My Best of 2008

My friend Alex recently sent around his "best music of 2008" email, and it had a fascinating twist which I've decided to rip off:  instead of listing his favorite songs/albums/whatever that were released in 2008, he listed his favorite songs/albums/whatever that he first heard in 2008.  I like that approach - some of my favorite stuff I listened to this year came out long ago, but in my mind I'll always associate these songs with this year, regardless of their official release date.  And so I present to you:  some of my favorite songs that I heard for the first time in 2008.

I need to say that this list is extremely incomplete, and is of course distorted by memory...meaning that many songs were left off through no fault of their own, and some songs made it on due to repeated listenings trumping song quality.  But whatever, it's a list.  Enjoy!  (It's kind of long; I had a hard time editing this one down.)

Here's some reading notes to keep you busy:
  • Birthday - The Very Best (Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit) [from 'The Very Best' Mixtape]  This is everything a cover song should be: incredibly inventive and original, yet incorporating and accentuating the best elements of the original song.  The vocals and music on this one are provided in part by The Ruby Suns, an excellent band out of New Zealand to which you should be listening.  The whole mixtape this song is from is incredible, you can check it out (for free!) here.

  • The Kramer - Wale [from The Mixtape About Nothing]  Washington DC's own Wale confronts racism and rap's use of the N-word head-on in this incredible track that starts off with a very disturbing clip of Michael Richards's infamous night at the comedy club.  This track warrants several listens to really catch all the lyrics.  I'm optimistic for Wale's future - he's got an incredible way with words.  Check out the rest of the amazing Mixtape About Nothing.

  • Million Dollar Boots - Lord T & Eloise [from Aristocrunk]  I don't know a lot about these 2 white dudes who crafted ridiculous alter-egos and invented the word aristocrunk, but I first heard them on a mix of all the 2007 SXSW Music artists.  I love that they are basically a rap version of Billionaires for Bush.

  • Jakolando - Extra Golden from Hera Ma Nono  Extra Golden hails from both Kenya and Washington DC, and they make beautiful music that makes me smile.  I hope you like it, too.

  • Prefix Free - Parts & Labor [from Receivers]  I heard about these guys from my brother (of course), and I like their sound.  They remind me of a mix between Wire and Six. By. Seven.  This song is a little more chill than the rest of the album, but it's a great album.

  • You're Gonna Miss Me - The 13th Floor Elevators [from The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators]  OK, so this song is 42 years old and I just heard it this year.  So what?  It's still awesome.  For me, this is everything that Gloria should have been.

  • Death to Los Campesinos! - Los Campesinos! [from Hold On Now, Youngster]  I had a hard time deciding between this song and My Year In Lists off the same album, but this one won out because of the chorus effect on the word "sugar."  Dig it!  I also like the Pixies reference in the title.  I wasn't as enamored of their newest album, but it's still pretty damn good.

  • Mexican Standoff - Elbow [from Leaders Of The Free World]  My friend Kate introduced me to this band in 2008, and I've since gotten a bunch of their albums and really like them all.  They remind me a lot of Radiohead, sometimes of Leonard Cohen, sometimes Super Furry Animals, sometimes Badly Drawn Boy, but yet they always end up sounding original despite the heavy influences.  This song is one of my favorites off their award-winning album.

  • Colors - Portugal.  The Man [from Censored Colors]  Despite their weird name, this band is really good and you should listen to them.  This song is not really indicative of their sound, which is cool because they tend to have a lot of different sounds, even on one album.  I promise they will not bore you, even when you're listening to their 23-minute long album opener off this other album.  This song really reminds me of The Sleepy Jackson, which is a good thing.

  • Circus of Horror - Quiet Village [from Silent Movie]  One reviewer of this album, which is built out of all sorts of retro samples and riffs, as "the soundtrack to a dream," and I agree.  Sometimes the dream is dull, but mostly the dream is beautiful.  And in the case of this track, the dream is funky. 

  • Bye Bye Bye - Plants and Animals [from Parc Avenue]  This song is catchy, melodic, nicely orchestrated (a piano! a chorus!), and overall high quality.  That's as specific as I can get right now, I have a headache.  Just listen to it and enjoy.

  • The Art Of Driving - Black Box Recorder [from The Facts Of Life]  If you like the sound of this song (repetitive background, spoken lyrics, a sung chorus thrown in occasionally, barely hidden themes of sex and unrequited love), then you're in luck.  Every song on the album sounds exactly like this one.

  • Geno - Dexy's Midnight Runners [from Let's Make This Precious (The Best Of)]  Before this year, I thought of Dexy's Midnight Runners as the people behind Come On Eileen.  And that was all I thought of them.  But my brother showed me that they could be more.  Much more.  They're actually pretty damn good.  I likes me some horns.

  • Lackthereof - Fake Empire [from Your Anchor]  This album showed Lackthereof to be much more than just a Menomena side project.  It's a great album, full of emotion and beautifully understated songs.  My favorite track is their cover of The National's Fake Empire.  I actually prefer it to the original.

  • One Pure Thought - Hot Chip [from Made In The Dark]  You can read how much I fucking love this song here.  I'm still somewhat obsessed with it.

  • In The Rushes  - Islands [from Arm's Way]  I wrote about this song previously here.  It still blows me away when they change gears and go into A Quick One..., but now I appreciate the rest of the song, too.  It's good.

  • Campus  - Vampire Weekend [from Vampire Weekend]  I tried hard to resist Vampire Weekend, but I failed.  They're just too damn catchy.  I'm glad the younger generation now has their own version of Graceland.  [Editor's note:  I'm not equating those two albums in terms of quality, but rather pointing out that one of them really ripped off the other one.  You decide which one.]

  • Joset Of Nazareth's Blues - Titus Andronicus [from The Airing Of Grievances]  This band reminds me of the Clash, but a little angrier.  This song is a little more mellow than the rest of the album, but it's a fantastic album.

  • Tonz 'o' Gunz - Gang Starr [from Hard To Earn]  This is turning into a long-ass list, and I'm getting tired.  So I'll just say that I'd never really listened to Gang Starr before this year, and I wish I had.  This album is great. 

  • Pwnd - The Mae Shi [from HLLLYH]  Don't let the first few seconds fool you, they're going to start yelling!  This is another great album about religion (see also:  The Thermals).  The words are great, the music is loud, and the beer is cold.

  • Flesh Failures - Lightspeed Champion [from Covers EP]  After seeing Lightspeed Champion at SXSW last year, I listened to his album over and over again and became something of a fan.  His cover of one of my favorite songs from Hair makes my spine tingle.

  • Palmitos Park - El Guincho [from Alegranza]  When I heard this in January, my brother told me it was destined to become one of his (and my) favorite albums of 2008.  He was right.  This album is like a party in your ears.

  • What Up Man - The Cool Kids [from The Bake Sale]  I love the use of a human being saying "clap" and "bass" in the background of this song as percussion as opposed to using the actual sounds.  Brilliant.  Also they can rap pretty well.

  • The Twist - Frightened Rabbit [from The Midnight Organ Fight]  This song almost makes me cry.  It's that sad.  But it's also totally awesome.  The lyrics are just so sad, e.g. "Twist, and whisper the wrong name/I don't care, and nor do my ears/Twist yourself around me/I need company, I need human heat."  Sigh.

  • Don't Run Our Hearts Around - Black Mountain [from Black Mountain]  This song reminds me of Black Sabbath on their day off.  Or something.

  • So It Goes - Nick Lowe [from Jesus Of Cool]  I can't believe I went this long without listening to Nick Lowe.  Thanks to my anonymous friend for turning me on to him.  I don't care if this is a thinly veiled ripoff of Reeling In The Years, it's way more fun because it doesn't take itself half as seriously.
Well, that was exhausting.  What did you love that you first heard this year?  Tell me in the comments, and happy (almost) new year!


