Let’s start at the beginning. What’s a home server? A home server is a computer that is used to store all your personal media such as music, photographs, video, TV recordings and documents. It may also run applications to stream that media around your home, delivering your music to different rooms, photographs to your television and more.
Home servers come in different shapes and sizes. For example, a NAS (Network Attached Storage) is a simple home server that primarily stores media, while a fully blown server can also be built from scratch using operating systems such as Windows Home Server, Linux or Mac OS X.
What are the advantages of storing media, and particularly music, on a home server?
1) Cheaper. Rather than having a desktop computer powered on 24/7, serving your media a home server typically consumes far fewer watts.
2) Capacious. Home servers make it easy to add new storage so you can store more music of a higher quality.
3) Safer. Most NAS servers allow online backup.
4) More flexible. You can access your media from anywhere in the home: computers, televisions, hi-fis and more.
What about the ‘cloud’?
It’s worth discussing the advantages of storing music and media online, in the ‘cloud’, as it has become known. Services such as Spotify and Grooveshark allow you to stream music, and Amazon and Google are now offering services to upload your media and store it on their servers rather than your own.
The advantages of this approach are that you save time in setting up and maintaining your own home server. The disadvantages are that, being online, if you lose your Internet connection you will lose access to your music. This could be frustrating if you are hosting a party at the time! Furthermore, there are certain constraints to storing music in the cloud: practical ones such as file size, which constrains sound quality (lossless music sounds better than lossy) and also the lack of control you have over your music collection. Maybe you want to recategorise your music within certain genres, for instance.
Ploughing The Home Server Furrow
So let’s say you’ve decided a home server is for you, perhaps for some of the reasons above. Now let’s concentrate on music. Your first priority is to grant access to the music for your music players around your home. Subsequently, building and maintaining a music collection is an ongoing process. At some point you will want to change how your music is organised. For instance, you may want to update album art to higher resolution versions or you may want to re-categorise the genres for your albums.
You might get lucky, and your music players support this re-organisation. But what if you use more than one type of music player? Do they all support the re-organisation in the same way? For instance, what if you upgraded your album art to larger images, but now your hi-fi system won’t show the art?
This is where dedicated music organisation software becomes useful.
Music Organisation Software
Traditionally, music organisation software can be separated into two camps:
1) Organisation capabilities within your music player, such as those within iTunes.
2) Dedicated tagging software.
Dedicated music taggers are used where fine detailed control is required, or where the organisation capability of your music player does not cover the area of interest. Furthermore, as is common in today’s connected world, they are used to mitigate the differences in organisation between different music players. For instance, to implement a particular organisation which is supported in both a computer based music player, and a music player on a mobile phone.
Recently, a third sort of organiser, rule based music organisers, have begun to appear. Rule based organisers accept a definition of how the music owner wants their music organised, and then performs the organising, including tagging music files for them. This is as opposed to music taggers, which require the user to decide how they want music organised, then do the work of translating that to tagging and performing the file updates themselves.
It’s these rule based organisers that are of particular interest to home server users. Because only the ‘what’ is specified rather than the ‘how’, the work of organising music can be largely automated, or at least semi-automated. And because it can be automated, a home server resident music organiser can identify new and updated music, and apply the rules that the user wants to apply. This is without the music owner having to pro-actively remember how their music should be organised and perform the changes whenever new music is added. Thus, a lot of time is saved.
It’s also rule based organisation that is especially suited to large music libraries. The larger the music library, the more scope for disorganisation and loss of consistency, but also the longer it takes to re-organise manually. As a result, rule based organisation gives a more consistent music library, with less effort. As home servers support larger music libraries, this becomes another synergistic relationship between home servers and rule based music organising software.
Go Forth And Serve
Those are my thoughts on the latest in home server based music library management technology. While much of the mainstream moves toward cloud based music, I think storing music locally still has its place (sound quality, availability and flexibility being the chief reasons) and using a home server is the best way to do it.