As I sit here listening to my Google Play (because it absorbed my beloved Songza [yes, I’m still a little bitter about it]), “Focus (No Lyrics)” playlist of “Relaxing Film Scores,” I realize that many people crave music on-the-go. I’m not really one of those people; I turned the radio off in my car 10 years ago and commute in relative silence because it seems to be the only place where there is such respite (and music in the new millennium really is insufferable, but, alas, I’m showing my snobbery and that’s neither here nor there). Bottom line, you want to take your music where’er you roam, and oftentimes that involves a space where WiFi is null and void.
Never fear, music lover! There is a plethora of music apps at your fingertips, apps that will play the music you love without the requirement of a WiFi connection. But most of these apps are shady, undependable, and/or downright illegal. We will not be featuring such apps. The truth of the matter is, and I feel strongly about this, downloading copyrighted material for free without the express permission of the creator is piracy; it’s stealing someone else’s creative material. And sure, the hippie in me says, “Music belongs to no one!” But the musician in me says, “I don’t play for free! I have to eat, too!” To learn more about what is legal and what is not when it comes to music (in America), check out the Recording Industry Association of America‘s website. To discover our top picks for music enjoyment without WiFi, read on. And then listen on. Or if you’re a musician in Duke Orsino’s palace, play on.
If music be the food of love, play on; give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die. — William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act I Scene 1
4 Music Apps That Don’t Need Wifi to Work
There are countless streaming apps out there: Spotify, Pandora, Shazam, Google Music are some of the heavy hitters… heck, we’ve written about them extensively before. And then, of course, most of the major radio stations have some web-based streaming service (if not an app) that will let you listen to their broadcast in real time. All of this to say that WiFi today has become the radio of thirty years ago: find a signal, tune in some music, enjoy. Lather, rinse, repeat. But for a variety of reasons, you may not want to depend on streaming in order to get your music. Maybe you’re in a place with spotty reception, or maybe you’re on the road and don’t want to use your data plan. Either way, you want an alternative, so you can continue listening to music even without an active internet connection.
These apps all allow you to download music on your smart device. Most devices natively have music managers on them, but sometimes the UI can be less than intuitive, and as we all know, oftentimes the package that comes in the box doesn’t do quiiiiiite what we need it to. So, for whatever reason, you want something to download music with, beyond the fairly standard iTunes and its ilk. This means, of course, you will need an active internet connection at some time, but insofar as what you need to play that requirement goes away.
Now, since all of these apps involve systematic downloads, I’m going to reiterate what I said above about avoiding illegal and gray-area apps. You see, it’s not just a personal squareness that leads me to eschew such apps, but it’s also a security issue. Recently, the Mac-using world was shocked to discover an active ransomware protocol targeting Apple computers — a platform previously (and continuously) lauded for its superior security. The backdoor that the ransomware developers used to create their malware involved a popular torrenting engine for Mac. And while it isn’t true that all torrents are for illegal downloads, a goodly portion of them are. So, perhaps out of a personal jumpiness, I’m going to steer clear of apps that allow illegal downloads, because the same backdoors that allow DRM free access and skirting inconvenient paywalls can often generate similar security compromises.
Without any further ado, let’s get going. These aren’t all the apps, of course, nor are they necessarily the best apps. But here is, I believe, an interesting cross-section of what you can find out there.
Amazon Music with Prime Music
Let’s get this out of the way. Trade juggernaut Amazon has steadily been pushing its way into every facet of our consuming lives: the Kindle Store, Amazon Prime video, and now Amazon Music (formerly Amazon MP3). Amazon will eventually join every digital party, and while it usually only shows up after the industry’s market is proven (Prime Video only came about after Netflix had blazed the trail, the Firestick is a real Johnny-come-lately, showing up after Apple TV, Roku, and Chromecast), it still makes a great showing with all of its advancements, often because it has the shaky starts of its competitors to learn from.
This is just as true about Amazon Music as it is with everything else. There are still some user-interface concerns, as a lot of the menu options are situational and not universal, but other than that, it’s pretty solid. If you have a lot invested in your iTunes library, fortunately you can link the two at the Amazon site so all of your iTunes purchases are available on your Amazon cloud.
And Amazon really is the operative word here. There’s really only three ways to get much use out of this: First, of course, is to link your iTunes account. Second is to purchase music off of Amazon so it shows up in your cloud. And third is to have Amazon Prime. At around $100 a year (and that price tag seems to change every week) this can be a steep cost of entry for many. If you’re already an AP member, say for the shipping or for the streaming movies, then this might be quite attractive, but joining up just for the music probably isn’t worth it.
Oh, and you know how I said that you can buy music from Amazon? Well, you can… but not through this app. Just as you can’t buy Kindle books through the Kindle app, neither can you purchase music through this. You have to go to the website, or use the Amazon app. It’s frustrating, but there might be a good reason for it: you can install this app on a multitude of devices and not worry about anybody making purchases on your account through it, much the same way that you can sign into your Netflix at a friend’s house and know that they can’t do anything that’ll cost you. Still, it does appear to contribute to bloatware on a platform that is already prone to it.
Here we have Microsoft’s entry into the playground, trying hard to compete with the flashier Apple. As some readers may know, I have a soft spot for the Windows Phone, even though I eventually migrated away from it due to an insurmountable lack of third-party support. And while those of us who were on the computer scene in the 90s may have a hard time of seeing Microsoft as an underdog, in the app market they really are. Still, this syncs to your OneDrive, functions as an ad-free radio, and lets you download to your device. If you’re an Xbox user, you may find this more attractive as you can sync your library across all your devices (Groove sprang from the ashes of Xbox music). Its user interface leaves a bit to be desired (a head-slappingly familiar problem for Microsoft offerings), and I haven’t spent a lot of time with it (at least, not enough to truly plumb the depths of its library), but if you’re in the market for radio/download apps, and especially if you have a couple of Microsoft devices already, I recommend you at least give this one a whirl.
Here’s one that’s only for Android. However, this app has two versions: a free trial version and a paid version (99¢). There’s a real disappointment here in that it has been updated in forever. I’m hoping it’s not going the way of BlinkBox Music, which would have been on this list two years ago. But there is a really cool mechanic here in that not only can you stream and download music, you can send playlists to other users. It hearkens back to the old days of mixtapes, carefully cultivated collections of music you personally put together to communicate something very specific to a friend.
Click here for BlueMuze.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Spotify. It’s another one of those that it’s so obvious, there’s almost not a point to including it, but at the same time, it’s so obvious that the list would seem incomplete without it. We have written about Spotify before. A couple of times. And really, it’s a great app! I mean, if you are dead set on replacing your device’s native MP3 app (grumble grumble, usually un-deletable, grumble grumble) then you could do a fair sight worse than Spotify. Not only does it have an expansive library and a pretty nice interface, but the sheer size of its user base goes a long way towards suggesting that this one is going to be around for a while!
Really, there are a lot of great apps out there. Ultimately, you want something you feel happy with in terms of its usability, interface, and the reliable security that it’s not going anywhere. Whereas with streaming apps, you can usually afford to play the field a little, when it comes to these download based apps, it’s more important to find one you like and stick with it, since your library usually won’t migrate from app to app very easily.
What are your thoughts? Is there anything that you can’t live without musically that has slipped by us? Let us know down in the comments! Rock on!