Music, music, music!*

28 Apr

It’s appropriate that there should be three ‘music’s in the title of this post (and the song it comes from) because today I want to write about the three music applications that I currently use. Mint, of course, like Ubuntu, comes with Rhythmbox. which I happily used for a while but eventually abandoned because — as an ordinary user, not a code-tweaking maven — I couldn’t get it to make a smart playlist which would search my collection of MP3 tracks on the basis of their track number. (Why should I want to do that? Carry on, gentle reader, and all will be revealed). I also found it flaky in other ways — an impression that was confirmed just now when I went to start it up and check that I wasn’t inadvertently lying to you. First startup — Rhythmbox froze and had to be killed with the Force Quit applet from the panel. Second startup — nothing happened at all. So Rhythmbox has been given the boot.

I have also tried Amarok and found it overly complicated, like a lot of KDE stuff, so I finally settled on Banshee, which just works, boots up every time when I start up, and sits on my eighth desktop playing music all day long if I want it to. And yes, I know it contains proprietary code from Mono, and I don’t care, I tell you, I don’t care! Like Linus Torvalds, I find it much more important whether or not software works the way I want it to than whether or not it contains some code under some contract somewhere. So Banshee is the first of my ‘music’s, and for those who are interested, I have it set up to play through all the songs on my system that I haven’t played before — at least, not since the last full installation of Mint. This is done with a smart playlist that feeds directly into my play queue. Banshee V.2. came out in April, by the way, though it hasn’t made it into the Mint repositories yet.

I have three other smart playlists — one which keeps a record of the most recently played tracks, in case I get called away for a while, and want to see what I’ve missed when I get back; one which lists 650Mb of MP3 tracks at random to burn on to a CD to play in the car; and one which extracts every track with a certain number — all the Track 1’s, all the Track 2’s, and so on. This is what Rhythmbox wouldn’t do for me. Why do I need it? Because I have a collection of nearly 7,000 old radio shows, from seventy-eight different series, obtained mostly from OTRcat, which I copy bit-by-bit on to an MP3 player and listen to while walking round the block for exercise. Most of these were originally broadcast as weekly episodes, and although very few of them actually follow a serial format, where one episode depends on the previous one, it still makes a lot more sense to listen to them in the order in which they were originally broadcast. So my listening plan goes like this: all the first episodes from each show in alphabetical order, then all the second episodes, then all the third episodes… and so on.

But how to get them in that order? Well, since the tracks came in separate directories — one for each show — I eventually worked out how I could write a batch script incorporating the mp3info utility which would step through each directory and tag all the shows in the directory with track numbers from 1 to n. For the record, here is the script:

if [ -d "${1}" ] ; then
  cd "${1}"
  mp3info -g "Comedy" *.mp3
  echo $t
  for file in *.mp3
	let t=t+1
	mp3info -n $t "$file"
	echo $t
  echo "Error: bad argument. Expected a valid directory name for the first argument"
  echo "Bad directory name = ${1}"
  exit 1

Having got all the tracks tagged with sequential numbers, I can load them into Banshee, use a smart playlist to extract all the Track 1s, copy them to my MP3 player, and so on. It works like a charm.

The second ‘music’ in my theme is Magnatune, the subscription-based music supplier founded by John Buckman. For those who don’t know, there are three levels of access to Magnatune and its ever-growing collection of independent music albums: you can listen for free with Rhythmbox or Amarok as long as you are willing to put up with ads; you can stream tracks with no ads for $15 per month; or you can download unlimited tracks (with no ads) for $30 per month. It’s a worthy venture, but it just didn’t work for me. For one thing, there is no separate Magnatune player for Linux, as there is for Windows, so the only way for me to play the music without ads was by opening a separate web browser, going to the site, and manually picking the albums I wanted to hear. When that album finished I would have to do it again; and meanwhile, if I got called away or had to answer the phone, there was no quick keyboard or mouse shortcut to pause the playback. Having more than one web browser open was also a nuisance when I clicked on web links in emails, for instance; sometimes they would open in the Magnatunes web browser rather than in the one I was actually using to work in. Of course, I could have used (and sometimes did use) the Magnatune add-in in Amarok, but that meant having two music players (Banshee won’t do it) and hearing the ads that I was paying $15 per month to avoid. In short, the free service was actually more convenient than the one I was paying for.

But the final nail in the Magnatune coffin was my discovery of the wonderful RadioTray widget, which plays Internet radio stations from your panel. Run, don’t walk, to your Package Manager and install RadioTray right now. Then right-click on the icon and add any of the following stations which aren’t installed by default:

Space Station Soma:

Lush Soma:

Secret Agent Soma:

My personal favourite right now is Secret Agent Soma, but the others are great too, and you can find many more at Shoutcast. In fact you can choose from thousands of brilliant Internet radio stations which cover everything from 1930s police dramas to 2011 ambient grunge. And RadioTray responds to sound controls on your keyboard, so you can mute it immediately without scrabbling with the mouse and paging between windows. Fabulous stuff! This is what the twenty-first century is supposed to be like.

*Put another nickel in
In the nickelodeon.
All I want is loving you
And music, music, music!

— Stephen Weiss and Bernie Baum, 1949

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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in Audio, Linux Applications, Music players


Tags: , , , , ,

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