Music players in general, and random musings...

Sam Hart

2011-03-03 17:59:53

If you couldn't tell from my last entry (a month ago, wee! I'm a frequent blogger! ... aaand sarcasm off...) I've been mussing about with music a good deal lately.

This largely has to do with the fact that I've been stuck in a very very very grey cubicle and in desperate need of musical escape.

From Portland 2010

Well, I've come to the realization lately that I really do not like the current state of music players under Linux, or the direction of music players in general.

First, let me start by saying in most things I do have a tendency towards minimalism (I do realize the irony of that statement when I'm running Drupal on my site, but honestly, I've been a bit irritated with Drupal lately for this very reason). The central problem I have with most modern music players is that they are all tending toward the same bloated, overly complex, and ultimately useless set of features that I personally do not like.

Second, I am someone who doesn't mind paying for my music- either for physical media or electronic media. But I am someone who must have his music DRM-free. If I buy music and it is laden with DRM, I will use software to strip it from it and store it electronically. I have no intention of redistributing said music, but I believe it is within my right as a consumer to have my owned music collection available to me whenever and wherever I go (so, for example, while I am here working remotely in Portland, I can still access my music collection at home by accessing my music files securely over a remote connection). I'm well aware of things like the DMCA, but I do not consider such things to be just, and I willfully disobey unjust things and actively encourage others to do the same. If enough people had the courage to do so, there would be nothing the small-minded upper 2% who ultimately rule by stealing our lives could do about it.

But I digress...

Returning to my original topic, it seems that everyone and their dog is trying to play catch-up with Apple's iTunes, which bothers me ever so much on so many levels.

On one level, this bothers me because Apple's iTunes is extremely contradictory to the Free/Libre/Open-Source model, and to see so many of my FLOSS brethren succumb to the allure of this brushed metal temptress is disheartening. Some, such as Rhythmbox, even have iTunes aspirations as their stated goal. Rhythmbox is especially sad because it is the de facto music player in so many Gnome-based distributions these days including and particularly the omnipresent Ubuntu. Ubuntu has even gone so far as to integrate their iTunes wannabe music store into Rhythmbox on their platform. I realize it is hip to dump on Ubuntu these days, and I certainly don't mean to join that bandwagon as I generally like their platform more than others, but I certainly do question this music store choice as it seems a strange combination and kind of an ill-fit at best.

On another level, this iTune-ification of Linux-based music players bothers me because the iTunes experience is, by design, intended to be all encompassing. I realize I may be in the minority here, but I really do like my music player to just play music and then get out of my way. I don't like it to consume mass resources on my platform with unnecessary UI, processing, and widgetry when all I want is audio pumped into my ears. Do I really need album art looked up from, artist info from, band history from Wikipedia, and the latest concert alerts all streaming into my player? If I'm in iTunes and the provider of said music is desperately trying to pry another cent from me, maybe. But if I'm in Linux, and I'm coding a C daemon and grinding my hours until lunch or 5pm, then do I really need all this crap from my so-called Free-Software music player?

Finally, and this is perhaps my biggest beef, most of these music players seem to be designed for people with rather narrow music tastes. I realize that, in almost every way imaginable I'm in the minority here, but I can't possibly be that unique in that I listen to a very wide array of music. Yet, when I add my library to most of these music playing apps, they tend to jumble everything together into a soupy mess that makes it impossible for me to decouple things back out when I'm in the mood for one particular artist or genre at a given moment.

From what I've read and heard, this seems to only be a problem if your library really and truly contains a vastly diverse mix of music. If you have limited tastes, then these music players can work for you. But, if you can listen to Daft Punk one day, Akira Yamaoka another, Chopin on the next, David Parsons the day after, follow this up with some Dragonforce, then some X-Ray Spex and finally Dr. Dre, then your music collection is likely going to turn into a gigantic mess inside of any of these all-encompassing FLOSS music players. Feeling mellow, and want to listen to artists like David Parsons? Good luck building that playlist in Rhythmbox or Amarok, buddy without some hardcore rap or death metal creeping in.

Unfortunately, and I really hate to say this after what I posted last time, the best tool I've found for satisfying my needs when I am in the mood for a particular genre (and can't quite name the genre, rather, I can name the artist and would really just like to hear other artists like that artist) is And that makes me really really sad. supposedly has some of this functionality in it, but what I'd really like is a completely offline music player, FLOSS of course, that can read in my music collection, parse the genres (and sub-genres) intelligently, store this stuff in a database (so it's not always having to refresh itself) and then allow me to have that experience completely offline powered by my own music collection. Oh, and if it can do it without the bloat of Rhythmbox or Amarok (command-line would be nice :-) then that would be awesome.