I’ve found my perfect music player: MusicBee

Screenshot of MusicBee, playing Opeth "In my time of need" from Damnation (2003).
Screenshot of MusicBee, playing Opeth “In my time of need” from Damnation (2003). Click for full-size screenshot.

For as long as I can remember that I’ve had an internet-enabled PC (I got a Windows 98 machine in late 1999) I’ve been using WinAmp for listening to music. Last week I moved to the lesser-known MusicBee and it is perfect for my requirements. I can’t believe just how good MusicBee is.

Your mileage may vary

I had a long conversation with a friend of mine on Facebook the other day about how everybody’s music player requirements are different. A lot of factors influence your decision about a digital music player, e.g.

  • How much music you have.
  • How/if you tag your music.
  • When you listen.
  • Where you listen.
  • On which device(s) you listen.
  • Whether you need to share your collection with other devices on the network.
  • Whether you prefer visuals (e.g. album art) or text-based interfaces.
  • etc.

How I used WinAmp

I used WinAmp primarily for two things:

  1. Listen to music.
  2. Rip CDs to MP3 format.

I used WinAmp like a CD player (I’d load one album and listen to it) or a radio (I’d load it all 23,000+ files and listen to them on shuffle). I used very few other features to be honest.

A while ago WinAmp switched off its access to the Gracenote database. That’s a service that allows you to query the names of the album title and tracks of a CD you are ripping to MP3 (other formats are available). For my 195 metal CDs project that’s pretty important to me.

It was time to try to find something else that might let me make the most of my music collection: find stuff that I’d not listened to in a long time, better make use of my tagging of albums (I use the excellent mp3tag).

The contenders

Despite how popular it is to listen to music on a computer, there are surprisingly few mainstream players:

I opened Windows Media Player… and promptly shut it down again. I then reached for foobar2000, which a number of friends had warmly recommended to me. “I think you’ll love it,” said one. I didn’t last much more than an hour with it.

Tomahawk was installed, and then uninstalled within an hour too. I liked the idea but I don’t share music playlists with friends, I don’t need to find out what other artists sound like the one I’m listening to. I didn’t need all the connected stuff, I just wanted to better manage what I had.

I then tried Apple iTunes for a few days. I’d used iTunes as my main player at work for a while but I found it too bloated and quite unintuitive in places and so returned to WinAmp. What I liked about iTunes this time was the albums view.

Grid of album covers. Selected album shows a list of tracks beneath it.
I like how iTunes lists albums in a very visual way.

But what I found frustrating was how it handled metadata and artwork.

MusicBee

Which was when I found MusicBee and it is perfect for me. Within an hour I had customised the user interface to just the way I would like it:

  • I’m using the beautifully clean DarkGREEN Metro skin, which I find highlights the artwork.
  • I have lists of genre, artist and album on the left-hand side.
  • In the middle I have a grid of album artwork (very similar to how iTunes handles it).
  • On the right I have playlist and other metadata displayed.

Having pulled in my entire music collection, I discovered errors in the way that I had tagged some of the music, and how few tracks had album artwork embedded.

A few hours later, staying within MusicBee, I had a lot of the tagging sorted out, and MusicBee even pulled in the missing album artwork for the rest of my collection.

This would have taken me weeks to sort out using WinAmp and mp3tag, or iTunes on its own.

Android remote

My last PC had an infrared remote control for my Creative soundcard; I’ve kind of missed that with this PC. I discovered that some kind chap has written MusicBee Remote for Android which is also clean and simple.

MusicBee Remote for Android.
MusicBee Remote for Android. (Click for full size)

Conclusion

This hasn’t been a full review, just an immediate ‘gush’ about how wonderful this music player is.

I really couldn’t imagine going back to WinAmp now. Already this has helped me discover a number of CD box sets that I ripped to MP3 and then completely forgot to listen to all the way through.

If you fancy a rediscovering your music collection and are a Windows user then I wholeheartedly recommend MusicBee.

Metallica celebrates 30 years

Last month Metallica celebrated their 30th anniversary with a series of four shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco on Monday 05, Wednesday 07, Friday 09 and Saturday 10 December. (These links are to the official ‘recap’ videos on Metallica’s YouTube channel—over two and a quarter hours of Metallica and friends.)

Metallica took up a residency at The Fillmore and essentially became the house band for the week, to which they invited friends and former Metallica band mates to come join them and play both their own music and covers.