Mixwit Shuts Down

Sigh.  First Muxtape, now Mixwit.  I've written about Mixwit before, and posted a few mixtapes on this blog.  But now the bad guys have won and they will be gone forever come January 2009.  I (and their other users) received this email today:

We regret to announce that Mixwit will cease to exist at the end of the year.The website and profiles will be turned off around Dec 27th and all embedded widgets will stop playing before the end of December. 

We’ve put a year of work into Mixwit so this choice wasn’t taken lightly. I won’t go into the details of our situation but state simply that we boldly marched into in a position best described as “between a rock and a hard place.” We’re very grateful to be have been part of the mixtape revival of ‘08 and are satisfied to be able to to bow out while things are still good.

You guys are all amazing. It’s clear that all of you put a ton of time and effort into your mixes. For me personally, I was looking forward to all of the designs people created for their tapes. There was a lot of basic tapes and many lovely photos, but the designs and artwork - WOW!

We’re very sorry that this has to end. We’re going to try to figure out some way to archive the artwork and playlists, if for nothing at least
historic value. As for now, everything needs to be shut down by the end of the year just to make sure we’ve got a clean start for 2009.

We’ll return early next year with a new company and new toys. Until then, enjoy the holidays and please take good care of yourselves,
your families, and your friends =)

- Radley & Mike
It was great while it lasted.  Anyone know any other good playlist services that aren't gone yet?


"Holiday" Music That Doesn't Suck

Picture courtesy of flickr user elycefeliz
UPDATE:  Check out all the Wired For Music holiday playlists!
UPDATE 2:  Click here to download this year's playlist.

Well, it's that time of year again.  All my favorite December accoutrements are back in vogue:  eggnog, pagan winter trees, mindless consumerism, and of course...Holiday music!  Now I should clarify, my usage of "holiday" here is not because I'm actively engaged in the War On Christmas (though I am), but rather because many of my favorite songs of this season have little if anything to do with Christmas.  Frosty the Snowman?  How did that ever get labelled a Christmas song?  Did the power of Christ compel Frosty to come to life?  Sounds pretty damn Voodoo to me.  Others, of course, are overtly religious, but even an atheist like me can admit that that doesn't mean they can't be wonderful songs.

Growing up Jewish, I never really got exposed to good "Christmas music," but I did get exposed to many beautiful Chanukah (and other Jewish) songs.  My only experience with Christmas music would be the horrible crap I heard repeated ad naseum at the mall, in drug stores, on the radio, in TV commercials, and basically everywhere else my ears were from late November - New Year's.  And frankly, I fucking hated it.  And for good reason:  most of the music played in public this time of year is simply fucking awful.  Even good songs (like the aforementioned Mr. Snowman) get mangled over and over again by hack "artists" looking for a quick buck.

Well, I'm glad to say that Wired for Music is here to help.  In addition to some really good resources for decent holiday music, I'm giving you my very own playlist of holiday favorites.  This time of year is when every musician in the world becomes a cover band, and half the fun is seeing how 50 different bands treat the same tune.  The other half is hearing your favorite bands come up with some originals about the same topics.  And the third half is drinking eggnog.


Another Rainy Day

As you might have noticed (if anyone's still reading), I haven't been posting much as of late. I started this blog to help relieve some job-related misery, and I've since left that job to become a full-time freelancer, so I have less misery now - which leaves me with less of an impetus to blog. But today the beautiful rainy fall weather has inspired me to finally get off my gorgeous behind and post a new playlist. So I give you, Playlist For A Rainy Day, Part 2. Enjoy!

What are you listening to today inspired by the season/weather/anything else?


LaLa Reinvents Itself

Remember the old days, when Lala was a simple down-home CD trading service, just like Mom used to make?  You would list all the CDs you wanted to get rid of (or all the CDs you claimed to own, using their iTunes library scanning plugin), and all the CDs you wanted, and the magic elves would match you up with other people so you could have their stuff and they could have yours.  The USPS greased the wheels, and everything ran smoothly.  That is, until every single member hit that point where everyone wanted their stuff, but no one was offering anything they wanted.  So everyone ended up with the fabled "green light" status with absolutely no incentive to ship out any CDs.  And that was the end of the story.

Until they opened their music store!  A great alternative to Amazon or CD Baby or [insert list of 5,000 other online music retailers] where you could order relatively low-priced CDs right from your want list.  And that was the end of the story.

Until they bought Woxy.com, tried to get you to upload your music collection and make your own radio stations and a bunch of other weird stuff.  And then they went out of business.  And that was the end of the story.

Until now.  Lala has finally embraced my own personal philosophy of music: that it belongs in the cloud, accessible from anywhere.  As you may have read elsewhere, Lala has been beta testing a new service whereby you can purchase "web songs" for only 10 cents - these songs live on Lala forever, and you can stream them as many times as you like once you've paid your initial 10 cents.  In addition, you can upload your entire music library to the Lala cloud (well, all the songs that match Lala's fairly extensive licensed library) and stream them from Lala whenever you want.  And they're selling DRM-free MP3s.  Suck on that, Rhapsody.

I think this is a great move for them, and for DRM-free music in general.  Of course it would be great if you could actually get high-quality files (FLAC, anyone?) as opposed to just MP3s, but it's still a move in the right direction.  I've long been an advocate of keeping your entire music collection in one giant digital place and playing it back from a variety of locations and devices, and this seems like a great way for people to do just that.  And I like the idea of a 10-cent "permanent rental."

What do you think?  Are any of you using this yet?  Are you using any similar services?


Jukebox The Ghost Ruined My Rock Show

This past weekend, the missus and I decided to take in a show.  I was excited to see that Say Hi (née Say Hi To Your Mom) was coming to the Black Cat, and that local favorites Jukebox The Ghost were opening for them.  Or so I assumed.  Turns out it was the other way around, which is really too bad for all concerned.

Following the Junior League Band (banjos! fiddles!) , Say Hi did a great set, keeping the banter to a minimum (seriously, rock and rollers, can none of you maintain 30 seconds of witty banter?) and playing some kick-ass songs both old and new.  I was really impressed with their live sound - their records all sound pretty low energy, even on the faster songs, and it was cool to hear the songs played with a much higher level of energy on stage.  I always find it more interesting to hear a band do a different take on their music live as opposed to just regurgitating exactly what you can hear on a recorded album.  Even if some bands take that idea to the extreme.

After they left the stage, I waited eagerly for Jukebox to come on and rock the place.  I should state at this point that while I really like a couple songs from their album Live And Let Ghosts, on the whole I think it sounds like a lot of unrealized potential.  In other words, they would make a great opening band.  However, this being a hometown show for them, I can understand their place in the lineup.  What I don't understand is why they felt it necessary to have a bunch of people come out and spend the next almost 30 minutes taping up xeroxed copies of their band logo (picture a poorly drawn Blinky from Pacman) and throwing glowsticks and whatnot out into the crowd.  Between that, stringing up ghost lights, and other nonsense, they managed to totally kill the momentum of the show.

As if that weren't bad enough, frontman Ben Thornewill took the stage with the smarmiest smile I have ever witnessed at a rock show, and kept it plastered on his face from that point on.

I don't know if he ever actually winked, but it was pretty close to watching Sarah Palin play the keyboards.  They played the one song my wife really wanted to hear, and we left after 4 disappointing songs.  I would  give them another chance if they were opening for someone cool, but I don't think I ever need to see these guys headline again.

Here's a couple songs I like by each band.  Enjoy!

So, you ever walk out of a rock show?  Why?  Tell me in the comments.
While you're pondering, enjoy some other great DC bands.


Muxtape Is Back! Sort Of...

Thanks to the forward-thinking, progressive, really up on things, totally rational, and brilliant minds running the RIAA and managing the recording industry in general [Editor's note: managing it right down the toilet where it belongs], Muxtape as we knew and loved it is never coming back.

