Last week, we discussed Subsonic, which allows you to stream music and video to any PC or Mobile Device. While Subsonic offers many features & capabilities, it is not an ideal solution for everyone. This week we’ll be examining Google Music Beta which may be a better solution for some.
So wait…why tell us about another way to listen to your music away from home?
As we pointed out last week, there are many different options to be able to access your music anywhere you want. Google Music Beta differs from Subsonic and other streaming options in that your music is uploaded and hosted by Google. If your music resides on a laptop or another machine that is not constantly on, streaming from that computer is not a viable option. Likewise, if your music is behind a firewall and you do not have the ability to open ports on a router (for example on a campus), streaming from your own computer will be an issue. READ ON for more of this week’s column…
So how does Google Music work then?
It is quite possibly the easiest software setup you’ll encounter.
After you accept your invitation (more on that later), you will download the “Music Manager.” It is a tiny program that downloads instantly. You will accept the obligatory software license and be asked where you keep your music. You can select your existing iTunes library, your default music folder, or any other location(s) you want.
Select Music Locations
After telling Music Manager where your music is stored, you can decide whether or not these locations should be monitored so that anything you add in the future will be automatically uploaded. This is a simple “Yes” or “No” and can be changed later in settings.
Automatic Update Selection
That’s it! Music Manager will now scan those locations for music files and start uploading. You are done!
Note too that you can download the Music Manager software on as many machines as you like. You may have music spread across several different computers. This is no problem at all, just sign into the same account and all your music will be consolidated into one library.
Sweet! That was easy! So I can start streaming my music now?
Slow down cowboy! Remember, you are now uploading all your music to Google servers. So you’ll slowly be able to use the music player to play the tunes that have uploaded. This can take quite some time upon initial setup depending on the size of your library, your upload speed, the format of your music and several other things.
Let’s say that you have 5,000 songs in your library with an average bitrate of 196 Kbps and an average length of six minutes long. You’ll have about 40 GB or so to upload. Depending on your upload speed from your Internet Service Provider, it could take a day or two to upload your library.
Now let’s say that you have 20,000 songs in your library and they are much longer on average (jamband fan!) and many are lossless. Heck, this library may be pushing 200 GB. With a slower connection speed, this could take WEEKS to upload in its entirety.
So, depending on your library size and your speed, it could take anywhere from a day to weeks for everything to upload.
How long would it take then to upload 50,000 songs?
Trick question. You can’t. Google Music Beta is currently limited to 20,000 songs. Rather than limiting by overall storage space used like all of the other Google products (GMail = 7GB, Docs = 1 GB, Picassa Photos = 1 GB), this is quite a novel approach. Although there are no announced plans to allow users to purchase additional storage, if the cost of adding storage to GMail or Picassa is any indication, it should be relatively cheap to add storage. For example, adding 80GB of storage for other Google products currently only costs $20/year. However, perhaps they will add storage on a per song basis? 20,000 more songs for $20/year?
What about that invitation thing you talked about?
Indeed Google Music is still in a closed beta so you’ll need to head over to http://music.google.com/music/ and sign up for an invite. Google opened up the invites a wee bit this past week by granting existing users a couple of invites so those are trickling around: just keep asking. Hidden Track has two invites to dole out as well, simply leave a comment below that you need one and tell us for shits & giggles how large your music library is. We’ll pick two random users later in the week.
So what formats of songs can I upload…you mentioned lossless?
Currently you can upload MP3, AAC, WMA for lossy formats and FLAC for lossless.
That covers most of my tunes, but that means some of them can’t be uploaded right?
Exactly. You are out of luck if you use Apple Lossless (ALAC) or DRMed files from iTunes of old (M4p). Likewise, for those that have music in WAV files, you won’t be uploading those either. Oddly, OGG files can only be uploaded through the Linux version of Music Manager. Given that OGG represents less than .01% of all music files, I’m guessing this isn’t much of an issue for anyone anyway.
OK, I got the invite, downloaded the Music Manager and uploaded all my tunes, now how do I listen to them?
Simple. Head over to http://music.google.com from any computer. The player loads very quickly and while straight forward and basic, is actually nicely laid out, clean and crisp looking. There are no skins available at this point so what you see is what you get.
Music Player Interface by Song
Music Player by Artist
Finding your music that you want to play is pretty simple. You can browse by song, artist, album, genre, recently added, songs you’ve “thumbed up”, instant mixes you’ve created or your playlists. If you want to search rather than scroll those previous options, the search box pops up results as you type instantly.
Quick Search by Song, Album, Artist, Genre
Once you find the music that you want to listen to, selecting and playing starts the song virtually instantaneously. There’s very little if any lag and no buffering. Creating a playlist is as easy as dragging tracks over to your lists in the left column.
And mobile streaming?
You can use the free Android client which is good on many different levels or use your iPhone or other mobile device through the web interface.