It was really great to see Dave Mustaine (Megadeth/ex-Metallica) on stage playing with them, and Jason Newsted too. Wonderful to hear John Bush (Armored Saint/ex-Anthrax) singing with the band, whom apparently Metallica wanted to join them as their vocalist in the early days. As well as all their other guests, including King Diamond (Mercyful Fate), Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Sean Harris and Tatler (Diamond Head), Animal (The Anti-Nowhere League), Lou Reed, Glenn Danzig (Misfits and Danzig), Marianne Faithfull, John Marshall (Metal Church), Biff Byford,  Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains), Bob Rock and more and more.

I’ve been listening to Metallica since 1986, when their third album Master of Puppets came out (I first listened to it at a Scripture Union camp!), and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Metallica play so well live as they did during those four shows. James Hetfield’s voice especially. Wow! And how heartening to see James Hetfield so well, and confident in himself.

I’d love there to be a DVD released of these shows.

You can buy digital versions of the four concerts on the Live Metallica website for US$9.95 (MP3) or US$12.95 (FLAC and Apple Lossless formats). Having listened to them all, they are well worth it: full of great music, great chat, and great humour.

There’s also a great review of the gigs on the Metallica news page, and of course following the 30th anniversay shows they released the Beyond Magnetic EP which contains the four ‘new’ songs (recorded during the Death Magnetic sessions) they played during the four nights in San Francisco: one each night.

Beyond Magnetic EP will be released on CD worldwide on 30 January, and in North America (who apparently aren’t part of the world!) on 31 January.

Samael – Luxferre

A couple of years ago a friend-of-a-friend, a photographer, sent me a handful of promo CDs. He’d picked them up on various photo assignments and thought that I might like to hear them. In many cases he already had the albums.

If you’ve never seen a promo CD, they are very much like the finished article except that the artwork is cut down to a cardboard sleeve and the songs are split up across 99 tracks.

That makes it very difficult to rip them to MP3. Not impossible, but it certainly makes you think twice: do you really want to spend the next three days splicing together 99 tracks to reconstruct the original 11 tracks?

I thought not.

I didn’t want to do it either so I bought three of the albums, and passed a few of the others on to someone else. I bought:

In the Talmud, a record of rabbinic discussions about ethics, law, philosophy, customs and history dating from between 200 and 500 CE, Samael was an important archangel, an accuser, seducer and destroyer. In Jewish lore seemingly one of his most important roles was that of angel of death. Importantly, however, he remained one of the Lord’s angels despite his penchant for wanting men to do evil.

Samael is also the name of a Swiss metal band, formed in 1987 in Sion, variously labelled as industrial metal, (second wave of) black metal, industrial black metal, symphonic metal, and electronic. And I rather like their variety of syncopated back beats and over-driven keyboards!

The YouTube video above is the opening track from their new album Lux Mundi.

MP3 life prediction

The rules: play your MP3s on random play and answer the questions below with the song titles.

What does next year have in store for me?
A.I.M – The Cooper Temple Clause

What’s my love life like?
Circle & line – Brad

What do I say when life gets hard?
Cheepnis – Zappa Plays Zappa

What song will I dance to at my wedding?
I’m the only gay Eskimo – Tenacious D

What do you want as a career?
Emerald lies – Marillion

Famous last words?
Can’t get enough – Queen + Paul Rodgers

Your favourite saying?
Practice what you preach – Testament

Favourite place?
Under the guillotine – Kreator

What do you think of your parents?
Living on my own – Freddie Mercury

Where would you go on a first date?
Nebakanezer – The Black Crowes

Describe yourself!
Don’t fear me – Less

What is the thing I like doing most?
I’m lost – Steve Lawson

What is my state of mind like at the moment?
The blister exists – Slipknot

How will I die?
Death church – Machine Head

MP3 life predicition

The rules: play your MP3s on random play and answer the questions below with the song titles.

What does next year have in store for me?
I Can’t Help Myself – Peter Green Splinter Group

What’s my love life like?
Brasilia crossed with trenton – Bob Mould

What do I say when life gets hard?
Wages Day – Deacon Blue

What song will I dance to at my wedding?
Fast Changes – Seal

What do you want as a career?
Miss Jones – Saigon Kick

Famous last words?
Nocturnal Fear – Celtic Frost

Your favourite saying?
One Note Song – Tenacious D

Favourite place?
Flying in a blue dream – Joe Satriani

What do you think of your parents?
Obscured – Celtic Frost

Where would you go on a first date?
Big Love – Mr Big

Describe yourself!
Savoy Truffle – The Beatles

What is the thing I like doing most?
Now that you know me – Husker Du

What is my state of mind like at the moment?
Roses without thorns – Celtic Frost

How will I die?
City don’t cry – Jimmy Page and Robert Plant