However, something much cooler (to musicians, anyway) is coming in its place.  Muxtape for bands.  You can read Justin's really long explanation over at muxtape.com, or I can just tell you that it's basically going to be relaunched as a mini-CMS and music streaming service for bands (presumably unsigned bands) to post their songs, profiles, etc. and share their music with the world.

Kudos, Justin.  You have made lemons out of lemonade, and I applaud your efforts to keep going in the face of industry bullshit and try to make something that will actually help actual musicians.  Keep up the good work.

What do you think?  Has the RIAA gone too far?  Does this sound like a useful tool for bands?


Squeezebox Boom - Somone Please Buy Me This

Those geniuses at Slim Devices have done it again.  They have come out with the Squeezebox Boom, which is like a Squeezebox + a boombox all in one.  And yes, I want one.  Very badly.  And no, I don't really need one.  That's not the point.  [Editor's note: when it comes to consumer electronics, is "need" ever the point?]

All that's missing from this beautiful device, in my opinion, is a color-screen graphical interface so you can see album art.  But then again, I am a fan of devices doing the one or two things they're supposed to do very very well, which is exactly what the Squeezebox Classic does.  And that's basically what the Boom does, as well - it's a Squeezebox with speakers.  Brilliant!  Personally, I would use this on my back porch when I grill or take it into the kitchen when I bake dessert goodies so I never have to be alone with the sound of my own thoughts, which are often disturbing.  [Editor's note: it's usually a voice saying "you haven't posted to your blog in weeks!"]

Anyway, I want this.  If you want to give it to me, you will have my eternal gratitude.  And please use this link.  Thanks!


Too Many Playlists!

With the sort-of demise of Muxtape, there has been no shortage of playlist tools hitting your local internet lately.  I decided I just didn't care enough to try out all of them, but I was curious if any of you have tried any of the following:

  • Tumbletape
    Scans your tumblr blog for uploaded MP3s and makes an instant playlist out of them.

  • 8tracks
    Looks pretty similar to Muxtape, but somehow with a worse name.

  • Playlist.com
    Reminds me of imeem in terms of its whole "social" vibe.

  • Sonific
    Shut down in May 2008 before I got a chance to really play around with it.

  • Favtape
    Makes mixes based on songs you've tagged as a favorite in Pandora or Last.FM, and lets you make mixes based on a search.

  • The Hype Machine
    Not really a "roll-your-own-playlist" tool per se, but rather a really bad-ass music blog aggregrator that lets you stream tunes that are being featured that day on a huge range of music blogs.  Also lets you search by artist, tag favorites, etc.

  • Elbo.ws
    Very similar to Hype Machine, but with a totally different name.

  • Meemix
    Very similar to Pandora, but with a whole Facebook-esque social networking section (similar to imeem in that regard).  More of an internet radio station in some ways than a playlist tool, but you can make playlists on it.
Did I miss any?  Yes, undoubtedly tons.  The real question is: are any of them worth checking out?  You tell me.


Friday Playlist - Music To Bike To

What with the nice weather we've been having lately, I've been out on my bike more often this past week. I love biking and do it all the time, but when the weather turns a bit cooler (like it was last week in DC) and the leaves start to turn (like I hope they will in a few weeks), it's really a treat to be out on one's bike, taking it all in at a relatively high speed.

If I'm in an isolated area (like the beach) or somewhere closed to vehicular traffic (like Beach Drive on weekends) I will occasionally listen to music while I ride (at low volumes, of course). [Editor's note: headphones are completely safe to use while biking, as long as you don't put them on your ears.] And so for today's playlist (a feature I'm trying to implement on Fridays now), I give you: music to bike to.

Many of these songs are high-energy, which is great for going up hills, but the general vibe is more "upbeat and repetitive," which is what I crave when I hit the road. Enjoy!

Sorry, gang, when MySpace bought imeem, they destroyed most of my playlists, including this one.  I'm trying to remember what I put on here originally, and when I do, I'll re-post it.  In the meantime, please enjoy my other playlists!

What do you listen to when you bike/metro/drive/walk/commute?


Mixtape for a Rainy Day - Using Opentape!

Having just found out about Opentape a couple days ago, I finally had a few minutes today to try it out. So far, it's incredibly simple and easy to use. I haven't read through the codebase yet [Editor's note: bad developer, bad!] so it might be full of horrible security holes, but until I find them, I'm very happy.

The setup process took about a minute (if that), and once I uploaded my songs I was ready to go. So I don't really have a lot to say about getting it up and running, which is good. Instead, I offer you this mix I made of songs inspired by my friend Kate's question "what do you listen to when it's raining?" I realized that the answer could be completely different tomorrow or the next day or the next, but here's a few songs I listened to on this rainy day. Enjoy!

I don't like that version of "Sunken Treasure" as much as the one from I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, but I don't have that one. Oh, well.

So...what do you listen to on rainy days? Also, does the mix stream smoothly for you? What do you think of the interface?


Coming Soon: Opentape

Hat tip to Rugg for pointing me towards this interesting piece on Lifehacker about Opentape, a PHP-based web app (that you run yourself on your own server) that lets you host your own mixtapes, similar to the recently disappeared Muxtape.

I haven't had a chance to install it and try it out yet, but never fear, I will do so soon. Anyone else tried this thing yet? Is it cool?


The Hood Internet: Mashup Heaven

I stumbled on The Hood Internet recently from the Last.FM page for Broken Social Scene's "7/4 (Shoreline)" [Editor's note: the "7/4" in the title refers to the time signature, which makes the music geek in me light up inside]. I wanted to share the song with some people and this seemed like good way to do it, since nowadays Last.FM offers free full tracks for a large portion of their library.

While I was on there, I read the comments people had posted about the song. One of the commenters had posted a link to a beautiful mashup of this song with R. Kelly's "I'm A Flirt." I listened to it about 4 times in a row before getting back to something productive. I also took a little time to check out The Hood Interent's site, and in the process learned that they have a huge collection of free mashups available for download on their site. And most of them are pretty good.

The source material + the mashup

Steve Reidell and Aaron Brink, the DJs who comprise The Hood Internet, hail from Chicago and used to be in a rock band together there. You can feel the love for both indie rock and hip-hop in their mashups as each genre tends to get equal footing in the songs as opposed to one being used for a punchline. "Shoreline" is my favorite of theirs I've heard so far, but I've been impressed by nearly all of them.

Do you have a favorite mashup?


Muxtape Goes Down

Well, it finally happened. The RIAA somehow got wind of Muxtape, and has apparently forced the site to shut down for a little while.

According to Muxtape's official blog, "No artists or labels have complained. The site is not closed indefinitely. Stay tuned." That sounds pretty ominous to me, despite the upbeat tone.

This is sad news indeed, right on the heels of Tim Westergren of Pandora indicating that the dreaded internet radio royalty rate hikes may soon bring about the demise of Pandora. Of course, Tim has been saying things like this for a while, but it seems like it's more serious these days, as their appeal options are running out.

Fortunately, Mixwit hasn't been taken off the air yet, so enjoy it while it lasts... But first, check out my writeup of Mixwit.

So what can you do? The people at SaveNetRadio are encouraging online listeners to call their representatives and let them know that you think killing online radio is a bad idea. So what are you waiting for? Go do it!


Dischord Goes Digital

I haven't looked too deeply into this yet, but I was very excited to read on DCist (hat tip to Amanda of Creative DC) that famed DC label Dischord Records has made their entire catalog available for download in the form of 320 kbps DRM-free MP3s.

It's not FLAC, but I'm not ready to complain. Yet. Anyone plan to download anything?


SonicLiving Keeps Emailing Me

A while back I signed up for SonicLiving (after hearing about them from pandora_radio's twitter feed - take that, analog life!), a service that tells you about shows coming to your town from bands you like. I've written about similar services in the past, but this one has 2 interesting twists:

  1. Instead of having to type in your bands like Tourfilter, or having it scan your iTunes library, like SongKick, SonicLiving scans your Pandora & Last.FM profiles once a week to look for artists that you like. I'm not sure what algorithm it uses - if it's your most listened to artists on Last.FM, or only artists you've thumbs-upped [Editor's note: what's the right way to conjugate that?] on Pandora, or maybe artists you used to seed a station, or what, but whatever, its cool. It can scan your iTunes library if you want it to, but I like that it gives me these other options since I hate iTunes.

