Amazon’s Alexa isn’t as hospitable as it once was to people who prefer to buy music instead of just signing up for a subscription service such as Spotify–or Amazon’s own service.
Although Amazon used to let users upload their personal media collections for playback on Echo speakers, it discontinued that feature a few years ago. The move effectively stranded folks who own large personal music collections from ripped CDs and downloads.
Fortunately, some workarounds exist. To play your own MP3s (or music encoded in other formats, such as FLAC) on the Echo or other Alexa-compatible speakers, you can use Plex or My Media Server for Alexa, both of which allow you to stream songs you’ve stored on another device. These services aren’t as full-featured or as easy to use as Amazon Music was, but at least they still let you access your music collection with voice commands.
Here’s how to keep the music playing:
Option 1: Plex Media Server
To have Plex play your music files on an Amazon Echo, you’ll need a media server device that is always on and can run Plex Media Server. That can include a desktop computer (running Windows, MacOS, or Linux), a NAS (network-attached storage) box, or an Nvidia Shield TV Pro box.
Streaming your music this way does have some limitations:
Whole-home music is not supported, so you can listen on only one speaker at a time
You can’t set Plex as the default streaming service, and you must use specific syntax (either “Alexa, ask Plex…” or “Alexa, tell Plex…”) to play your songs each time.
Responses from Plex take slightly longer than Alexa’s built-in music services.
Still on board? Here’s how to set up Plex for Alexa music playback:
2. Download Plex Media Server to the device where your music files are stored, and follow the installation instructions. During this process, you’ll be prompted to specify the folder where your music is located.
3. Visit app.plex.tv to launch Plex from any phone, tablet, or computer.
5. In the settings menu, select Remote Access from the left sidebar, then select Enable Remote Access. (Plex says this isn’t necessary if you’re running the latest media server software, but still suggests it anyway.)
6. If you didn’t set up your music folder during installation, return to the main menu. Under the Libraries section of the left sidebar, highlight Music, press the “…” icon, then select Edit. Use the “Add folders” menu to show Plex where your music files are located.
Jared Newman / IDG
7. Now that you’re done setting up Plex, install the Plex skill for Alexa, either directly through the web or by searching for “Plex” under the Skills section of the Alexa mobile app.
Jared Newman / IDG
8. Sign into your Plex account, then hit the “Authorize” button.
9. With your Alexa device, say “Alexa, Ask Plex to change my server.” If you only have one server, Alexa will set it automatically. Otherwise, listen for the list of server numbers, and respond with the one you’d like to use.
”Tell Plex to play the album [album name]” (This tends to only work if you don’t say the artist’s name as well.)
”Ask Plex to play the song [song name]”
”Shuffle mode on”
”Ask Plex what I should listen to.”
”Tell Plex to play some music.”
”Ask Plex to throw down some phat beats.” (Seriously, it works.)
You can also say “Next track,” “Previous track,” “Pause,” “Play,” and “Stop” without having to say “ask Plex” first.
Option 2: My Media for Alexa
My Media is similar to Plex, in that it requires setting up a media server device for streaming your music files to the Echo. It also has some of the same restrictions: Whole-home streaming isn’t supported, and you must use specific “Ask My Media…” syntax to start listening.
But My Media does have some advantages: It can index playlists from iTunes and play music by genre, and it also offers a workaround (albeit a somewhat clunky one) for multi-room music playback.
On the downside, the service isn’t free like Plex. You can try it for seven days, but after that it costs $5.50 per year for a single media server and access from up to two Amazon accounts, $11 per year for two media servers and five Amazon accounts, and $16.50 per year for five media servers and 25 Amazon accounts. (You can try it free for seven days without any credit card info.)
Here’s how to set it up:
1. Download My Media for Alexa, run the installation file, and go through the setup process. (If you choose not to launch the My Media for Alexa Console after installation completes, find and launch it in your program list to continue setup in your web browser.)
2. In the My Media for Alexa Console, click the green Next button, sign into your Amazon account and select Allow on the next page.
