How I organise and import new music

The first thing I do is obtain the actual music:

$ yt-dlp --extract-audio --playlist-end 21 ""

This command downloads the first 21 items in the playlist for the release of "Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (More Music From the Vault)" from YouTube and converts them into audio files using yt-dlp.

To populate tags, I use MusicBrainz Picard:

$ picard .
Screenshot of Picard with unclustered music files

After clicking "Cluster," and "Lookup" (which searches based on meta tags, such as album name) or "Scan" (which scans for AcoustId audio fingerprints), what I usually get is the following screenshot, which is all the music in the folder with auto-filled tags and metadata.

Screenshot of Picard with music files that are clustered and populated with meta data

At this stage, I usually specify a genre based on my own taxonomy, and drag and drop a high quality album cover from the internet, then hit "Save." This moves the files, with updated metadata, into ~/Music/<Artist>/<Album>/.

My desktop player, Lollypop, then automatically picks it up and surfaces it into my Recently added albums.

Screenshot of Lollypop with thumbnails of three recently added albums

The entire ~/Music/ folder is synced via SyncThing to:

  • The SD card in my laptop
  • The SD card in my phone
  • An external HDD attached to my home server
  • My NAS, via a nightly backup script from my home server

And that's it. The process of importing takes me about a minute, and syncing happens in seconds.

Except when it doesn't

Except I lied.

For the above release, the files I downloaded from YouTube were devoid of all id3 tags or meta information, so I had to manually add in an album field with the album name. This would normally be enough to get Picard to match it.

In this case, it wasn't enough, because as it turned out, the release itself was not yet on MusicBrainz, which is like a public Wiki for all music. So I had to manually go and submit it as a release. The process was mostly painless, and now everyone else can benefit.

How I discover music

If I feel like listening to something new, I first ask my friends for suggestions.

I keep a text file called listen.txt in a synced folder where I put in ideas for music that I want to add to my library, that I can edit when I'm on the go or don't feel like going through the import process. I also look up artists I already like, look for similar artists, or try to find compilations such as "How to get into X genre/artist."

Why I don't use Spotify or Apple Music

It took me 10 years to get to this point. I have used in anger multiple streaming solutions, among which: Grooveshark, Google Music, iTunes Match, Apple Music, Spotify, Plex and Plexamp.

Some of these I used for a couple of years without many incidents, but eventually I'd run into issues.

Up to 1/3 of my music library is not available on mainstream streaming services.

Reasons include:

  • The LPs were never licensed properly. Such as Exmilitary by Death Grips, which is a bootleg release with copyright issues.
  • The artist hasn't signed up for streaming, or they only stream on one platform and not another. Dr. Dre and Jay-Z did this for years.
  • The version I like is not the streaming release. I like the casette version of Ashes 2 Ashes, Dust 2 Dust by Tommy Wright III, but not the CD reissue.
  • The artist is too niche. Such as GRANT, which was also removed from Bandcamp, as I was shocked to discover just now. That link is now a 404. I'm lucky I downloaded a copy in time.
  • The release is "weird." Like the radio stations from the classic GTA games. I'm not going on any roadtrip without an offline copy of K-Rose.
All music streaming services remove things from their library at their own whim.

This is due to copyright issues, licencing agreements, or plain incompetence. Albums I've lost access to at some point include: Cross by Justice (Spotify), Deus Ex: Human Revolution OST (Apple Music), Hitman: Blood Money OST (Apple Music), tracks from albums by Kanye West, Nas, Bones, Amon Tobin.

I used to rely on YouTube exclusively for my music, and curated a playlist each year with my favourite 100 tracks from that year. I still have those playlists, and all of them are missing a good quarter to fifth of their tracks:

They cost £10 per month perpetually.

And it would be worth it, if they fit my needs. But they don't.

Add to that countless bugs, feature removals, small annoyances, and situations where I said "I thought I had downloaded all my music for offline listening. Why can't I listen to this one specific track that I feel like listening right now?" So the setup I currently have is entirely based on Libre software, large amounts of removable storage, and offline-first.

And I love it.