  2. They email me about every 5 minutes telling me about shows.
I'm exaggerating, but only a little. They do email me a lot. I can change that in the preferences, but for now it's kind of cool to get all these reminders about bands I probably wouldn't have bothered to type into Tourfilter (hello, Grizzly Bear!). The Last.FM integration is definitely handy when I add new bands to my collection and start listening to them, but forget to add them to Tourfilter (bands like The Dodos and Cut Copy, for example, both of whom are apparently coming to DC in September).

Anyone else signed up for this thing yet?


Working Like A (Busy) Dog

I haven't been able to post as often as I'd like the past couple months, first because I was out of town on a couple vacations, and lately because I've been extremely busy with work, improv, and all the other things I do to fill my days.

However, the work-related busy-ness is what got me thinking about posting today. I am never not listening to music when I work. Usually for me "work" == "computer programming," [Editor's note: that double equals sign is not a typo, it's a programming convention to signify equivalency as opposed to variable assignment. Anyone still awake at the end of that sentence? Great.] but sometimes it can mean doing detective work, i.e. reading through a year's worth of some other programmer's notes (not to be confused with actual documentation) and trying to figure out how the hell this thing that I have to work on A) actually works, and B) is actually supposed to work.

When I'm doing normal, day-to-day programming, I listen to anything and everything. Usually indie rock or hip-hop, but often jazz, classical, folk, etc., bouncing from stuff I've added to my collection lately to old favorites I haven't listened to in forever. It's a great way to familiarize myself with music I don't know all that well because I'm often half-listening to it, picking up different bits each time through. So I end up "familiar" with new stuff, and a sense of whether or not it warrants more attentive listening.

However, when I hit a really tough problem, or I have to do the aforementioned detective work (or if I have to write anything, like a proposal or a technical architecture document), I find that I simply can't afford to give half my brain an excuse to focus on the music. I really need my full attention on what I'm doing, and I need to kick in the old booster rockets. For many people, that would require total silence around them. For me, it requires A) music I know really well, and B) music that is repetitive. Very repetitive.

I love repetitive, droning music anyway (although oddly I typically hate "trance" music - I usually need words in my tunes), but when I'm using music as a tool to help me focus, there are some songs I come back to again and again. The list has changed over the years, but here's a playlist of some songs I've been using lately to help me get the most out of my brain.

Working Man's Blues

What do you listen to when you work? Nothing? Anything? Different stuff?

PS For the record, this time the imeem upload & playlist creation (& playlist editing) process went extremely smoothly. They seem to have worked out their issues.


Internet Radio And Me

Radio image by flickr user 'The Rocketeer'I've been working at home a lot more since I became a freelancer earlier this year. For one of my clients, I spend most of the day connected to their VPN network. They don't use a standard VPN, instead they use software from a horrible company that used to manage my former company's IT. The point is, when I'm connected to their network, I can't access my NAS, which means I can't listen to any of my music when I'm working at home for this client. Obviously, this blows.

So what do I do? Lately I've started listening more and more to online radio - primarily using Pandora, Last.FM, and Slacker. Each of these has certain pros and cons, or "hots and nots" as I like to call them. I know these tools have been covered extensively elsewhere (including this fantastic article by Steve Krause on the different methodologies behind Pandora's & Last.FM's recommendation engines), so I thought I would just give a brief overview of my personal hots and nots for each one. [Editor's note: when listening to Pandora, I typically use Pandora.FM, which submits Pandora track data to your Last.FM profile.]

Pandora - Hot

  • Lots of exposure to new bands.
  • Really dig the focus on nerdy, music theory-based recommendations.
  • Very simple interface, easy to create new stations and edit existing ones.
Pandora - Not
  • Rating songs can throw your stations completely out of wack.
  • Song selection can sometimes be just plain terrible, or I get too long a stretch with nothing I know.
  • It can do too good a job and everything ends up sounding the same over a long period of time.
Last.FM - Hot
  • Really easy to start a station.
  • Song choices are very "comfortable" - never straying too too far from stuff you probably already know (this is also a drawback).
  • Desktop player has a really nice interface and it's easy to see artist information.
Last.FM - Not
  • Doesn't remember my stations.
  • Free membership doesn't come with "your radio" - the one where it plays you stuff based on all your past song-playing history.
  • Not enough exposure to new bands.
Slacker - Hot
  • Music selection is pretty good - nice mix of stuff I know and stuff I don't.
  • Ability to customize your stations and ban certain artists or include certain artists.
  • Ability to set how "familiar" you want the music to be - i.e. very close to your seed artists or farther away.
Slacker - Not
  • The interface is confusing and inconsistent.
  • Despite claims to the contrary, I couldn't turn off their stupid "DJ" who kept cutting in to tell me how great the Slacker portable player is.
  • Not enough range in bands - I heard the same bands over and over again on some stations.
With all of the above, you can customize your stations and settings to various degrees to address some of the "Nots" I listed, but I focused primarily on how they come out of the box without doing a lot of setup work.

When those tools wear out their sonic welcome, I often turn to woxy.com (thanks to Catherine Andrews for turning me on to this) which usually does a great job of keeping my ears happy for several hours at a time.

What do you listen to online? Do you use one of the big 3 tools I talked about? Do you have a favorite online radio station? What do you listen to during the day?


imeem Playlists Win My Heart

Hi, everybody. What's that, you say? Long time, no see? Well, I've been out of town for a while, and the summer heat has slowed me down lately. But I missed you guys too. So to celebrate our reunion, I thought I'd revisit one of my favorite topics: imeem playlists.

I've been vexed by the creation process in the past, had to tweak my integration code to deal with strange color problems, and been mystified as to why some songs turn into 30-second clips when you view a playlist outside of imeem's domain.

Those issues haven't gone away entirely, but on the whole, the process of creating a new playlist has gotten much smoother, and the end result is really nice, too. I like the new look and feel of the playlists, and I like that I didn't have to do anything to convert my old playlists to the new look.

So, without further ado, here's a little playlist I whipped up in honor of my least favorite season, summer. Enjoy! (I decided not to upload any of my own tracks for this one, and just take what I could find on imeem - that led to some cool finds, like live versions of Paul Simon songs and such. Woohoo!)

....Just kidding. The text above was the post I had planned to publish. Really and truly. But that was before I saved my new playlist in imeem, did something else for a while, then tried to come back and add more music to it. Due to a bug in their playlist creation module, I can't see any of my existing playlists, so I have no way to add new music to them. Which is my summer playlist is now only 3 tracks long. And to think, I was almost going to give imeem unadulterated praise.

Summer Songs


A One-Man Pandora

Staff Picks by flickr user Troy McClure SFVery often I'm asked by friends or relatives "hey, I like such-and-such band, who do you think I might like that I've never heard of?" I usually can come up with one or two bands, or I point them to Pandora or Last.fm or Slacker and tell them to try those out for some other opinions. But I've never charged for it...before now.

As part of Washington Improv Theater's recent silent auction, I donated my services as a mixtape DJ. The offer was this: you tell me some bands you like, and I try to compile a mix for you of bands I think you might enjoy. That's it. My friend Shawn ended up with the winning bid [a whopping $40!], so I made him the mix below.

Here's what he gave me in terms of guidance:

Recent stuff that I've come to enjoy: Bon Iver, The Hold Steady, My Morning Jacket, Sigur Ros, The Polyphonic Spree, Band of Horses.

Standbys: Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Coldplay (their latest album is friggin' fantastic), Oasis, Wilco.
I like just about anything, but I've never been a big fan of metal or punk. Not that I'm against power chords, I just like a little melody with them. If you're going to include something like that, think later Clash.

