In the age of streaming, maintaining your own music collection is often a hopeless case. Opening Spotify is just plain easier than transferring files between devices or dealing with crappy or discontinued music players. But you don’t have to leave your music collection in the Stone Age because you can build your own music streaming service with Plex.
Wait, you can use Plex for music?
Plex is best known as a movie streaming platform. You can stream your video collection to any device inside or outside your home, and its awesome user interface automatically fills in the blanks by providing cover art, synopses, and other information for your video files.
But Plex isn’t just for movies. You can also use the service for audio, whether it’s music or audiobooks. And since Plex is free, you can effectively build your own music streaming service without spending a penny. As simple as that.
Plex supports playback of virtually any file format, even lossless formats like FLAC. And unlike those “real” streaming services, it has built-in visualizers, deep EQ settings, volume options, and fading controls.
Of course, Plex can also add a ton of data to your music collection. It automatically applies cover art to albums, organizes artists with photos and bios, and even displays lyrics for music. Plus, Plex can let you know about upcoming concerts, and if you don’t mind criticism, it can show you album reviews.
Plex can even use “audio fingerprinting” to identify misnamed tracks, which is a big help when you have a massive, slightly disorganized music library. However, this feature works best with well-known songs, not bootlegs or obscure stuff.
What do you need for a Plex server?
You can turn any old computer into a Plex media server. It just needs a reasonable amount of storage space and a stable internet connection, preferably via an Ethernet cable. But as always, I recommend using an NVIDIA Shield TV stick or a Raspberry Pi 4 microcomputer.
NVIDIA Shield TV and Raspberry Pi 4 are much more energy efficient than full-size computers, so they should have minimal impact on your electricity bill. And while these products are not great powerful, they’re good enough for streaming 4K video so they won’t have any trouble streaming audio. (Note that both solutions require external storage.)
If you want a little more flexibility or power, consider using a computer or NAS device for your Plex server. If you’re going the PC route, I suggest going with something small and efficient like an Intel NUC, although you could just as well just pull an old Acer or Dell out of your closet. As for a NAS device – well, they are literally designed as servers and are often the best option for hardcore Plex builds.
All of the above Plex solutions can back up data automatically, although a PC or NAS is your best bet if data redundancy is a priority.
Now, if you want to try Plex before you buy any hardware, you can always run the media server from your primary desktop or laptop computer. This will not affect the normal functionality of your computer, since Plex is basically just software that streams files from your computer to the internet. (I wouldn’t call this a long-term solution though, as Plex can slow down your computer when it’s active and will wear out your storage drives under heavy use.)
After you’ve chosen a device for your Plex media server, follow the platform’s quickstart instructions to get everything set up. This process is also completely free; You just need to create a Plex account and follow the Plex instructions patiently.
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NVIDIA Shield TV Pro is a small, simple, and affordable Plex server solution. It’s perfect for beginners unfamiliar with Plex. Oh, and it doubles as a high quality Android TV streaming stick!
Add your music collection to Plex
Since you are building a streaming service, you need to search for some MP3s, WAVs, FLACs and other music files. That means ripping your CDs, buying DRM-free music through platforms like Amazon or Bandcamp, and removing the DRM from music you’ve bought from iTunes.
Once you have a digital music collection, you need to organize it for Plex. Otherwise, the service will just show you a jumble of random titles. Organizing your music is very easy, and if you already maintain a music collection for iTunes or any other music player, your work is done.
However, Plex provides detailed instructions on the subject, and I’ll summarize those instructions here for your convenience:
- Create a folder titled “Music”. This is the directory Plex uses for music.
- Your “Music” folder should contain a separate folder for each artist.
- Each artist’s folder should contain their music. But don’t mix up the files; Separate each album into its own folder.
- Name each track on an album by putting the track number in front of its name.
- Add metadata to every song in your library. This metadata tells Plex what artist and album a song is from, as well as its placement on an album. (You can use a tool like MusicBrainz Picard to speed up this process, or just right-click each track and edit its properties.)
I should clarify that Plex automatically organizes and adds metadata to your library. Even if some titles in your collection are missing information, e.g. B. playlist metadata, they may work fine with the service. But I make no promises.
After your music is organized for Plex, you need to copy the “Music” folder to your Plex server’s storage drive. Then you need to tell Plex where your music directory is located.
Open the Plex web client and go to Settings (the tools icon). Then find the “Manage” section and select “Libraries”. Click the “Add Library” button and select “Music” as your library type. Now select the previously created music directory as the source folder. Confirm your selection by clicking on “Add library”.
Your music collection will now fill your Plex server. This process can take a while depending on the size of your library, especially since Plex looks up images and information for each artist, album, and track.
Use the Plexamp or Prism apps for streaming
While you can stream audio from the regular Plex app or browser client, the experience on mobile devices isn’t great. That’s why I recommend using Plexamp or Prism. These apps look super slick and feel like “real” music players, so they’re essential for a good music streaming experience.
Plexamp is the official app, and it’s pretty compelling. It offers multiple theme options, automatic playlists based on your library, gapless playback, customizable EQ and amp settings, and offline listening. Plus, you and an equally cool friend can pair your Plex libraries through Plexamp to share music!
Unfortunately, Plexamp requires Plex Pass. That’s a $6 monthly subscription or, if you want a lifetime membership, a one-time fee of $120. Those new to Plex who don’t want to shell out $6 should try Prism instead — just remember that it’s only available for iOS.
The Prism app is free and fairly fleshed out, but it doesn’t create automatic playlists. The defining feature here, along with free Plex streaming, is the ability to pull music and playlists from your iCloud library. If you try Prism and think it’s decent, I recommend upgrading to Plexamp.
Plex Pass unlocks Plexamp media player, plus premium features like offline downloads and family content restrictions.
Optional: Link Plex to TIDAL
Want to mix your personal streaming library with a “real” streaming service? Just link your Plex account to TIDAL! All music on TIDAL appears in Plex and Plexamp and is of course streamed in Hi-Fi or lossless formats.
And if you have TIDAL HI-FI, linking your account will get you the Plex Pass for free. It’s a killer deal and of course the easiest way to add music to your Plex library without preserving the files themselves.
To connect TIDAL to Plex, follow the instructions on the Plex website. Note that TIDAL family plans are not compatible with Plex.
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