by Cesare Rocchi

Alternatives to iTunes

by Cesare Rocchi

When it comes to music I am religious. I have my library, it’s in iTunes and I always know where are my files. I keep many backups, offline and online. I am so paranoid because I spent 15 years building my library. I started when I got my first Mac. It took me a loooot of time to rip my CDs and to correctly name the mp3 files that I had on my PC. or other services from which you could harvest cover pictures or track names were not born yet. It was manual labour. Now my library is in a perfect condition, and I don’t wanna anybody to touch it. I occasionally use streaming services like Spotify or even online radios. Lately I have been enjoying a lot the Bebop channel on RadioTunes. No matter what I need my music library with me.

Given that a new bunch of weird features is getting crammed into iTunes as we speak I am looking for alternatives. This post is a sort of review of some of the possibilities that I brainstormed during the weekend.

My requirements

  • My main Mac is “the master”, holding the latest version of my almost 50GB library.
  • I wanna a “place” where I can store a copy my library.
  • That “place” is accessible to me and my family members.
  • I can consume music from a native Mac application (not iTunes) or an iOS application.
  • The iOS/Mac application should allow to synch a bunch of playlists, which I wanna play when I am offline.
  • I prefer a fixed monthly cost instead of based-on-consumption cost.

Home solution (the current one)

My Mac is at home, everybody can access the library, via AirPlay and everything is fine. The only downside, besides using iTunes, is that everybody has to remember to synch their playlists with before heading out.

The geeky server-based solution Rent a server, e.g. on DigitalOcean and upload all my library there. This opens a bunch of interesting possibilities:

  • I can stream from anywhere
  • If I forget to synch the playlists I can do it from wherever, provided there’s some decent wireless.

With new possibilities come also downsides:

  • The server has to be maintained. I don’t expect to be a lot of work, I am already babysitting a few :)
  • You need to choose and install an app to manage your library on the server. There are a few, like Subsonic and Plex. I tested both, I am not excited by neither but they are a good starting point. I definitely don’t want to build that part. Both of those apps require a license if you want to use their REST API, which is needed in my case for the native apps.
  • Uploading the library to the server might take quite some time at first but that’s just half of the story. When I add a new song on my master Mac I want to upload it also to the server. Rsynch maybe a solution in this case. Another possibility is that the native Mac application takes care of that.

The Dropbox way

Putting the library on Dropbox solves two painful problems: running the server and synchronization. The path is downhill! But … I don’t wanna browse my library by folders. I’d like a nice way to search for artists, sort songs, etc. That means the Mac app has to build a database of my songs, much like iTunes does. Maybe it can even reuse iTunes’ xml file but there’s still the problem of playlists. Adopting the same approach the Mac app could store an xml file with playlist data. So far this is the best solution, but it requires to build a Mac, an iOS app and maybe deal with the limits of Dropbox APIs. If you put the whole library in the public folder and you stay below these limits you don’t need to use the APIs. This is an idea so interesting that I feel somebody has already built it but I could not find it anywhere.

Loop for Vox

While researching I stumbled upon an interesting solution, Loop for Vox. It should match all of my requirements and for 50$/year it takes care of storage (unlimited) and synching. I am gonna use it for a month and see how it goes. I still feel it’s a solution too similar to iTunes Music, which requires some trust when it comes to synching. I am not sure if it allows to say “synch these playlists for when I am offline” but I’ll find out.


Along the same lines of Loop is Amazon Music For $24.99/year you can store 250k songs, which is a sort of unlimited plan. Their Mac app is not a regular .app but an installer, which I am not a fan of. Also I am not sure about the behavior of synching playlists.

(Temporary) Conclusions

When I started I thought my requirements were easy to match, but boy … it’s complicated. As mentioned I am gonna give Loop by Vox a try. If you have found a solution (or building one) let me know on Twitter, I am very interested.