I didn't want to just fill it up with bands that sound exactly like the ones he mentioned, and I didn't want to force him too far outside of his comfort zone by loading him up with Slayer and Megadeth tunes. I also erred on the side of adding a few songs that are pretty similar-sounding, in the hopes of exposing him to more artists he might not already know (the guy is pretty well-versed in music already). So I took a dash of intuition and mixed it with a heaping spoonful of my own totally subjective taste, and came up with this:


I realized while making this that it's hard to mentally separate "songs I love" from "songs I think this person would like." What do you think? Was I way off the mark? What would you have done? [Editor's note: he didn't mention them, but Shawn is also a huge Steely Dan fan. Would that affect your choices?]


Santogold: I Am Late To This Party

SantogoldDo you like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, M.I.A. and Amy Winehouse? Ever wish you could listen to all of them at once plus a little more? Well then Santogold is for you.

I say I'm late to this party because I am - Pitchfork reviewed her album back in May, and I'm sure all the cool kids and hipsters knew about her way before I did. But no matter - I can still enjoy things even if (gasp!) I'm not the first one to hear about them.

I'm not much of a reviewer, so I'll let her music speak for itself, but I will say that this album is, for the most part, great. The three tracks below remind me of the three artists referenced in the first paragraph, in that order. What do you think?

Sorry to use the 30-second clips again, but A) imeem didn't have the tracks I wanted, and B) someone actually bought an MP3 from the last post (thanks!) and now I have a taste for blood.


Amazon MP3 Widget: Hot or Not? Also, Some Songs I Like

In my never-ending quest to find more playlist widgets than I could ever possibly use, I recently discovered the Amazon MP3 Clips Widget, which lets you build a playlist of 30-second samples of songs available for purchase in the Amazon MP3 library. I think this is very cool in some ways, but not so cool in other ways. Or to say it another way, I think it's both Hot and Not.


  • You can add a whole album at once.

  • It's really easy to build your playlist. Like, really really super-easy. (imeem, I hope you're reading this).

  • The files are not DRM'd in any way. Eat it, Apple. Eat it hard.

  • It has the potential to make me money. [Editor's note: please purchase some MP3s via the links in the widget! Please! My children need wine!]
  • At first I thought you could only have 1 playlist widget, but now I'm not so sure. However, it still gets an entry in the "Not" category for being unclear on that point in their FAQ.

  • Sadly, Amazon doesn't have every album ever made in their library...and unlike imeem, you can't just upload a song you want in your widget.

  • 30-second clips are lame. Totally lame.

By the way, if you want to read some writeups of the best albums of 2008 (so far), there's a great one over at Music For Ants (thanks to Nate for the link) or you can vote for your own choice at NPR's All Songs Considered blog (or join in the NPR-bashing over at Idolator). Anyway, here's why I chose these songs:
  • That's Not My Name by The Ting Tings
    Like the rest of the world, I've been infected with this ridiculously catchy ear candy and have been unable to shake it. That's all I can say in my defense. I have my brother to thank for introducing me to them.

  • Run To Your Grave by The Mae Shi
    Once again, I can thank my brother for recommending this band to me, when I was looking for stuff to download during the last free-leech period over at waffles.fm. This whole album is totally awesome (and you should buy it from Amazon using my widget), even if most of it seems to focus on the theme of a vengeful deity.

  • Lay It Down by Al Green
    Would you believe I've never actually heard a whole Al Green album before his latest one? That's just one of the many gaping holes in my musical education. Here's some geekery for you: a friend of mine posted to Twitter about the great NPR piece about this album, which led me to "borrow" it from stmusic.org. I don't think any actual human interaction took place in that chain of events. All hail our robotic overlords! Also, this song is really catchy and puts me in the mood for love, if you know what I'm talking about. And I think you do.

  • In The Rushes by Islands
    All together now: my brother introduced me to this band [Editor's note: how do people without siblings hear about new music?] and so far I would give them a solid B. However, they have 2 things going for them: 1) They were started by two guys from the Unicorns, who get a B+, and 2) Towards the end of this song, the band goes totally crazy and starts covering/rewriting A Quick One, While He's Away by the Who, which is without question one of the greatest songs ever written. So that's pretty cool.

  • Here's Your Future by the Thermals
    The Body, The Blood, The Machine is one of those albums I can put on whenever I don't know what I want to listen to, and 99 times out of 100 I'll be perfectly satisfied with my choice. It's another entry in the "vengeful deity" category, and I think the imagery of the lyrics coupled with the simplicity and energy of the music make it a fantastic album whether you're in the mood to really listen to it, or just have it on while you drive around really fast, honking the horn and saying "whoo!" to the ladies.

  • Million Dollar Boots by Lord T & Eloise
    I don't have the words to properly explain these guys, but think "Billionaires for Bush" meets "mediocre hip-hop." I know that sounds terrible, but go watch the video and be enlightened.

  • Chemicals Collide by Cloud Cult
    These guys are amazing. You'll never guess who introduced me to them. They have a new album which I like even more than The Meaning of 8, but this song has been a heavy favorite in the rotation this summer. In addition to being eco-heroes, this band is also able to draw inspiration from really, really sad things and make beautiful music out of it. That makes me hopeful.

  • Dead Fingers Talking by Working For A Nuclear Free City
    Despite their overly long band name, I recently became a fan of these guys through an unnamed sibling. This song doesn't really sound like the rest of the album, but I dig it a lot. I hope you will too. Amazon had 2 entries for it in its database, and for some reason this one seemed to be much higher quality than the other one. So there you have it.
What do you think? What songs are stuck in your head this summer? What's the best album of 2008? Will I ever make a cent off of this widget? Let me know in the comments.


Rockbox Rocks My Socks Off

Rockbox: An alternative MP3 player firmwareI recently had to replace my MP3 player, which I loved. I had an Insignia NS-DV4G, which is a little 4 GB player that can play a couple file formats, show album art and other JPEGs, and play videos. It also has a digital FM tuner, which is a big deal for me since I'm a C-SPAN junkie. Anyway, I accidentally destroyed it while on vacation, so I ordered up a replacement and prepared to settle back into my digital music player comfort zone. The very next day, Woot put up a Sansa SanDisk e280 for about half the retail price. That's an 8 GB player for about the same price I just paid for my 4 GB Insignia. I had to bite.

And bite I did. After the new player arrived, I upgraded my firmware, loaded it up with some tunes, and then started nitpicking at the functionality of the thing until I had a firm list in my mind of its shortcomings. Browsing my favorite MP3 player forums, I slowly came to realize that I wasn't at the mercy of the manufacturer's firmware...I could use something called Rockbox instead.

I won't do a full review here; plenty of others have already done that. But I will say that if you have an iPod, SanDisk, or another supported player, you should definitely check it out. It gives you a bunch of cool features, such as the ability to play FLAC files, totally customize the look of your player via themes, browse your device's folders, and a ton of other cool stuff. I think my favorite feature is that when you install Rockbox, you end up with a dual-boot player, meaning you can still boot into the player's original firmware if you so desire. And my second-favorite feature is that it lets you play Doom on your MP3 player.

Rockbox is totally free, and it's open source, so if you don't like it, you can make your own build and do things your way. It does have some drawbacks, such as shortened battery life, slight learning curve, and way too many options to set, but overall it's a great way to take control of your MP3 player.

And now, a note about size: I have a decent-sized (some would say large) digital music collection. Shortly after I got my Squeezebox, I decided to go entirely digital, and converted all my CDs to FLACs. Since then, my library has grown my leaps and bounds (thanks, bittorrent!) to encompass a little over 60,000 tracks. Obviously, no MP3 player around today is going to let me take my whole collection with me. As such, I don't really see the appeal of an 80 GB or even a 40 GB player. For many people, that 80 GB iPod [Editor's note: I hate iPods] lets them carry around their entire digital music collection, but for me, I would have to face the arduous task of choosing my favorite 80 GB of MP3s. Instead, I used to have a 2 GB player, which let me carry around just what I was currently really, really into. Then I upgraded to 4 GB which let me do that plus some old favorites and podcasts. With my new player, I really have no idea how I'm going to fill 8 GB. What's your take? Do you prefer to carry around all the music you own, or do you like to have a sampling on hand? Let me know in the comments.


