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Building the ultimate baby music system using a deactivated cell phone

If baby's getting tired of crib-phones, this article is for you. No, I have no idea whose baby this is.
If baby’s getting tired of crib-phones, this article is for you. No, I have no idea whose baby this is.

Maggie used to like listening to Willie’s Roadhouse on Sirius/XM. Unfortunately the streaming app is pretty terrible and she might be lucky some nights to get an hour of it, so we’ve moved away from that. The chance that the internet goes down increases as baby gets sick or needs music, so this works offline as well.

The following method also works in the event of a power outage.

Rather than playing CDs in the room, which requires a place to put an unmolestable CD player and will only run for about an hour until it repeats or ends I decided to make something I could easily manage that would play all night if need be and could be changed on the fly as new music got added from any source.

What you’ll need

This is for my setup. You can change parts around, skip the speaker if you’ve got something, else, etc.

What we’re going to do

We will be using Google Play Music on a deactivated cell phone to play a playlist to baby. To do this we will be converting physical CDs into digital audio files, transmitting them to our Google Play Music account, creating a playlist, and streaming them to our baby. You can also just purchase music and download it.

Don’t worry, it’s pretty easy these days – it just sounds like a lot of work but chances are you’ve got portions of this done already.

Step 1: Install some software

I used iTunes to rip CDs to my music library, you can use whatever. Make sure you’ve got a Google account and then install the Google Play Music Manager. This will automatically upload your music to the cloud (you can configure what directories to look in). These two apps will take a CD and hoist it to the cloud for later playback.

Install Google Play Music on your deactivated cell phone or device.

Step 2: Let’s connect some stuff!

In my setup I’ve connected one of my old phones via bluetooth to a very large mostly babyproof speaker. If you’re connected via bluetooth you can have the phone out of the room if you want it (mount it on a door so you can control the music from outside if you’re so inclined) – you can also plug in a speaker directly to the headphone jack although some phones use more juice for a jack than they do for bluetooth.

I try and minimize the number of cables that can be grabbed at – but if you’ve got the equipment and a way to keep baby out of it, set it up however you want.

Make sure your device has internet access via the WiFi and connect it to your Google Play Music account.

Step 3: Plan some phat baby beats

I did this mostly from a computer, but it’s possible to do it from the device. Create some baby playlists. I have one playlist of 265 songs called Put the Baby to Bed. This contains almost all of the baby music people have given to us on CD form, and some non-baby music that she really enjoys or at least knocks her out.

Goodnight playlist

Step 4: Prep the phone for power outage

Google Play Music pin an albumIf you’re using a deactivated cell phone, chances are you still are searching for a cell signal. If you have the ability to do this, turn off the cell radio. If you see no option to do this, place the device into Airplane Mode, and then turn on WiFi and Bluetooth. This will save some battery if the power goes out.

If you’ve got enough space, download or pin the playlist in Google Play Music. Pinning just downloads a copy to your device. You’ll want that if the power goes out so you can keep playing on.

You can still update the playlist elsewhere. If the song is unavailable because the internet is down, it’ll be skipped. I’m uncertain if the new additions to the playlist are auto-downloaded once an album is pinned or not, but I don’t think they are.

Step 5: Musicgeddon

Start the music playing, make sure you’ve got the right volume to get baby to sleep… make sure that no death metal accidentally snuck into the playlist as there’s nothing quite so annoying as a nearly asleep baby getting up and headbanging to some hardcore beats.

If you’ve done everything right, you can even turn off WiFi and play on through. I generally keep it on as my old devices do not pull much juice just having WiFi on, and I want the changes I make to the playlist to push down for later.

Thoughts on the setup

Disabling Auto SyncPlacing the playback device out of the room allows you to modify the volume without entering the room. It also allows you to shut off the music if you don’t want visions of Beethoven’s 5th flying through their dreams, or they sleep better with no music.

Mine seems to sleep best with tunes, I can’t imagine sleeping with music, your experiences will vary.

It’s pretty important on the deactivated device you remove things like Google Hangouts, or anything that will make loud boink noises when you get new email. On Android you can turn off auto sync, but you’ll want to leave it on for Google as your music data is synced through there.

If you get a lot of gmail, just open the gmail app and change the sound it makes to “silent” or disable notifications.

Having a Bluetooth speaker plugged in and charging, the music downloaded, and the phone in airplane mode on a charger somewhere means that if the power goes out you start a timer of about 8 more hours of music before one of the devices gives up.

This setup allows you to modify the playlist while the phone is elsewhere, pushing music to it.

But wait, there’s more

If god forbid something happens to baby, you can grab the phone and dial 911. Deactivated devices still can, at least in the US, call 911 regardless of account status.

I do not know whether when you’re in airplane mode you can dial 911 and it automatically gets you out of airplane mode or if you’ll need to exit to call, so you might want to have that knowledge before you spend even a second working with the deactivated phone as opposed to rushing to a known working phone.

If you know for certain, let us know.

Have fun!

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.