The Android Music player not only lets you quickly & conveniently access your Google Music tracks, but also scans your device for locally stored music and lets you play those as well. This makes it possible to not have to hop from player to player. Additionally, you can choose make any of your tracks, albums or playlists available for offline use.
Android Music Player
Making Files Available for offline use
But I have more than one Android device?
Not a problem, you can authorize up to eight different Android devices which should be sufficient for practically anybody on Earth. Additionally, there is no limit on how many desktop machines can access your account. (However only two different Google Music users can use Music Manager to upload from a specific machine). You can quickly and easily deauthorize either an Android device or PC from the settings.
Deauthorize a device
Wait…so I can’t use my iPhone?
While there is no official app for iPhone, you can listen & use Google Music quite effectively anyway. All you need to do is open your Safari browser & head to music.google.com. You can use it just like you could if you were in front of your computer at home. Thankfully, Safari can run in the background so your music will continue to play if you need to enjoy some Words with Friends or Angry Birds. Your headphone buttons will work too. Don’t forget: Like with any webpage, from music.google.com simply “Add to Homescreen” and your Music Player will be pinned there just like any other app.
Rad. Anything else I need to know? Tips? Tricks?
- If you are using Chrome browser, you can certainly open Google Music and “Pin” it to the browser so it is open and available without taking up too much space. (And if you want to get real tricky: Read this Lifehacker article on how to get Chrome to open with permanently pinned tabs) Two handy extensions, Music Beta Skip Controller and Music Beta Play/Pause put controls right in your toolbar. This way, you can be happily ensconced in another tab and be able to skip a song or pause without having to open the page that has the player on it.
Pinned to Chrome and Control Extensions
- I drink Labatt’s and the football I watch only has three downs. Can I still use this? While Google Music right now precludes Canadians or people from any other country other than the United States, you can still sign up for an invite. Just use a Proxy Service based in the US and head over to the invite page at music.google.com and request an invite. A popular service is hidemyass.
- Google Music has an excellent “Instant Mix” feature just like Apple’s Genius playlists. Simply select a song, and click the plus sign in the Instant Mix section and 25 songs will be added to your mix to complement the selection. I find that the selections are usually spot-on.
- Heading into a subway tunnel and want to listen to just music that you have locally stored on your device? You can easily hit Menu and Settings and toggle back and forth from “All Music” to “Offline Only”. This way, everything in your artists, albums, playlists, etc. is just showing music you can play until your data connection restores.
- If you lose your data connection for a short period, you should be fine. Google Music automatically pre-buffers your songs and adds recently played songs into your cache offering quick and uninterrupted playback. Google Music automatically detects if storage space on your Android is running low and will delete your cache if need be. But if you still don’t want to take any space for the music cache, you can change that in settings.
Android Settings showing Cache & Unavailable Options
So what are the drawbacks?
- It’s unknown for now if the service will remain completely free, especially for the larger libraries of 20,000 songs.
- There is no fine grain control on what you upload barring directory locations. So if all your music is in a directory entitled “My Cool Tunes”, you’ll need to either remove the songs you don’t want uploaded or create a new directory for the tunes that you do want uploaded. (Not an issue if less than 20,000 songs and you want it all uploaded.)
- There will likely be some errors. After my 20,000 songs uploaded, there were a couple dozen that said incompatible file or “no music found” on file even though they were MP3s.
- Some multiple disc albums will show up as two separate albums rather than Disc 1 and Disc 2.
- No customization (skins) for the web player.
- No support for ALAC.
- No music store integrated.
- Initial upload can take a long time without content matching.
It all sound pretty cool Parker, thanks for explaining it, but i’ll just wait for iCloud, I heard it is rolling out soon and can host all my music files.
Partially right, and it does look to be a convenient & easy to use service from Apple. Conveniently, through Apple’s content matching, you will not need to upload tracks that are available in the iTunes library. This can save a substantial amount of time initially setting up your library for streaming. But live shows, and music not found in iTunes will come at a steep cost. A modest 50GB upgrade will cost $100/year. For those with 300GB+ of live music, I’d imagine $600/year is out of the question for all but…well, Steve Jobs. (And don’t forget, Apple has a disdain for FLAC files so those will certainly be out of the question).
Apple iCloud Storage rates beyond the free 5GB
For a free, beta product, Google Music is pure win. 20,000 songs regardless of length, and FLAC included is certainly a reasonable size for many. The ability to use the service on eight Android devices & unlimited desktops makes it practical to literally listen to your music anywhere. Offline availability is great too and sync is easy as a checkbox.
Reminder: Hidden Track has two invites to give out. Just leave a comment below that you are interested with the approximate size of your music library (in GB). Check back on Friday and we’ll pick two random entrants as the winners.
Have you tried Google Music? Enjoy it? Disappointed? Prefer Amazon Cloud? Questions about the service? Please leave your comments below.
Hidden Track Technology Tuesday
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