Copy local music to iPhone with VLC and without iTunes

Updated: December 19, 2023

Why don't you use the iPhone, people sometimes ask me. Two main problems, I tells them. One, being able to use an adblocker in Safari. Two, being able to copy my local music, my MP3 files onto the iPhone without using the iTunes application. For almost ten years or so, give or take, this has been an outstanding pair of problems for me, especially the latter. Now, I am pleased to say I have solved it. And I'd like to share my story as a tutorial.

Recently, I had a chance to test the iPhone 13 Mini. Turned out to be a pretty solid device. I also discovered that you can use content and adblockers for Safari. For example, Firefox Focus and Adblock Plus (ABP) are both available as Safari extensions. Awesome, check. More importantly, I have finally figured how to copy music onto the phone without using iTunes. Let us proceed.

Teaser

Solution: VLC media player

You know I love this little thing. It's my favorite media player, hands down. It's incredibly powerful, and I've written a whole bunch of articles and howtos for it over the years. Once again, it will prove its worth, and it will be the iOS app in this instance.

Go to the App Store, install VLC. Launch the app. It will ask if you allow it to scan the local network for any media shares. You can do this, but it is not required for what we're seeking in this tutorial. VLC will then open in its main interface, with Video, Audio, Playlists, Network, and Settings buttons available in the bottom part of the player's interface.

Click on the Network option. VLC supports multiple ways of streaming media, to and fro, over the network. You can use cloud services, stream online clips directly, and even start a Web server, which will then be shared over the Wi-Fi. In other words, once you activate this feature, your iPhone's VLC will become a media share, accessible by any other machine on the local Wireless network. Turn it on!

Network options Sharing active

And in your browser, you will see something like this:

Web server, open in browser

Now copy the files over!

Caveat: do not copy too many files at once

If you try to rush it, you may get a "fail" message for different files. My recommendation is to copy small batches of files in one go, or perhaps even individual items. This can be annoying, but you will be able to eventually get all of the content copied over and onto your iPhone.

Copy failure

A fail message when I tried to copy all of the music files in one go.

Results: Majestic!

And there we go. I was able, for the first time in like forever, play songs properly using the iPhone, without having to buy anything (I already own), or using the iTunes program to get the content copied over. Simple, elegant, no great hacking. Lovely jubbly.

Playing music 1 Playing music 2

Results, addendum: Only works for VLC

However, you should note that this method only really affects the VLC media player. In other words, the songs will be part of the VLC setup, but they won't be available across the system. If you open Apple Music, you won't be able to find your songs there. And for that matter, Dreadlock Holiday wasn't available for purchase, at least not for me. I tried a couple of different regional stores. Maybe I'm using it wrong. Hey! Such is life.

Music empty No song shows up in Search

Conclusion

I am utterly pleased by the outcome of today's work, explained in this wee tutorial. It shows how you can use the fantastic VLC media player to copy your local songs (and other media) onto the iPhone, without having to use iTunes in any fashion. The content will be available as part of the VLC app, and you can listen to it, create playlists, play songs with the lock screen active, all the goodies. The content will not be available in Apple Music, though. I guess it's "local" to VLC only.

The other realization I have from this swell guide is that now, I no longer have cardinal obstacles preventing me from buying and owning an iPhone. For years, I didn't want to consider it, because a) no adblocking b) no local music, at least not using MY methods, ergo no iTunes. But now, both these issues have been resolved. I could, if I wanted to, have a normal traditional Web & media experience with this device. No silly ads, and my own music catalog, without having to use any streaming or subscription. Pandora's Box has just opened. It seems ironic that an open-source app could be a trigger that gets me to buy an iPhone. But that's where we are. If you want your own MP3s, get VLC, activate Sharing over Wi-fi, and enjoy your songs. We're done here.

Cheers.