If you like to have your favorite tunes playing in the background while you browse online, research a project, or chat with friends, you'll enjoy the easy-to-use Xbox Music app that is part of Windows 8.1. The Music app gives you easy access to the music in your own collection (including the tunes you've purchased online or copied to your PC from your favorite CDs) and also allows you to stream music for free in all of the genres you like best.
You launch the Xbox Music app by tapping the Music app on your Windows 8.1 Start screen (see Figure 1). Note that the app tiles is a live tile, which means that if you're already playing music, the name and perhaps the album cover of the song appears on the app tile surface.
Figure 1 Tap or click the Music app tile in the Windows 8.1 Start screen to launch the Xbox Music app
Find Your Favorite Music—Your Way
One thing you'll notice right away is that the Xbox Music app gives you a simple screen that makes your choices obvious. You can sort the music in your collection by Albums, Artists, or Songs by tapping or clicking the buttons at the top of the Xbox Music screen (see Figure 2).
You can also click the By Date Added arrow to display a list of other ways to arrange the displayed music, choosing to list your tunes in alphabetical order, by the year the songs were released, by genre, or by artist.
Figure 2 You can display your music in the way you like best: by albums, artists, or songs
Create a Radio Station
Xbox Music gives you the option of creating your own radio station that plays all your favorite artists in the genres you select (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 You can easily create your own radio station that streams the music you like
This is a great feature that enables you to personalize the music you play without having to worry about organizing all the songs and creating playlists of your favorites. You'll find the Radio option in the left panel of the Xbox Music screen.
When you tap or click Radio, the Radio screen appears. Choose Start a Station and enter the name of an artist or a group you want to listen to. Click or tap the group you want to hear, and Xbox Music chooses music related that style and group. You are returned to the Radio screen with the new station added, and the first song begins playing automatically.
Create a New Playlist
If you like to put together song mixes for different environments or moods—perhaps you like softer, more contemplative tunes in the morning and rocking tunes in the afternoon—you can create playlists that can tailor the soundtrack of your days.
To create a new playlist in Xbox Music, tap or click the New Playlist option in the left panel of the music app. A popup message box asks you to name your new playlist, and you can type a name and click or tap the Save button (see Figure 4).
Figure 4 You can easily add the songs or albums you want to include on your new playlist
Next, click the new playlist you created (which appears in the playlist area of the left navigation bar on the Xbox Music screen) and then use the Search box in the top of the left panel or choose Explore Music to find new songs to add to your list. When you find an album or a song you want to add to your playlist, click or tap the Add button and then choose the playlist name from the list that appears. Xbox Music lets you know that the song has been added to your playlist.
You can also add a favorite album to a new playlist on the fly. Begin by choosing Collection and then right-click the album you want to add. Tap or click Add To, and a listing of your current playlists appears. Choose the playlist you want to add the album to, or choose New Playlist and enter a name if you want to start a new list. Simple.
Play Music in the Cloud
If you've stored the music you've purchased in the cloud somewhere, you can use Xbox Music to find it and play it with no problem. The trick is to choose the location for your music in the Collection screen.
Begin by tapping or clicking Collection in the Xbox Music app, and then tap or click the arrow to the left of the sorting buttons (Albums, Artists, and Songs) at the top of the Collection screen. A list appears, offering you three choices: All Music, On This PC, and In the Cloud. Tap or click In the Cloud. The selection displayed in the Collection screen changes, showing you only the songs you have saved to cloud storage.
Try the Xbox Music Pass
You know how it goes with free features online: There is often a catch. Although the streaming capability of the Xbox Music app is great, it is ad-supported, which means that as long as you use the free version, you'll see advertisements from time to time (and perhaps hear them, too, at the front of streaming albums or radio stations).
Microsoft's answer to this is to offer a "premium" service in the form of the Xbox Music Pass, which you can subscribe to for $9.99 per month. The Xbox Music Pass gives you unlimited streaming with no ads and, so the marketing promises, access to literally millions of songs you can play back on your PC, tablet, Xbox, phone, and web browser. On some—but not all—devices, you can download music for offline play as well (Xbox 360 and web access allow streaming only).
Microsoft is offering a free Xbox Music trial right now that will last for 30 days, but you'll be asked for a credit card when you sign up, and it will be charged faithfully thereafter until you cancel the service. You can find out more at http://www.xbox.com/en-us/music/music-pass. Is this kind of ad-free streaming worth $9.99 per month? Value is in the ear of the beholder.
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Music can add a lot to our days, whether we're working on a boring report, baking cookies in the kitchen, or winding down a nice evening with a glass of wine and our favorite companion.
The Xbox Music app makes it easy to add a flexible, personalized soundtrack to your daily activities, and it's free—for the most part.
Play around with the features in this app and see whether it fits what you need and want to support your musical sensibilities. Happy listening!