Muxtape On The Desktop And Other Cool Stuff

MuxmasterSo, does anyone read blogs in the summer? I know I don't. I suppose that's why I haven't posted in some time. The summer heat + a packed travel schedule have kept me away from the computer. But in the brief time I've spent on here, I discovered something wonderful: Doug McCune's Muxmaster. It's an open-source Flex application built for the Adobe Air platform which lets you browse and listen to Muxtape mixes on your desktop. You can read much more about it at Doug's blog.

I thought Muxmaster was so cool, I finally got inspired to post my own Muxtape here: http://tfish77.muxtape.com/ Stay tuned for updates to it over time. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear my thoughts on each song.

I've been toying with the idea of putting back the bits of code Doug removed (well, not putting back, exactly, but writing my own) that allow you to download songs via Muxmaster, but so far I've decided against it due to laziness and the fact that I hate downloading single songs without the rest of the album (what can I say, I'm a completist). If you're absolutely dying to download tracks from Muxtape, thus violating the spirit, if not the letter, of their TOS (while violating various copyright laws), go install this Greasemonkey script - but be warned, Justin has been rumored to ban IPs of users using that script.

Muxmaster has another feature I really like, which is that when you load up a playlist by name (for example, Menomena's playlist of their B-sides and rare tracks), it loads up the playlists of users who have marked that playlist as a favorite, assuming that there must be some relation between the musical tastes involved here. I think that's neat - almost as neat as Jan Oberst's Muxfind, which lets you type in a band or a song (or a Muxtape playlist) and then searches its own index of Muxtape playlists to help you find music that Jan thinks is related to the music you typed in. Pretty cool. If I was a less lazy programmer, I would integrate this with Muxmaster. Anyone want to do it for me?

PS For reasons unknown, I still can't use Muxtape in Firefox (I'm still on FF 2). I always get this Javascript error: this.player.sendEvent is not a function. I've tried disabling Greasemonkey, Firebug, and AdBlock, but to no avail. Anyone else have this problem?


Radiohead In The Rain

What most people saw at the Radiohead concert at Nissan PavilionLike many of you, I recently went to see Radiohead play at Nissan Pavilion in Virginia. And like many of you, I left determined never to return to, as it's now known, "The Unhappiest Place On Earth."

If you haven't heard, there was a bit of a torrential downpour that night. I know we can't blame Nissan Pavilion for the rain, but we can blame them for having no ability to manage traffic and for apparently designing their venue as though it existed in some magical land where rain water will simply disappear, as opposed to creating giant lakes between you and the men's room.

Many people drove around the venue for hours only to get turned away; others left during the first encore, thinking it would help them avoid traffic, then sat in traffic for hours trying to get home after the show only to learn they had missed the second encore where the band finally played "National Anthem" (that was our car). And many, many, many people got seriously wet. And cold.

NPR's All Songs Considered blog has a post about the show, asking readers what bands are worth the horrible conditions we encountered there. My friend Eduardo, who blogs over at Abstract Citizen, had this to say:

Let's say Miles Davis comes back from the dead. He assembles the "kind of blue" group (all of whom are back from the dead) plus his 1960s quintet. Coltrane ropes his 60s quartet into playing a show too. Miles calls me, asks me to write up a setlist. So does Coltrane. Then Pavement reunite, as do the Talking Heads. The four acts decide to split a bill. Each will play two sets. Hell, I get to write up all the setlists. They give away free single malt scotch, free beer, pie, and sushi at the door. And I will get to hang out backstage for as long as I want.

But then they tell me this will take place at Nissan.

I think I would stay home.

For those of you who were smart enough to stay home, here's a playlist of a few songs they played that night. Enjoy! [Editor's note: they didn't play the only song off the new album (well, off Disc 2) that really would have made this all worthwhile, so I added it to the end of the playlist for my own amusement.] I think Radiohead songs are only available in 30-second-preview mode when the playlist is embedded, so click the "launch standalone" link at the bottom-left of the playlist to hear the full versions.


Curse you, Mika!

Picture of Mika by flickr user Alyson HauMika, I'm trying hard not to fall your Freddie Mercury impersonation and your ridiculously catchy songs. And I am failing. After track 1 of your album made my Guilty Pleasures list, I never thought you would get me again. But here I am, playing track 2 on repeat over and over again.

Thanks for ruining my street cred.

For the rest of you, please enjoy "Lollipop" by Mika. I hope you can resist it more than I did.


Squeezing The Most Out Of Your Squeezebox

The Squeezebox
Warning: lengthy technical post ahead that will bore most of you to tears. For the brave and the ultra-hip, read on. What follows is a tutorial on how to setup and configure your Squeezebox, including external tools like MusicIP, SoftSqueeze, and Moose.

This post is for all you Squeezebox owners out there, or anyone who wants to stream their music library to somewhere other than their computer. What's that, you say? You don't own a Squeezebox? You've never even heard of it? You don't want to be able to listen to your entire music collection from anywhere, even through that awesome hi-fi stereo you bought and never use? Well, it's time for that to change. Read on, gentle reader, and prepare yourself for the future...


For the uninitiated, the Squeezebox is a hardware audio component manufactured by Slim Devices (which became a Logitech company last year). The Squeezebox plugs into your stereo receiver, connects to your wireless network, and streams your music collection off of your PC (or another networked storage device) so that you can listen to it on your stereo. That's it in a nutshell. Very simple, remarkably powerful. Of course, it can do a lot more than that, but if you just want something that will let you listen to all the music on your computer via your stereo, this is it.

David Pogue from the New York Times made a great video explaining the concept quite simply.

You'll see on the Slim Devices web site that there a few different models: the Transporter (for crazy audiophiles), the Duet (this includes a receiver, which is basically a Squeezebox minus the screen, and a remote control with a fancy screen that can control multiple receivers - great for multi-room usage), and the plain old Squeezebox, which is what I have. The tips I'm writing about here are for all of them [Editor's note: the vast majority of these tips are for Windows, because that's what I use], because I'm mostly talking about the software side of things here, starting with...

The SqueezeCenter

SqueezeCenter is the new name of what used to be called SlimServer. This is the server software that runs on your PC or your network-attached storage (NAS) device and sends data to the Squeezebox. I grappled for a long time with many previous versions of SlimServer (it's written in Perl, not my native language, so this was slow going for me at times), and I'm happy to report that the latest version (SqueezeCenter is technically version 7) is, to be technical, "totally awesome." It's easy to use, and it comes pre-configured with some of my favorite plugins. But I'm getting ahead of myself. To get started, just go to the download area on the SlimDevices web site, download, and install.

The first thing that will happen is SqueezeCenter will scan your music library. If for some reason you are silly enough to use iTunes, you can have it read everything from your iTunes library. If you just have a folder where you keep your music, you can point it there and it will read everything in. If you use the amazing MusicIP music discovery tool (more on that later), it can read from that as well.

The information that SqueezeCenter gives you about your music comes directly from the ID3 or other tags that you've written to your files. If your files aren't tagged, I would recommend tagging everything before you scan your library. The aforementioned MusicIP can help you organize your library and clean up your tags. There are also some great tools available from MusicBrainz, the giant community-driven music metadata site. I use Picard, but there are others available for downloading from their homepage.

You will also want to start getting cover art for your albums - the cover art will display in the SqueezeCenter web interface and also in Moose (see below). I use Album Art Aggregator, which works pretty well.

