Lossless Decoder for Mac, or XLD as it is often referred to. XLD supports both FLAC and Apple Lossless formats and has the ability to output a binary CD image with cue sheet. The equivalent on Windows is Exact Audio Copy (EAC), which is also free. Both tools utilize AccurateRip to compare the digitized results of your music files to the output that others have created in order to ensure the most accurate and consistent rip possible.
Improving album information – Sometimes the album information associated with your music files is not what you want it to be. While iTunes for both Mac and Windows can get edit your music information, I have found TuneUp ($49.95), which also has a Mac and Windows version, to be a great assistant when cleaning up my music library’s album information.
Finding album art – Cover Scout, for $29.99 on Mac, can help you find missing album art as well as upgrade your existing album art to a higher resolution image. On Windows you can use the free version of Album Art Downloader to increase the quality of your music files’ album art.
Renaming music files – Maintaining a sensible structure to your digitized library will make managing your files that much easier. PublicSpace’s A Better Finder Rename ($19.95) for both Mac and Windows will allow you to set your own rules to rename your music files based on the embedded album information.
Finding duplicates – It happens to the best of us; when managing thousand of music files, you are bound to have a duplicate song here and there. MacPaw’s Gemini ($9.99) for Mac and Hardcodes Software’s dupeGuru Music Edition (Free) for Windows will help locate and eliminate your duplicates.
Choosing which cloud to store your music
Once your CD collection is digitized you will have to choose which cloud based music library to use. The traditional cloud based options include Apple’s iTunes Match, Google Play Music, and Amazon Cloud Player. Then there are also personal cloud options like Synology Disk Station Manager’s Audio Station that also allow you to access your digitized music library from anywhere on the internet.
Which one is best? It depends on a few key differences:
Cost of cloud based music storage
Google’s All Access service is the most expensive of the three subscription based services at $9.99 each month. All Access is an on-demand service like Spotify, giving you instant access to millions of songs. You do not have to use this service to store your music online. You can still upload 20,000 songs to your Google Play music library, for free.
With a relatively small amount of free storage to start out with, Amazon Cloud Player gives you space for only 250 songs for free. Upgrading to the Premium edition for just $24.99 a year will let you upload 250,000 songs. Apple on the other hand will only store your iTunes purchases in iCloud for free. Upgrading to iTunes Match for $24.99 a year will allow you to upload 25,000 additional songs.
Synology’s Audio Station does not have any subscription pricing nor any limits to the amount of music you can store. You do have to buy the network attached storage device which will cost anywhere from $150 for a budget friendly one-bay device, up to $600 for a business class four-bay device. You will need to supply your own hard drives when purchasing the diskless versions of each product.
Shopping for and buying music online
Selling only digital music, iTunes has pretty much remained the same since it first opened up back in 2003. The experience has become a bit crowded over the years as Apple has added Movies, TV, Shows, Audio Books, Books, Podcasts, iTunes U and of course Apps to the same simple interface. Like Apple, Google’s Music Store also sells digital music only. On iOS the web-based access you have to go through to buy music from Google is hardly worth the effort.
Amazon does sell both physical CDs as well as digital music. Just like purchases of digital music from Amazon’s MP3 store, any physical CD that you comes with Amazon’s AutoRip feature does not count towards your storage limit. AutoRip is available on certain physical CD purchases through Amazon and will automatically add the MP3 version of your album to your music library before the physical CD even ships.
Adding music to your library in the cloud
As you add music to your iTunes music library, iTunes Match will scan your music files and attempt to match it to music that Apple already has stored in their catalog. Once matched, Apple will upgrade your music to a higher quality 256kbps version of the song.
Uploading music to your Google Play library is accomplished by downloading and installing Google’s Music Manager app. This app will only allow you to upload and download your music files. Similar to Google, Amazon has its own Amazon Music Importer that you use to upload your music files.
With Synology you can mount the device as a drive on Windows or Mac and just copy your music files over to the music folder on the device. Initial setup is a bit involved, but once you have everything set up, your transfer speeds on your local network will be much faster than your upload speeds over the internet.
Mobile music playback experience
Apple of course ships its own iTunes music app with every iOS device that can play music from iTunes Match library. Google has its Google Play Music (Free, iPhone), Amazon has its Amazon Cloud Player (Free, Universal, and Synology has their DS audio (Free, Universal) app.
For the most part, all four music players have very similar capabilities. They can each sort your music by Artist, Album, Song or Genre, they all support Playlists playback, and they all can search for music in your cloud library for you to stream or download. Google is the only one that does not have a native iOS app for the iPad. gMusic 2 ($1.99, Universal) can rectify this omission and is a pretty decent replacement for Google’s own iOS music app.
Device free streaming and casting
All four of the iOS apps can stream music directly from the device to either a Bluetooth enable speaker or an Airplay enabled device and they each support playing music in the background. Snology can stream musicdirectly to one or more Airplay, DLNA or Chromecast devices. You can even remotely control your home music system from anywhere on the internet.
With Apple’s Remote app for iTunes, you can play music stored on a computer running iTunes Home Sharingover any Airplay enabled device. In order to stream music directly from a iTunes Match library to an Airplay device, you will need an Apple TV. This is similar to playing your Google Play library directly on Chromecast or your Amazon Cloud library directly on Fire TV.
Use a combination or build your own
For most people, Google’s free storage of 20,000 music files will be more than enough space to store you music library online. When it comes to buying new music, simply use Amazon and buy physical CDs that qualify for AutoRip and upload them to Google Play.
When it comes to playing your music you can always sync your Google or Amazon library and automatically add songs to iTunes on your computer. That way you can take advantage of any Apple TV, Airport Express and any Airplay enabled speakers or audio components you may have.
If you have a really large music library, use either Amazon and store 250,000 songs online, or you buy a Synology device. Just keep in mind how long it will take you to upload 250,000 music files to Amazon. Not only will Synology be faster on the uploads, but its ability to play back on AirPlay, DLNA and Chromecast is a major plus.