How-to: prepper-style music hoarding

I don’t use Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Rdio, Amazon Music, or anything else. Since 2006, I’ve maintained a continuous music library: some of the tracks in it I acquired right after I entered college.

Why? Four main reasons:

  1. Some of my most treasured tracks aren’t reliably hosted anywhere, or are recordings I made myself, of my bands and friends’ bands.
  2. I don’t trust music companies to stay in business. Consult the “Discontinued” section of Wikipedia’s page on Music Distribution Platforms: Rdio was not an isolated occurrence. Bandcamp rightfully calls subscription-based music “an unproven business model.”
  3. When I run, I run with an iPod Shuffle. Yep, the discontinued iPod Shuffle. Say what you will, but it is one of the few Apple devices without a screen, which means that its battery life, weight, usability — are all excellent. Mine is the 4th shuffle I’ve owned, and I’ll buy another one when it breaks.
  4. Radio-style listening is jarring for me, mentally: when I listen to one of my 11,887 tracks, I want to know which one.

Any of these click with you? Well, maybe prepper-style music hoarding is for you.

Hold your files tight

The first principle of music hoarding is that you should never lose control of files. MP3s, AAC, MP4 — any kind of DRM-free file works with the popular players. Never let these escape your icy grip. Thus, for any technology that comes along, ask: what happens to my files?

Keep complete backups

The second principle is that you must always have complete backups of your music library as files, preferably verbatim. Over the years, I’ve used multiple kinds of backups:

  • Old-fashioned hard disks with Time Machine
  • DIY cloud backups with Arq
  • Fancy cloud backups with Backblaze
  • Keeping music in a Dropbox folder
  • Keeping music in an Amazon Cloud folder

I wouldn’t recommend the last two: Dropbox’s desktop client has been steadily declining in quality for years, and Amazon Cloud has made dumb pricing mistakes and clearly has been an afterthought in Amazon’s huge array of offerings. Arq and Backblaze seem like perfectly decent approaches.

I’ve also Google Play Music, as an ‘online music locker’ that allows for remote access to songs, and they promise the perpetual ability to re-download tracks. It is, however, a music streaming service, so it only counts as a secondary backup, not a primary.

Playing MP3s

Then there’s the software you use to play music. For years, I used iTunes and it worked perfectly fine. Recently I’ve switched to Swinsian, which also works well. Music players are big lists of songs that you click on and the songs play: keep your expectations there and everything will be fine. I’m on the Voltra beta list and might switch to that once it launches.

Buying music

Yep, I buy music, with money, per-album. I download the MP3s. The strict order I look is:

  1. Bandcamp
  2. Label website
  3. Amazon Music, Google Play, or iTunes

Having seen the breakdown of band revenue between Bandcamp, Spotify, and so on — I feel good about this being an optimal approach for the bands and listeners.

Is this absolutely necessary? Of course not. Is it a little paranoid? Sure. But so many subscription services have failed that it’s rational to be pessimistic. So, if you want to share your favorite tracks with your grandkids, this might be the best shot.