3. Select “No” when asked if you’d like to automatically download sample media.
4. On the left sidebar, select Watch Folders, then hit the Add Folder button. Select the folder or folders where your songs are stored.
Jared Newman / IDG
5. Install the My Media skill for Alexa, either directly through the web or by searching for “My Media” under the Skills section of the Alexa mobile app.
6. Optional: To automatically share iTunes playlists with My Media For Alexa, open iTunes, then go to the Preferences menu. Click the Advanced tab, then select “Share iTunes Library XML with other applications.” Return to the My Media for Alexa console, select ‘iTunes Library” from the left sidebar, and click “Index iTunes Library.” Choose the folder where your XML files are located (typically /Users/[username]/Music/iTunes on macOS and C:Users[username]MusiciTunes on Windows).
Now, you can use My Media to play songs on the Echo or other Alexa devices. Here are some voice command examples:
”Ask My Media to play music by [artist].”
”Ask My Media to play the album [album] by [artist].”
”Ask My Media to play the song [song] by [artist].”
”Ask My Media to play my playlist.”
”Ask My Media to play [genre] music.”
”Ask My Media to turn shuffle [on/off].”
”Ask My Media to turn loop [on/off].”
You can also say “Next track,” “Previous track,” “Pause,” “Play,” and “Stop” without having to say “ask My Media” first.
The multi-room music workaround: To make whole-home audio work with your personal music collection, you must configure one of your Echo speakers to automatically trigger playback on several Alexa devices at once. Here’s how to do that:
1. Open the Alexa app on your phone and select the “Devices” tab.
2. Select the room where you’ll be talking to Alexa.
3. Under the “Speakers” heading, select “Change.”
4. Check off all the other speakers where you want to play music.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to go back and uncheck these speakers if you only want to play on a single speaker again, but it’s worth the extra trouble if you’re settling in for a long listening session. (While this workaround should theoretically work with Plex as well, I was only able to get it working with My Media.)
Option 3: My Pod
For a quick-and-dirty way to play individual songs or playlists through Alexa, check out My Pod. This website lets you drop in a link to any folder on Dropbox, Google Drive, or Amazon Drive, then play the songs from that folder with a voice command.
The free version is quite limited, though—you can only store a maximum of 10 tracks—and you must pay $3 per month or $35.50 per year for unlimited links. Users with extensive collections should strongly consider Plex or My Media instead, but My Pod can work for playing a small number of songs in a pinch:
1. Create a folder in Google Drive, Dropbox, or Amazon Drive, then share the folder to create a link that you can copy. (Note: My Pod only plays songs in alphabetical order. To rearrange the order of songs, you’ll need to add track numbers to the beginning of your file names in each folder.)
2. Visit mypodapp.com and select Get Started, then Sign in with Amazon. Enter your account credentials, and select “Allow” at the next page.
3. Click the “Shorten Link” option in the left sidebar. Paste your link into the field and click “Shorten.”
Jared Newman / IDG
4. Install the My Pod skill for Alexa, either directly through the web or by searching for “My Pod” under the Skills section of the Alexa mobile app. Then click “Allow” in the prompt that appears.
5. Use the voice command shown on My Pod’s website to play the contents of your link. (It should be a small string of numbers.)
Jared Newman / IDG
While My Pod also allows you to name your folders instead of identifying them by number, I had trouble getting this to work reliably. Again, setting a media server is a much better option if you want to pick and choose from your library with voice commands.
The nuclear option: Goodbye, Alexa
If any of this seems like too much hassle, consider investing in a different speaker ecosystem instead.
With Google Home and Nest speakers, you can use Plex and various other apps to stream your personal music collection, including in multi-room speaker setups. You can also use AirPlay-compatible speakers such as Apple’s HomePod Mini to easily play music from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. You won’t get the same voice control options as above, but overall you’ll get a setup that’s somewhat more amenable to the music you own. And if you want the ultimate experience in multi-room audio, consider Sonos speakers.
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Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.