I got my first Spotify Premium in February, 2010. At that point, I owned only a few albums. The Killers first album, Maroon 5’s, two My Chemical Romance albums.

13 years later and those albums might be at my dad’s house. They might have been stolen by my sister. They might have gotten lost in a house move. Either way, I don’t own them any more.

In those 13 years I have been paying for either Spotify, Google Music, Apple Music, Amazon Music. Occasionally, the main cause of switching was for a free trial. But I think it’s reasonable to assume I’ve spent way more than £1,000 on music in that time.

£1,400~ and zero music owned.

One of the albums I had, which is now lost, was an early MCR album that sells for £90 on ebay.

Setting off into this adventure of owning my own music meant I had to decide on why I’m doing this. The primary reason, above others, is that I’m annoyed with having nothing to show for my £1,400. I would like to actually own some music.

It’s important to note that although giving more money directly to artists is something I’m really happy to be doing, that’s very much a secondary goal. Most of the music I’ve bought so far on my journey has been second hand.

Since starting in January, I’ve now got a library of 26ish albums. I got them variously from:

  • Charity shops. Sometimes getting 8 CDs for £4 total.
  • eBay. Not as cheap, but usually around £2 per album. MusicMagpie sells thousands of them, and so you can bunch them together to save on postage. There’s a 50% chance that the case is broken on arrival.
  • HMV. Really nice walking around the store and picking up albums. Very expensive, comparatively.
  • iTunes Store. If you can trick Apple Music into sending you to the iTunes store, you can still buy high quality tracks from them. DRM free, for some reason.
  • RoughTrade. We have one in Nottingham. They mostly sell vinyl, but have a selection of CDs.
  • Directly from band websites. You can usually throw in a t-shirt to make delivery worthwhile.

I discovered 7digital this morning because I’m looking for For Those Who Have Heart (A Day To Remember) and can’t find it anywhere in good condition, but 7digital seem to have it. I’m assuming they’re legit, because their prices are outrageous.

A perk of buying CDs: they often have extra tracks, or bits of performance (like 15 second interludes between tracks) which are delightful to experience after reaching familarity with an album on streaming platforms.

I’m not pirating any music.

I don’t have much to say about piracy and I don’t fancy being annoyed about it.

It is odd that people assume they have a right to access art though. Is it because museums and libraries have been historically free? “The Last Of Us isn’t available on a service I pay for, so I shall pirate it.” Why do people feel that’s okay? Is it because they feel there’s no real loser, if they pirate it?

If religious folk, the cornerstones of societal, objective morality, whether you’re religious or not, had put “intellectual property theft is bad”, I bet we’d all feel differently about it. It’s a new crime, so there’s no baggage.

I had to buy a cheap CD drive. In fact, it’s a DVD drive with writing features, because CD drives are obsolete and DVD drives are barely hanging on.

I was shocked to find that Windows Media Player will happily rip music from CDs for you. Apple Music/iTunes does also, and it’ll even fetch updated metadata. I had assumed that feature set would have been stripped away a while ago.

You can tweak the settings to put the quality up to ‘lossless’. We all have huge harddrives these days. May as well.

Some CDs have a kind of write protection on them. You can get around this by telling Windows to not auto-run anything from the CD. Then it just looks like a normal CD.

I really liked the sound of Roon, but cannot recommend it.

It offered all of the things I needed for hosting my own music, and playing it from anywhere:

  • Can run on my computer
  • Works with many media types, including Apple’s audio format and lossless files
  • Designed by someone that knows how to make a decent UI
  • Has a mobile app, which lets you download music to store it locally on the phone
  • Does some magic with metadata lookups to make artists and albums consistent

If you have to go to the Support forums for Roon (and you probably will have to), you’ll see there are hundreds of die hard Roon users. People who have splashed out £2,000 on the official Roon server (a NAS optimised for audio transcoding) are common, and more common are people who talk about the five or six other piece of hardware they have to make the sound highly optimal.

That was one of it’s downfalls for me: it is a complicated system with multiple apps, vaguely named. Roon Core needs to run somewhere, with access to your media. The actual Roon server is called ROCK which is recommended, but not needed. RAAT is the name of the actual media server that you’ll probably need to maintain at some point. You can use the dedicated Roon app to listen to music, but only in certain situations. If you’re on another machine on the same network as your Roon, you’ll need to use Roon Remote. This actively makes using a proxy difficult, so you can’t just use this outside of the network via a proxy. So outside the network, you want to use Roon Arc. Now, this only works on Apple and Android devices. It’s not currently possible (without advanced network knowledge that I don’t have) to play your music outside the network on a Mac.

And then if any of the carefully laid apps go wrong, you have to wait two weeks before anyone gets back to you.

So not Roon then.

I looked at Plex first of all, way before I’d even heard of Roon, but dismissed it because it seemed to be doing too much: live TV, a small catalog of streamable movies and TV, as well as hosting your own stuff.

I gave it another go after Roon and am really glad I did. I just signed up for the year and will get their lifetime account next year if I’m still using them.

Turns out, you can easily ignore the video features, hiding bits you don’t care for.

You do have to run a Plex Server, which is expected, but that’s the extent of apps you really need. There’s a very decent web player for all your content Anywhere In The World.

They have a very good dedicated music app, called PlexAmp. It’s very well designed and Just Works. It downloads and streams from my Plex server as transparently as Apple Music.

I was running Plex from my PC. I got annoyed with it going to sleep when it assumed it wasn’t doing anything. I’d have to called my boyfriend and have him turn it back on whilst I was outside the house. This wasn’t something I got annoyed about: it’s not really something a Windows machine is designed to do. (Although, I did tweak the power saving settings to not shut down, and yet…)

So, I bought a fairly cheap NAS with some Christmas vouchers I was given. It runs Plex natively (I get the feeling this is one of the key reasons people buy these devises) and lives happily in my basement, always connected.

I was worried I’d have to do some network work to allow access to Plex from outside the house but it appears Plex is doing … something to make that not an issue. I’m mostly just crossing my fingers and hoping it’s not opened my home network up to anyone on the Internet. I think whilst it’s on the network, it all plays locally. Outside the locally, it goes via Plex. I’ll look into this a bit more, but blissfully, it all just works.

I’m really over the moon with this set up.