Ben Laurie blathering

Listening To Music

As far as I know, I’m the only person that does this, so I thought I’d document it.

First of all, I use iTunes on Windows to rip my CDs. I used to use grip on FreeBSD, but iTunes does a more reliable job, particularly with “copy protected” CDs. Once ripped, the MP3s live on the FreeBSD box. LongPlayer, which plays randomly, biased by your rating of each track, then feeds them to XMMS. A slightly strange quirk here is that the audio then goes through my Windows box, which is what I use as my desktop (with VNC to get at my Unix boxes), so I get cheap mixing – that is, I can hear things go “bong” while the music is playing. As I’m listening (which is essentially never with my full attention) I score tracks. My scoring system looks like this:

  • 4 or less: I don’t want to hear this track
  • 5: Not yet scored (LongPlayer defaults to 5)
  • 6: Not objectionable, but don’t mind if I never hear it again
  • 7: Nice but not superb
  • 8: Superb
  • 9: Exceptionally superb

I suppose I should use 10 for something, but I ran out of imagination. Of course, I’m often not paying enough attention to score things, which leads to a problem: new tracks sit on 5, which means they don’t get played very often (even tracks scoring 7 or 8 only get played every 6-9 months!). Until recently I’ve fixed this by occasionally requeuing all the unscored tracks from the LongPlayer GUI, but last weekend I finally got around to writing a couple of scripts, driven by an XML export of LongPlayer’s playlist. One of them trawls through the entire MP3 collection and finds tracks LongPlayer has never played, and queues them – LongPlayer seems to be a bit erratic about finding new tracks. The other trawls through LongPlayer’s playlist and queues tracks that have a score of 5 (i.e. unscored). Repeated applications of these utilities should eventually lead to everything being scored.

The final component of my music puzzle is another utility I wrote that takes LongPlayer’s playlist and produces an M3U (i.e. a standard playlist, which is just a list of files) of all tracks I’ve scored 8 or higher. I then use this playlist to drive my SliMP3 in my kitchen – which, apart from my bed, is where I spend the most time outside my office. I also use the M3U to produce an iTunes playlist for my Mac laptop, which is what I use when travelling. Amusingly, the Mac version of iTunes won’t import an M3U, so I have to use the Windows version to convert to XML and then shove that on the Mac. Because of iTunes’ famed inability to do random play “properly”, I actually use a smart playlist (choose songs that are on this playlist and have been played less than n times) as an input to Party Shuffle to play this playlist.

And there it is. I rarely manually queue a track (the only one I can remember doing that to recently is Iggy Pop’s “Talking Snake”, which is a 9). I buy new music regularly – several CDs a month, which I listen to once and then abandon to their fate in my system. I don’t believe in choosing music to suit my mood. Perhaps I don’t have moods.

Anyway, if anyone’s interested, I could share the scripts. Comments and suggestions are welcome!


  1. 10 == “makes a mess on the carpet”. This may also work for 1…

    Comment by djm — 22 Jun 2007 @ 11:56

  2. A Gram-O-Phone?

    Comment by Anonymous coward — 22 Jun 2007 @ 13:56

  3. I have got to the point where I’m going to have to rate and playlist my music instead of just listening to whatever I feel like. (I have moods) Although I only have about a week’s worth it’s a daunting prospect. Even more so as, in order to get the best results, I must be sober and paying attention:p Went for dinner with a guy who’s got a nice wireless squeezebox setup in the living room.

    Comment by Laura — 23 Jun 2007 @ 23:31

  4. You score tracks on a scale up to 9? Shouldn’t it go all the way to 11? 🙂

    Comment by Pat Patterson — 25 Jun 2007 @ 5:31

  5. You are responsible for me being the (very happy) owner of a SlimDevices SqueezeBox after I saw one for the first time in your kitchen. I now rip my CD’s using abcde to Ogg Vorbis format and play them back from a Debian Linux SlimServer host.

    The outstanding component for me at the moment is a nice quality portable sound system that will take a digital input from the wireless SqueezeBox.

    Comment by Steve Crook — 25 Jun 2007 @ 9:36

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