If your library is a real mess, you will probably need a few of these tools. If you're looking for the one ring to rule them all, I would look no further than MediaMonkey. Not only is it a powerful media player, it has tools (and add-on scripts available) to help you organize and tag your library, create playlists, download cover art, and sync to a wide variety of portable devices. It's basically the bomb. While we're on the topic, if you just want the best media player out there without all the library organization features, check out foobar2000.

Once the scan is complete, you're ready to go. Simply hook up the Squeezebox, turn it on, go through a couple menus, and you can start streaming your music to your stereo. Awesome. But what if you're hankering for more? Well, then...

Let's Get Fancy

Let's talk about some of the cooler features of the Squeezebox. The first one is the web interface. If you double-click on the little tray icon on your computer, that will launch the web interface, where you can configure your settings, create playlists, browse your library (by artist, genre, album, year, etc.) The latest version of the web interface is much faster than previous versions and pretty snazzy-looking, but you can change to another skin if you don't like the default.

Techie note: if you want to access the web interface from outside your home network, you will need to forward port 9000 to the machine that's running SqueezeCenter.
Perhaps the coolest thing you can do with the web interface is control your Squeezebox itself. You can turn it on and off, play, pause, and everything else it does, all without the remote. This is, of course, ridiculously awesome. In fact, the only thing that could possibly make the web interface better would be for it to be really fast, have all sort of cool animated cover art choosers, drag-and-drop playlist management, and a bunch of other cool stuff. Enter...


Moose is a (Windows-only, sorry) great piece of software that acts as a software replacement for the web interface. The web site can tell you more about Moose than I feel like repeating here, but I will go so far as to say that Moose is, without a doubt, the best thing to happen to my Squeezebox. Rather than rely on a connection to the MySQL instance that SqueezeCenter is running, Moose creates its own little custom database file that it uses to represent your music library. This allows Moose to behave really, really fast. The interface is great, you can create and edit playlists, there's a ton of display options, and (my favorite feature) you can set it up to respond to your keyboard's media hot keys! Just like a real software media player!

Techie note: If you're running Moose on the same machine as your Squeezecenter, you should have it use the MySQL scanning option to build its library. If you're using Moose from another computer, see the techie note below.
Moose and the web interface are particularly helpful if you're not using the Squeezebox itself, but you still want to listen to your music collection. What, you say? How can you stream your music without using the Squeezebox? Well, by using...


Softsqueeze is the software-only version of the Squeezebox. It's essentially the same firmware that runs the hardware, but in a little Java applet that you can run on any machine. This is what I use every day when I'm at the office to play my music that lives at home (which is all my music). To use it, go to the "Extras" menu in SqueezeCenter and click on the link. You will have to go into the settings (look in the top-left area in the Softsqueeze interface for the button, it's one to the right of the remote button) and enter in your server IP address or hostname, etc.

Techie note: You will need to forward ports 3483 and 9090 to the machine running SqueezeCenter in order to connect from Softsqueeze.
Softsqueeze is great, but there are a few caveats:
  1. Make sure you're using the latest version. The one linked from the "Extras" menu in SqueezeCenter should be fine. The Sourceforge site is usually up to date, too. As of this writing, the latest version is 3.5.

  2. It may warn you that you are not using the Java MP3 plugin. It will then give you a link to download this plugin from Sun. The Sun installer is broken (it will just keep asking you where to install it again and again). With previous versions of Softsqueeze, you could get around this by simply extracting the .jar file and putting in /lib/ext underneath your Java installation folder. However, I found that with the latest version of Softsqueeze, this did not resolve the issue. You can disable the warning in the Softsqueeze settings, and I haven't found there to be a real difference in the audio quality. I submitted a bug about this to Sourceforge, but no action on that front yet.

  3. Don't think that you're stuck controlling Softsqueeze with its own interface. You can use Moose to do this! If you're going to do that, keep reading, and then check the "use system tray" checkbox in the Softsqueeze settings. This will make Softsqueeze minimize to the system tray rather than the taskbar in Windows when you minimize it. That is awesome.

  4. If you have FLAC or other high-bitrate audio files in your library (and you should), make sure you enable bitrate limiting, or you will get choppy audio. To do this, have Softsqueeze running, then go into the SqueezeCenter web interface, and click on Settings. Select your Softsqueeze player from the player dropdown, then go to the Audio menu. Select a bitrate from the Bitrate Limiting dropdown (I'd recommend 192 if you have a normal internet connection at home with crappy upload speed, but play around and see what works for you), and a LAME quality level (I haven't found a big difference in the LAME quality level). NB: If you see a note that says something along the lines of "you don't have lame installed on your system," you will need to install it. Even if it says "The LAME encoder appears to be installed correctly on your system" it may not work unless you copy lame.exe into c:\windows\system32\.
If you're using Moose to control Softsqueeze on a remote machine, Moose will need its own local library (.moo) file. If you're like me, and you're frequently updating your library, you will want to keep this file up to date. There are a few ways to do this:
  • Use the MySQL scanning feature of Moose, or

  • Run a Moose scan on the same machine as your SqueezeCenter, then copy the .moo file to your remote machine.

Techie note: I would try the remote MySQL method first (check the server unbinding checkbox in the settings), but personally I haven't had much luck with it - it's pretty slow, and it usually fails for me. If you are using it, make sure to forward port 9092 to allow Moose to access your MySQL instance from outside your network. See below for my notes on automating the file copy method.
Once you have a copy of your library file, you can use Moose to control your Softsqueeze instance, and thus have all of your music available to you wherever you are, with all the added benefits of Moose (speed, media hotkeys, etc.). This is, of course, totally awesome. [Editor's note: how many times have I used the word "awesome" in this post? Not enough, apparently.]

So now you're sitting at some remote location, streaming your music via Softsqueeze, controlling it all via Moose, and having a grand old time. But you feel a vague yearning for more awesomeness. Perhaps it's time to install some...


Yes, SqueezeCenter is extensible via a whole mess of user-contributed plugins. These range all over the map in terms of functionality, and if you know Perl, you can write your own and put them out there for everyone to enjoy. I'm just going to talk about a few that I use.

Awesomely, SqueezeCenter comes with my 2 favorite plugins already installed:
  • Last.fm Audioscrobbler

    This plugin lets you submit your played track data to your last.fm account, just like the last.fm software does for a variety of desktop media players. Just enter your account info in the settings and you're good to go. If multiple people connect to your SqueezeCenter using different players, you can add multiple last.fm accounts and tell each player to submit to a different one. Very handy if you don't want last.fm to start recommending a bunch of crap to you based on someone else's taste. NB: Remember to go into the settings for each player (Softsqueeze counts as a player) and select a last.fm account - even if you only have 1 account set up, all players default to not submitting track data.

    This plugin also lets you play a last.fm stream through your Squeezebox, if you're into that sort of thing.

  • MusicIP

    MusicIP is similar to Pandora or Slacker or Last.FM: it makes playlists for you based on songs you already know. The huge difference is that it does this out of tracks from your own library. If you have a large music library like I do (58,590 tracks and climbing), you sometimes forget what you have. Or you have stuff that you wanted to own, but you've never listened to every track. MusicIP is a perfect fit here. You give it a song (or an album, or an artist) and tell it to generate a mix based on that input. It gives you back a mix of songs from your library that have musical qualities in common with the seed song. It's a great way to get re-acquainted with your own music collection.

    To clarify, SqueezeCenter only comes with the plugin that allows it to interact with MusicIP, it doesn't come with the MusicIP software itself (which is available for free here). To get them to play nice together, follow these steps:

    1. Install MusicIP.

    2. Have it scan and analyze your music library (this will take a long time if you have a really big library). NB: If you don't want all your file timestamps getting updated to today, go into the preferences before you scan and check "Preserve file modification time when updating tags."

    3. Follow these instructions for setting up a "headless" server. It also has instructions for setting the configuration options in an ini file; scroll down to the bottom for those, they're important. The most important one is "api=1," that enables the web-based API that SqueezeCenter will use to connect to MusicIP.

