Google Music

Volume 14, Issue 23; 20 Jun 2011; last modified 24 Jun 2011

A few random thoughts following my first couple of weeks with Google Music.

When Google announced music beta, I threw my name in the box for an invitation. A couple of weeks later, and now a couple of weeks ago, it came through.

Background

I have roughly 10,000 songs in my library, mostly ripped from CDs or bought through eMusic. The stuff I ripped myself is all stored in FLAC files, but I've also got MP3 versions of everything (because iTunes doesn't understand FLAC).

Motivation

The problem with 10,000 songs is that they don't fit conveniently on a portable device. There's just too much data. That means choosing some subset of the collection to put on each device and that's just a total nuisance.

I don't have the time, or inclination, to actively keep those collections up to date. Consequently, I get tired of listening to what's there and if I go looking for something specific, especially newer stuff I'd like to hear again, of course, it's never there.

Given that I'm sitting at a computer most of the time, you wouldn't think I cared much about the devices. That's true, except that I don't have my whole collection on my laptop either. It's on the order of 50G; that's 1/10th of my hard drive and more than I'm willing to devote to it.

Sitting in my office, I've been listening via iTunes pulling music off the server in the basement. That introduces wrinkles too. First, iTunes is the suck. Second, if my machine is under heavy load (compiling, oh, I dunno, the world's best purpose-built database for unstructured information, for example), then it can get a little flakey. It doesn't often skip, though it does that occasionally, but the keyboard shorcuts to control it can take several seconds to have an effect. That's great when you answer the phone just as Johnny Rotten wails I am an antichrist! Or worse.

Moving the player off my laptop saves cycles for doing more important things.

Setup

I loaded the app and pointed it at my mp3s. (It does FLAC too, but I didn't see the point considering it'll be sampled back over the net and fed through whatever cheap DAC is packed into my phone or tablet.)

It took a couple of days, but it got there. Mostly. Apparently it doesn't like filenames with accented characters. That meant a few hundred songs didn't make it up. I have a system for dealing with music based on track numbers and XML metadata, so I don't actually care about the filenames. I cleaned up the ones it didn't like and started it up again.

I think that worked, but it still reports 125 files as “upload failures”. I can't tell what's wrong with them, or how to fix whatever it is. I imagine these are the sorts of things that will improve over time.

Playback

Playback works great on my laptop (using the browser) and mostly great on both my phone and tablet (only “mostly” because the app crashes occasionally). The Android app sports a feature to cache songs locally for offline playback, but I haven't tried it yet.

I also haven't tried it anywhere that I didn't have good, unlimited bandwidth. I imagine that's a problem for many.

Gripes

It's a beta service, so you have to expect some problems. Some of the things that bother me are likely just teething pains. Other things could be addressed by providing an API to the service so that I (or third parties) could write scripts to fix things.

Anyway, here are the things I've noted over the past few days. I'll try to update this list if I find any more, or find workarounds for any of these.

  1. The uploader's feedback is pretty useless, as I noted above. And the rules for acceptable filenames are clearly underspecified and overconstrained.

  2. Google seems to ignore embedded artwork. I have no idea how it decides what artwork to associate with each track, but it's wrong a fair bit of the time. Apparently, I can fix this by dragging new artwork onto the browser. Except that I have no desire to use drag and drop to fix hundreds of errors. I fixed them all from the command line and put the [expletive deleted, —ed] artwork in the MP3s for this purpose!

  3. Speaking of drag and drop, the playlist editor is a total fail for the same reason. I want to build a playlist of all the music I want on shuffle. That's about 80% of the whole collection. By drag and drop: ugh!

Update, 24 June 2011

I've discovered a couple more things about Google Music. One good, one bad.

Pro: If you click through to the list of songs (in a genre, for example, or an artist), you can select several songs and then move all those songs to a playlist. That means that instead of dragging 126 albums one by one into a playlist, I can move 1,237 songs in one fell swoop. Except.

Con: A playlist can only contain 1,000 songs. WTF!?

Comments

Not that I'd disagree with Google Music being the best thing since bread came sliced, but what kind of a player do you use that it's that CPU hungry? Also, have you tried nice'ing your builds?

—Posted by Martin Probst on 21 Jun 2011 @ 11:15 UTC #

Like I said, iTunes is the suck.

I could nice the build, except, you know, building the damn thing is usually between me and getting more work done. With make -j3, I can really pin the CPU for a while.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 21 Jun 2011 @ 12:53 UTC #