Listening to music without a streaming subscription

I’m attempting to cut away from streaming subscriptions; today, my Tidal subscription ended. I was unhappy with Spotify, and after a year of use, also dislike Tidal.

I’ve subscribed to a music streaming service for what feels like forever, though is likely ten years 😉 While some of my listening habits remain the same from the iTunes days of college (when I listened only to music I possessed 😳), a lot of my listening habits have changed along with the switch to streaming.

I need to revisit and refresh all aspects of my listening system. The transition could be rough — certainly disruptive — but I’m excited to build new listening habits and try new ways of finding music, at least for a little while!

Where and how I listen

My long-term preference has been for playlists over albums, though I’ve been listening to whole albums more the past year.

In the car

Last year, I bought some favorite albums on CD, so those serve for listening in the car. I also loaded some albums onto my phone, which I can connect with Bluetooth (with much frustration).

While cooking / off the computer

I have been listening to streamed music via my phone and a portable Bluetooth speaker. A lot of what I streamed were albums, so for now, I can play the albums I’ve saved on my phone. I’ll need to find a way to listen to playlists. I’m also tempted to see about getting a CD player 👀

On my computer

Here’s the big challenge: my desktop is where I mostly listen to playlists on streaming services.

I have a voucher for three free months of Amazon music, so that’s a backup option in the short term, but I hate relying on myself to remember to cancel a new subscription 😉 I also think it sounds fun to nudge myself out of my musical ruts for a little bit 🤷‍♀️

Ways to listen to music without a streaming subscription

  • Music I own
    • I can load my playlists into a desktop app TBD
    • the Amazon music app has most of my purchased music since college (about 1000 songs by 300 artists), but the software kinda sucks if you don’t have a subscription — also I’d need to figure out how to scrobble to
    • Pablo suggested I could check out self-hosted streaming — e.g. Polaris or Swing Music (I also see Maloja as a self-hosted alternative 👀)
  • Free version of Tidal or Spotify (though I haaaaate ads)
  • ‘radio’ (which plays on YouTube)
  • YouTube playlists and channels — White Bat Audio for synthwave, although that might screw up my scrobbling 🤔
  • Online radio stations — Seattle’s alternative station KEXP and the Seattle classical station

Listening to my own music library

While I’m currently trying to save money by cutting the subscription, I hope to go back to buying more music once our income stabilizes. Buying music was my one splurge in college, but in the intervening years I’ve bought less. For a few years I’d buy about 50 of my favorite tracks each year, but since I stopped loading music onto my ancient iPod when its dock died, I fell out of the habit because I could play streaming playlists from my phone.

This means my music collection, while large, is both scattered (few songs by many artists) and reflective of my historic taste, rather than what I listen to today. I have about 21,000 songs by 1200-1300 different artists; unfortunately, a lot of those are from my youthful musical exploration (read: a lot of classic rock 🫤 couldn’t tell you the last time I wanted to put on Led Zeppelin, maybe 2004, lol. Also a lot of jazz, which I don’t listen to much anymore 🤷‍♀️). I’m reluctant to go through and delete things I don’t currently listen to in case I one day want them though! 🤣

Discovering new music

I’ve got lots of feels about new music, and think it’s important for me to continually be trying new music. I’m more skeptical of the algorithm today than in the past. I want to find more recommendations through people (granted, they may have found them through the algorithm 😉).

Although there’s a lot of noise in self-driven discovery, Spotify and Tidal’s algorithms also feed me a lot of duds. For reading sources, I’ve consistently relied on finding my own sources in my blogroll, although that takes more work and likewise carries a lot of noise. If I’ve been happy with that approach for information for over a decade, it feels worthwhile to try for music.

Without the ease of algorithmic recommendations, I’ll need to be more proactive in searching out new music.

Ideas for music discovery without “the algorithm”

New music system to do list

  • Choose a desktop app to manage my owned music ✔️
    • I’ve downloaded MusicBee as a first trial, if it doesn’t work out I might try AIMP
  • Export my playlists from Tidal to said music desktop app — not convinced this is possible
  • Sync my new playlists from the past year from Tidal to Spotify for backup free streaming ✔
  • Research music blogs and Reddit forums
  • Create shortcuts to online radio stations
  • Figure out how to scrobble whatever I’m listening to — whether streamed or owned — to
  • Figure out how to save new music that I like but haven’t purchased
    • potentially a playlist on Currents Alpha? but it’s pretty buggy on Firefox
    • Bandcamp has a wishlist function
  • Figure out how to save music recommendations to check out
    • potentially a webpage here with a running list?

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

8 replies on “Listening to music without a streaming subscription”

Just wanted to mention that I’m working on a side project that’s about my music listening, but also meant to be a bit of a human recommendation engine! Thought you might like it…

For my own listening, I switch between Spotify and Roon, where I have all my CDs ripped and stored. They have an app called Roon Arc so you can listen to your own music server while on the go.

Wow, that’s an awesome project Rian! You’ve set it up in a helpful and intuitive way. It’s fun to combine your currently listening / recently listened data with your purchase data. This is what profiles aspire to be 😉 You’ve set up a lot of ways to explore outwards from there. Do you add the recommendations manually, or are they pulled from Spotify or likes?

Thank you! The recommendations are pulled from likes. I didn’t want to rely on Spotify because songs get “scrobbled” to in 3 ways: Spotify, Roon, and manually via an app called Discographic when I listen to vinyl.

Glad, I could help!! If you do decide to host your own music player, you should look into if any of them support S3 storage to reduce the traffic load on the server you are using depending on the amount of physical media or files stored on a drive. Backblaze is a good one. to look into. Adblockers have been a savior but now sites are getting too smart.

I was surprised to read your review on how terrible Tidal is. I used it with a Plexamp subscription for over a year and it was perfect. Originally switched to it to escape Spotify since it focuses on help you discover your own CDs and vinyl copies, but it’s another subscription to cancel.I’m part of the Family plan on Spotify now, it doesn’t feel right with all the ethical questions the company raises and it’s really annoying how it changes my listening from Album-focused to more “greatest hits powered by the algorithm” which kind of defeats the purpose of having a streaming subscription in the first place, but there’s no cheaper option if one still wants to discover new music. Maybe everyone was better off with their limited CD collections in the end?If I might suggest giving Radio Paradise a try. Beautiful project and a great mix to put in the background while working.

Thanks for the suggestion of Radio Paradise Andrés! I’ll check it out.

I have another friend who likewise has a lot of problems with Tidal, but have also seen others say it works great for them! I’m not sure what causes the mixed experiences — I’m glad that it didn’t give you as much trouble as it gave me 😀

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