Solving a Music Workflow Problem

In the spirit of this week’s episode of Crush On Radio, wherein we discuss how we listen to music, I thought I’d write up some additional thoughts, as well as detail a new component to my musical workflow.

I keep all of my music on an external hard drive. I have 13,791 songs in my iTunes library (up from 12,170 after the great iTunes purge). This amounts to 125.85 GB of music, which I don’t want weighing down my three-year-old 15” MacBook Pro.

The downside to this setup is that I have to have my external hard drive plugged into my Mac if I want to listen to my iTunes library. Normally this isn’t a big deal because my MacBook Pro is my only computer, and it’s usually relegated to my desk anyway. I have a TwelveSouth BassJump 2 Subwoofer (which I adore), so my music sounds great when I’m working at my desk/in my room.

However, inconvenience arises when I take my MacBook Pro away from my desk. I can’t cart the BassJump around with me, so I’m left with comparatively wimpy laptop speakers. I could — and usually do — use headphones in these instances to improve sound quality, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of my iTunes library being back at my desk on my external hard drive.

Take this scenario, for example. The other night I decided I wanted to do some writing on the living room couch instead of at my desk. This is awesome because the couch is right in front of the TV, which has been newly outfitted with my dad’s gorgeous Mirage speaker towers. An ideal listening experience.

BUT. My music is still upstairs on my external hard drive.


Previously, I’d been getting around this issue by streaming music from my iOS devices to our Apple TV, which is a decent, but less than convenient, solution. My entire library is in iCloud via iTunes Match, which is great, but it means I have to download music to my iOS device before I can listen. That means I have to go to Settings, switch on Show All Music, and navigate my entire library via my iPhone or iPad. Given the size of my library, it’s not the smoothest or fastest setup.

So, I need my iTunes library on my Mac without actually having my iTunes library on my Mac.


Services like Rdio and Spotify aim to solve this problem by offering streaming music subscriptions. I never gave them much thought because I like having ownership over my library, and I didn’t like the idea of paying a monthly fee for my music.

But, as I sat on the couch with my MacBook Pro on my lap, periodically tapping around on my iPad to stream music to the Apple TV, I knew there had to be a better way. If I’m working on my Mac, controlling my music via a second device is cumbersome. I don’t want to have to take my fingers off the keyboard.

I remembered Shawn Blanc being a big Rdio fan, so I search his site for articles about the app and found this great tip. Shawn uses Rdio in conjunction with Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil to stream music to his Apple TV.

It sounded like the perfect solution, so I signed up for the $5/month Rdio subscription and downloaded the desktop app. I also bought an Airfoil license from Rogue Amoeba for $25.

This setup works flawlessly.

Rdio’s selection is very good, and the desktop app is well done. You can even match your iTunes library with Rdio’s to build up your music collection, which I wasn’t aware of. (Note: Rdio was able to match only about half of my library, but still more than enough for my needs.) Suddenly, I had access to a good chunk of my music — plus much more — on my Mac without having to overburden my hard drive or be connected to my external. Excellent.

Rdio can’t stream directly to Apple TV via Airplay like iTunes can, so that’s where Airfoil comes in. Airfoil is a simple utility that lets you send music from your Mac to a wide variety of devices. It works great.

I don’t know if I’ll move to Rdio full-time in the future. It doesn’t have every song I have in my iTunes, although I’m sure they’re expanding their selection every day.

Right now, I’m happy to pay the $5 a month to have this flexibility in my music workflow. If you keep your music on an external drive, but wish you could access it from your Mac without fiddling with iOS devices, I highly recommend Rdio + Airfoil. Special thanks to Shawn Blanc for bringing this solution to my attention.

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