“Back to the land” tech progress report: streaming music
I'm going to try to write up and consolidate some of the things I've done that I'm happy with. So far, here's what I've done:
- Migrated from Google Drive and Dropbox to Nextcloud. Set up syncing on my laptop so it works just like Dropbox, Drive, Box, whatever. Next step: deleting stuff from Drive/Dropbox.
- Migrated from Google Calendar and Contacts to Nextcloud. Contacts went fine — and was a good opportunity to clean up 15 years' worth of duplicates and errors — but Calendar has been incredibly painful. It is rare that any of my peers sends me anything but a Google Calendar invite, which goes to my Gmail, which I no longer use. I then have to either just block the time in my “real” calendar manually and hope nothing changes, invite my “real” calendar myself (if I have edit permission on the event), or try to explain to the inviter how to invite my NextCloud account's calendar instead — which has failed all 3 times I've tried, and served only to mildly annoy whomever is trying to invite me to something.
- Migrated from Gmail to Protonmail. This has been largely painless; I don't miss Google email one bit. On desktop I use the Protonmail website, and on my iPhone I use Protonmail's app. No problems with either. Deliverability has been great. Spam filtering has been great. I guess I'll have a decision to make when they add calendaring — it makes sense to me to have email, contacts, and calendar in the same “thing.” However, Nextcloud can manage contacts and calendar just fine. It's just a matter of which eggs I end up putting in which basket when there are redundant features.
- Switched from Amazon's ebook marketplace to Kobo's ebook marketplace (eh... but mostly DRM-free), my local Public Library, and friends' file collections. This has gone beautifully, and I should have done it sooner. I also benefited from https://calibre-ebook.com/ and https://apprenticealf.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/drm-removal-tools-for-ebooks/ (skip to https://github.com/apprenticeharper/DeDRM_tools/releases for the zip, which contains a plugin for Calibre), which enabled me to get all my Kindle books onto my Kobo. 4a. I don't yet love my setup for comic books and am trying a few things. Right now I'm getting them via Humble Bundles and reading them with the iOS app called Panels https://panels.app/ . I picked Panels purely based on looks and the maybe-foolish hope that they'll add the ability to sync files from WebDAV or something so I can continue consolidating files into Nextcloud. If I'm at home, I prefer physical comics, so I really only need an app that lets me kill time when I'm out and doesn't try to lock me in to their marketplace.
- Migrated from Twitter and Facebook to Mastodon.
- Migrated from Instagram to Pixelfed.
Here's what's in research or planning:
- Wrapping our three Google Home devices with Project Alias http://bjoernkarmann.dk/project_alias
- TV/movies/music decisionmaking — how do I plan to discover, acquire, and play (locally and remotely) multimedia, if I am not using Spotify, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll (ok, Crunchyroll can stay), or any of the other million fragmented subscription services I use to entertain myself, stay vaguely apprised of cultural trends, and provide content for small-talk?
Today, I felt inclined to move forward with rethinking my music collecting and listening. My goal is to enjoy music without being surveilled — particularly by companies with advertising-based business models. I want to do this securely and cost-effectively. The ideal end result will remain just as convenient as the services it replaces.
Obstacles to moving away from ad-supported, proprietary, cloud-based music streaming services
This is a daunting project which I have put off for a long time. Some of the reasons:
- I stopped maintaining my local music library at least seven years ago. I don't even know what I have. But I DO know that I don't have 95% of what I've listened to over the past several years, which is a big gap to overcome
- It has become harder to actually download the files associated with one's music purchases, and DRM is a hellscape
- I stopped pirating music nearly the minute I had a predictable income
- I am no longer up to speed on the latest methods for acquiring and managing local files
- My torrenting privacy and security knowledge is dated — I used to rely on private trackers, blocklists and a VPN, but anti-piracy groups' direct monitoring skills have grown, and ISPs have grown more invasive
- There has been a confusing proliferation of apps and services for managing music libraries
- The self-hosted music streaming server I was most familiar with, Subsonic, has fallen victim to open source drama (https://www.reddit.com/r/selfhosted/comments/4hhhkx/subsonic_is_no_longer_open_source_which_is_the/)
- I am unsure whether I want to primarily serve media locally (buy some cheap drives; configure a local media server using something like Kodi or Plex), or leverage my hosted Nextcloud's Music app and WebDAV capabilities to stream from the same remote, managed server I already use to organize my documents, photos, contacts, calendar, etc https://apps.nextcloud.com/apps/music
- I am unsure if I want to use the same thing for music, movies and tv; or one thing for “audio media” and another thing for “visual media”
Pros of local: control, security, price Pros of remote: convenience, simplicity
Some good news, though:
- I shouldn't have to learn new things about the music files themselves, or transcode anything. Formats and codecs remain what I'm familiar with. LAME's 21 years old and its most recent release was 13 October 2017. FLAC's 17 years old, most recent release 1 January 2017
Stream music from Nextcloud to your iPhone
Today I am going to try to upload an mp3 to my Nextcloud server and stream the mp3 from my iPhone, since that is the device I use most frequently for listening to music.