    4. In your SquezeCenter settings, enable the MusicIP plugin (if it's not enabled already).

    5. Go into the Services controller (Start->Run..., type in "services.msc") and stop the MusicIP service. Then stop the SqueezeCenter service. Then start the MusicIP service (first!), then start the SqueezeCenter service (second!). Doing things in that order will ensure that SqueezeCenter can see your MusicIP instance.

    At this point, you can choose to have SqueezeCenter use MusicIP as its sole source for your music library (instead of specifying the path to your music folder - just blank out that field in "Basic Settings") if you want. Pro: your rescans will be faster, as SqueezeCenter doesn't have to trawl through your physical file structure. Con: you have to keep your MusicIP database up-to-date (which you should do anyway), and any music you add to your library will be unavailable until you update the MusicIP database then have SqueezeCenter rescan, and you won't be able to browse your library by music folder (which is pretty slow anyway). Personally, I use both MusicIP and a specified folder. More on my setup below.

    More important than all that, you can now use MusicIP to generate mixes via SqueezeCenter or from the Squeezebox or Softsqueeze (sadly, Moose can't do this yet, but I've been bugging its author about it). In the web interface, click the little "m" icon next to a song or album or artist. If everything's working correctly, SqueezeCenter will generate a mix for you based on what you selected. The mix takes the form of a temporary playlist that you can then add to "Now Playing" to play. All together now: awesome.

    Techie note: Sometimes the little "m"'s disappear for me, which usually indicates that the MusicIP service has gone wonky. Restarting it usually fixes that. I got tired of restarting it, so I use Windows Task Scheduler to automatically restart the service for me every 6 hours by running a batch script that looks like this:

    net stop "MusicIP Server"
    net start "MusicIP Server"

There are a ton of other great plugins, far too many to go into detail about here (wouldn't want this post to get long) but I will take some space to recommend TrackStat, which keeps statistics on how often you play every track in your library and lets you rate songs on a customizable scale. As an added benefit, if you're using Moose and you enable TrackStat, you can rate songs right from the Moose interface! How awesome is that? Very. Also, the author of TrackStat is really nice, he helped me debug some problems I was having due to my library size.

And if you're not completely exhausted by now, read on to learn about...

My Setup (Chock Full of Advanced Tips and Tricks)

Some of my readers (well, one guy) asked me about my setup recently, which inspired this whole overwritten blog post. Here's how I roll, as illustrated by the journey a song takes on its way from the CD to my ears:

  1. Rip the CD using Exact Audio Copy. This is probably the best guide on the Internet to using EAC, you should read it. I rip all my CDs to FLAC, which offers so-called "lossless" compression. The files are on average about half the size of a full WAV file with no discernable loss in audio quality. NB: On rare occasions, instead of purchasing a CD, I will visit a bittorrent site and download about "as many albums as I can get my greedy little hands on." But the rest of the process is the same.

  2. Store the ripped files on my NAS. I use the ReadyNAS NV from Infrant (who recently became property of Netgear, sadly...this apparently meant "upgrading" their formerly useful web site to Wordpress). Mine has 4 500 GB Seagate Barracuda hard drives inside; using Infrant's proprietary X-RAID system (basically a variant on RAID-5), I get about 1.3 TB of usable space. Right now my music library (including cover art, FLACs, MP3s, and the occasional 20-page PDF of liner notes) takes up about 970 GB right now, which means it's about time for some new hard drives.

    For those of you paying attention, you may have figured out that the ReadyNAS is capable of running SqueezeCenter on its own OS, and they even used to offer a handy image file you could upload to the NAS that installed SlimServer 6.5. I don't use this, for the sole reason that the majority of my library is in FLAC, and the CPU on the NAS is simply not powerful enough to do bitrate conversion on the fly. But if that's not a concern for you, I'd recommend you go this route if you have a NAS; for one thing, it means not having to keep your computer on all the time just to access your music.

    2A: If you've downloaded files rather than ripping from your own legally obtained CD, now would be a good time to use foobar2000 or Media Monkey or MusicBrainz to tag those files.

    2B: If you haven't downloaded cover art for your album yet, do it now! SqueezeCenter will automatically display any file in the same folder as your track called "cover.jpg" (yes, this is configurable).

  3. Update my MusicIP database. Rather than do this manually, I'm using the Windows Task Scheduler (like cron, only shitty) to make a series of calls to the MusicIP API every night using wget for Windows (MusicIP does have a command-line utility you can download, but it only recognizes "/api" commands, not "/server" commands, which I only knew about by viewing the source of the server's main index page), like so:
    1:00 AM
    "C:\Program Files\wget\wget.exe" "http://localhost:10002/server/reload"
    This reloads the cache, in case it changed during the day. (Not entirely sure I need this step, but whatever).

    1:30 AM
    "C:\Program Files\wget\wget.exe" "http://localhost:10002/server/refresh"
    This tells MusicIP to clean up references to files that have moved or been deleted.

    2:00 AM
    "C:\Program Files\wget\wget.exe" "http://localhost:10002/server/add?root=[path to my music folder]"
    This adds any new music that's not already in the cache.

    3:00 AM
    "C:\Program Files\wget\wget.exe" "http://localhost:10002/server/validate?action=Start Validation"
    This is the big one. This tells MusicIP to "validate" all the tracks not already in the cache. "Validate" is their word for "scan using our fancy algorithm so our software can use this track in generated mixes or let you use this track as the seed for a mix."
  4. Re-scan my SqueezeCenter library. Again, I don't do this manually, that's for suckers. Instead, I go into the SqueezeCenter settings, click on the Advanced tab, and choose "Rescan Music Library" from the dropdown. I have my library rescan itself every morning at 4:00 AM, using the "Look for new and changed music" option. NB: If you are not using a folder path, and are just relying on iTunes or MusicIP as the source of your library, you don't need to rescan. You can tell SqueezeCenter to update itself automatically whenever that library source changes. But I like to do things the hard way.

    Speaking of the hard way, if you're running Windows XP, and your SqueezeCenter is on the XP machine, but your files are on a NAS, make sure to run the SqueezeCenter service as an XP user with admin rights (or at least rights to the NAS). The SERVICE user won't get the job done. Same deal for the MusicIP service.

  5. Update my Moose library. As I mentioned earlier, the remote MySQL scanning feature in Moose never quite works for me, so I prefer to use an updated copy of moose.moo. I update it every morning using Windows Task Scheduler to run a batch script that looks like this (NB: you will need the Winzip Command Line add-on for this, as well as a remote FTP server and SFTP Drive to map that server to a network drive):
    cd "c:\program files\moose"
    "moose.exe" /justscan
    "c:\program files\winzip\wzzip" -f -ex "moose.zip" *.moo
    copy /Y "c:\program files\moose\moose.zip" s:\
    In this script, "s:" is my mapped drive. That "/justscan" option is a cool feature of Moose, where you can tell it to start up, rescan your library, then shut down. On the machine that will need the updated moose.moo file, I simply copy it down and extract it via another batch script, like so:
    cd "c:\program files\moose\"
    xcopy /D /Y S:\moose.zip "c:\program files\moose\moose.zip"
    "c:\program files\winzip\wzunzip" -f "c:\program files\moose\moose.zip" moose.moo
    I forget why I use "copy" in one script and "xcopy" in the other one, but there's some reason. The flags I'm using for xcopy, copy, wzzip, and wzunzip do various things like prevent copying a file with an older timestamp over a newer one, or trying to unzip an empty file on top of one with data.

  6. The final step is to enjoy my music, make mixes with MusicIP, submit my track data to Last.FM (automatically, of course), and know that all my hard work has paid off.
Well, that's it. If anyone actually read this far, you have my congratulations. I hope you enjoy your Squeezebox and that you got something out of this post. Please comment and tell me about your setup! And before you go, check out these super-useful links:
OK, I'm done for real now. Thanks for reading. Did you know I'm also a content management expert?