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Music Streaming Options for an Apple Family

John Lamont is a professional photographer and visual designer based in Central Scotland. A technology expert and father of three, John’s family home is full of Apple products. He currently uses iTunes with some particularly time-consuming steps to make sure everyone in the family gets to listen to what they want. Could Spotify offer a better solution?


A Musical Family

John and his family have a wide musical taste, with each having their own particular genre preferences (although the two teenage boys both love their metal). John ripped all his old CDs a while ago and with MP3 purchases since, his iTunes collection now weighs in at over 18,000 tracks and growing.

The Lamont household has two Mac desktops and a MacBook Pro laptop. There’s an Apple TV networked in the lounge which is used to sync music over WiFi to an Apple AirPort Express in the kitchen, in turn connected to a hi-fi and used for all the household’s music. John and his wife have iPhones and the teenagers all have iPods.


Upsetting the Apple Cart

John’s obviously a big Apple and iTunes fan, but he realizes there are several limitations with his current setup. “iTunes is a very frustrating architecture to manage in a multi-user environment,” he says. “Since iTunes isn’t networkable, I have to use one iTunes account to add any newly bought music. It shares music from one library to another desktop or mobile, but restrictions mean that I can’t sync that remote music to a second library for storage on an iPod or iPhone.”

The upshot of all this is that John has to manage the entire family’s music storage and syncing through one Apple Mac. This PC has his passwords on it, and John says “I’m too fond of money to give my 11 year old free-reign in the iTunes account with on-click buy enabled!”

John’s process to manage all this is a nightmare for any busy working father:

When the kids want to change music, they trawl the main iTunes library remotely on the second desktop Mac. They write a list of artists/songs they want added/deleted from their playlist, leave it with me and I’ll edit their playlist. When that’s finished they drop their iPods into the dock and iTunes syncs the changes. What a pain in the a**!

In An Ideal World

“In considering nirvana,” says John, “I’m looking at Spotify and wondering if it could deliver a better solution. I’ve tried Spotify freemium and the choice is jaw-dropping.”

John analyzed the music he bought for his children and checked the playcounts. He found that their music tastes went stale quickly, especially the chart buys. Previously averse to the music-rental idea, John’s now coming around to the idea. “Why buy and not listen? Does rental make more sense for my family’s ever-changing tastes in music?”

So John’s requirements are:

  • Listen to music from different rooms in the house
  • Listen at same time
  • Kids sync devices themselves
  • Sync iPhone with playlists
  • “Some sort of buy password/barrier to avoid youngest buying the Gorillaz back catalogue – again!”


Solution 1: iTunes Home Sharing

Home Sharing in iTunes lets you stream and transfer music with up to five other computers on your local network. I don’t have any Apple products so can’t test this out, but I asume John has loooked into this and not found it suitable.


Solution 2: Spotify Family Accounts

A Spotify account can be used on up to three computers, so with 5 people in the family it might seem that two accounts is all that’s needed. Unfortunately music can only be played on one computer at a time: if you’re listening on one Mac and someone hits play on another, your music is paused for the duration.

Some kind of Spotify family pack subscription option would seem ideal then. But despite many requests for family-based subscriptions, this still remains missing from Spotify. According to the company:

We’re very interested in this and we’d love to make it happen. However, the changes would require new licenses which is a very time consuming process. Hopefully one day it will happen.

Further comments from Spotify seem to suggest it’s not going to happen any time soon.

So John would need a separate Spotify account for each family member. Assuming it’s just the kids that need mobile, that works out at:

  • 1 x Unlimited for John = £5/month
  • 1 x Unlimited for John’s wife = £5/month
  • 3 x Premium for the kids = £30/month

Total cost: £40/month

This may be out of John’s monthly budget, but it does provide the least amount of hassle as everyone can manage their own music and listen to it whenever they want.


Solution 3: Spotify on Sonos

Spotify is now integrated in Sonos, the multi-room wireless music system. The killer-feature here is that you can listen to different tracks in different rooms, all at the same time and all from a single Spotify Premium account. By setting up zone players in each room, each person in John’s family can have music streaming from both Spotify and iTunes whenever they want. Sonos has iPhone apps too, so there’s no need for the kids to log in to John’s master Mac.

With only one Spotify subscription, all John would need to do would be to set up some top-level playlist folders, one for each person in the family. They can then add and manage their own playlists independently.

This would seem to be the best option for John except for one thing: the cost. Sonos systems aren’t cheap, but at least you can mix-and-match the ZonePlayer variations to bring the price down a little. John would probably need five “zones” so that amounts to:

  • 1 x Sonos ZonePlayer 90 (connects to amp) for the living room = £279
  • 1 x Sonos ZonePlayer 120 (connects to speakers) for the kitchen = £399
  • 3 x Sonos ZonePlayer 120 for the kid’s bedrooms = £1,197
  • 1 x Premium Spotify subscription = £10/month

Total cost: £1,875 + £10/month

John might be able to shave off a bit by using a Sonos S5 (£349) instead of a couple of the ZonePlayer 120s, but this is still a pricey option. Compared with option 2, John could have over 5 years of Spotify subscriptions for the whole family for the same price.

Still, the Sonos solution is pretty cool and I’m sure it might tempt John’s inner gadget geek.


Solution 4: Waiting for Cloudo

Apple is expected to announce its iCloud next month. Having finally inked deals with most of the major record labels, only publisher deals remain in the way of the Apple LaLaland…

If you’ve any advice for John, please let him know in the comments below or at:


John has written an excellent article on what happened next. Check it out here: Comrade iTunes, this is Spotify.