I'm going to do this in the easiest way possible, to encourage others to give it a shot. There are a few prerequisites, but you do not have to be a developer or engineer to meet them. Getting the Nextcloud server is probably the largest barrier, since it involves money. It is not a lot, and I think of it as paying myself for exclusive rights to my own data (; but it can take about a week to get your identity verified and establish a new billing account with one of the services that provide hosted Nextcloud. Just be aware you might not be able to do all of these steps immediately.
I'm also going to take this moment to scream because I maybe-wasted $4.99 on the iOS app play:Sub, hoping that they'd add support for Nextcloud (or webDAV), or that I'd be able to get Nextcloud's experimental Ampache support to talk to play:Sub. I 100% did this because it was the prettiest option. Other folks have gotten this working; my initial efforts were unsuccessful and annoying. If you're interested, this person seems to have a good guide: https://ownyourbits.com/2018/08/28/stream-you-music-with-nextcloud-music-and-power-ampache/
- Access to a OwnCloud or Nextcloud server with Music installed from their Marketplace (a few simple clicks.) For Nextcloud, I like https://www.hetzner.com/storage/nextcloud , which will cost you about $40/year; I pay €8.79 per quarter, which is about $10. I honestly think most people can manage this, but still would like to see more free options or folks sharing their servers with their friends and families or whatever
- At least one mp3
- A smartphone you can install stuff on
- CloudBeats app, free version https://www.cloudbeatsapp.com/
Add music to the server
- Log in to Nextcloud
- Create a new folder called Music
- Open the new Music folder
- Drag and drop your mp3 into your web browser window
Optional extra step for security: create a dedicated Nextcloud account, just for streaming music
Why? Because if this app sucks, and gets hacked, and was storing your password in a way the hackers can decrypt, they can now log in to Nextcloud with the highest levels of permissions and access all your personal files. If you create a new user just for this app, you can limit its permissions to the Music folder. That way, if the password gets out, hackers will have a much harder time trying to get out of the Music folder and into your personal files. It takes about 2 minutes to create a new user, is completely non-technical to do, and you'll be kicking yourself later if it ends up being the thing that could have protected you. https://docs.nextcloud.com/server/stable/admin_manual/configuration_user/index.html
Install the app on your phone
- Open the App Store
- Search for CloudBeats
- Install the free version of CloudBeats
Configure the app to find the server
- Open CloudBeats app on your phone
- Locate the Settings area (you might need to open the hamburger menu at the top right... this app doesn't have great UX)
- Scroll down to the Clouds section
- Locate ownCloud/Nextcloud in the list, and tap the Sign in link
- Sign in by typing in the URL of your server (just look at the address bar in your browser, and type in what you see, including the .com or .net or .org or whatever but nothing following it), username, and password. The username and password will be the same as the ones you'd sign into the website with
- Now that you have given Cloudbeats permission to look at your Nextcloud, you need to tell it where, and scan for audio files. Again, the UI/UX are not great; you will do some brief tapping around to select your Music folder and tap Scan
- Cloudbeats might not appear to have successfully done anything after scanning, and you might end up on a My Library screen that is blank. If that happens:
- Tap that top-right hamburger menu again, and you'll see ownCloud/Nextcloud at the very top
- Tap owncloud/Nextcloud, and you'll see any folders you'd previously indicated should be scanned for audio files
- Tap Music, and tap your mp3. It should begin playing, and will continue to play in the background just like other music streaming apps
Voila! For maybe $3 to get your own Nextcloud server, and some of your free time here and there, you can have the foundation in place to start moving away from Spotify etc while still having an on-demand music library in your pocket.
Now, to rebuild the collection...