How I listen to music

Take a look at how I use several music-related software tools to maintain my ever-growing offline collection of music and read my opinion about streaming services.

Last update:

Time to read: 9 minutes.

How I find new music

I sometimes get recommendations from friends, but about ~10% of my music is actually from them. I mainly do my own “research” on artists’ subreddits, YouTube and Soulseek.

Right now, Deep Cuts and The Wonky Angle are in my subscriptions list. One tip I can give is to follow people who have roughly the same kind of taste in music as you do and see what they listen to. Read or watch albums reviews, not because you give a damn about some stranger’s opinion, but because you want to find new artists’ works to dive into.

As to subreddits, I usually visit the thematic ones that limit themselves to one artist or genre. Eventually, a post asking for recommendations in that genre or similar artists will pop up, that’s when I take note of the comments and remember to check them out whenever I’m next to my computer.

Okay, got my recommendations. Where do I download?

When I have time, I look at my notes and type each artist’s or album’s name into YouTube’s search bar. (It’s actually way less robotic than it sounds. Whenever I get the urge to be on a music-searching binge, I jump right in.) If I generally like what I hear from the first two or three songs, I search them up on Soulseek, a peer-to-peer file sharing service mainly used for music (kinda like Napster or LimeWire, except it’s still active). I recommend using the Nicotine+ client, just because it’s free software, even if the protocol itself isn’t (yeah, bummer, but I can’t give this up if the alternatives are worse).

If I’m online on Soulseek, you can find and download my ~400 GB (and growing) collection by searching for the user Wheelbarrow.

Yes, what I do is piracy. I have my own means of supporting artists I like, but when it comes to consuming music semi-instantly, I don’t have any other choice that resonate with my beliefs. I have a vinyl record collection (You can find my collection on Discogs here), I sometimes buy merch and albums on artists’ official Bandcamp sites (but only if it’s a small artist that is not found anywhere else, not even on Soulseek), so supporting musicians is not an unknown practice for me. I just do it differently.

Usually, downloading single songs is unsatisfying. I prefer listening to albums instead. They provide more insight into the artist’s work than if I just listen to the most popular tracks from them, not to mention the discussions that albums can spawn (looking at other people’s tierlists or hearing different opinions on the best/worst/mediocre songs on an album are entertaining for example).

After downloading what I want to listen to comes the next step.


Sometimes, the stuff I get from Soulseek or wherever are not tagged correctly (they don’t have their artists or titles set correctly or have no album art attached), they need fixing. For this, I use MusicBrainz Picard and EasyTAG. Picard does the tagging automatically thanks to a user-sourced music database (to which you can contribute too). Then, I look and slightly correct the tags if they are still not quite right in EasyTAG.

For embedded lyrics, I used MediaHuman Lyrics Finder, but I can’t recommend it anymore. It’s buggy, doesn’t support some of my preferred formats and also closed-source. Don’t use it. Sadly though, I don’t have any more programs that can embed lyrics to files automatically. If you know one, please contact me so I can update this post.

Storing and compressing

I store the albums that I download on my laptop for a brief period until the files are tagged correctly, then they get transferred to my hard drive at home where they are archived for eternity. Before I’d transfer the files to my phone’s SD card though, some compressing needs to be done on high-quality files (it’s .flac the majority of the time). My preferred format is opus, a free (as in freedom) codec for compressing audio files. It provides higher sound quality while keeping the bitrate low (see image below taken from opus’ comparison page).

Comparison of the opus codec next to other compressed audio formats

I used mp3 before I found out about opus. The format is not that widely known among devices (my phone only plays opus files when the format is .oga instead of .opus), but I still prefer to use it for its efficiency.

For conversion, my recommendation is fre:ac, a versatile free software audio converter that supports a wide variety of formats including opus.

UPDATE (2023. 07. 23.):

I installed Navidrome, a free and open-source, lightweight, Subsonic-compatible music server on my machine, so I can access my music collection anywhere from the Internet. This is a gamechanger for me, because I don’t necessarily have to compress and transfer my music with a cable to my phone. I can just open a Subsonic client app (for me, it’s Ultrasonic) and download my music from my server.

For transfers, I still make a backup of the albums on my hard-drive, but I also upload them to my Navidrome server through SFTP.


What I use on my phone

I use two phones. One is for everyday use and the other is strictly for music listening. I transfer the files to an external SD card through USB and use Metro to enjoy the stuff I downloaded.

To get notified of new releases of favorite artists, nusic is my go-to. It uses the aforementioned MusicBrainz project to fetch new albums and notify you of new materials to listen to.

I’m sometimes envious of Spotify users getting their listening statistics handed to them each December in a nicely presented manner. For something close to that, I chose ListenBrainz made by the same people that run the MusicBrainz project. It collects your listening statistics and allows you to browse them anytime you want (you can also check out my own statistics here) through reports, graphs and lists. At the end of each year, you get a personalised link that lists your favorite albums, tracks, artists and much more. It’s also a nice way to get new music recommendations by checking out other users’ statistics.

You can connect your Spotify account or use a so-called scrobbler (I use Simple Scrobbler) to collect data and upload them to ListenBrainz.

UPDATE (2023. 07. 23.):

Recently, I found out about Pano Scrobbler, a streamlined app that is much better to use if you have a more recent phone that doesn’t make questionable battery optimisation decisions. It provides info about artists and albums that you can read while you’re listening to music. You can make photo collages of the most listened to albums/artists/songs in a specified time interval and much more. Check it out.


“Y u no stream da muziks instead?”

As you can see above, this kind of workflow just to get hold of new music is not really efficient when all I need to do otherwise is use a streaming service.

I have to be honest, I don’t really like using streaming services for a variety of reasons. Please note that this is solely my opinion and I can’t tell you what you can and can not use. I wrote this post just to share my thoughts and provide you with some practices which are generally not better but also not worse than any other method of obtaining and listening music.

1. There are just not enough materials on them.

Whenever I get into a new artist, I happen to dive into the deep cuts of their discography right after I finish listening to their studio albums. Stuff like EPs, unreleased tracks, demos, all that kind of stuff. It depends on the artist, but more often than not, those materials are not present on any streaming site, so they can’t be heard for those who only use those kinds of apps.

And it’s not only for the obscure stuff; it sometimes happens with mainline studio albums too. I’ve had a few situations where I want to discuss an album with friends only to be greeted by Oh, I didn’t know that existed! It’s not on Spotify.

I don’t really want to miss out on stuff I would be interested in, and I especially don’t want to have app fog. Installing more than one or two apps or subscribing to multiple services just for one type of media in order to access everything you want seems so unnecessary for me. I have to add that this phenomenon is more prevalent in the field on-demand video services like Netflix and HBO Max, but this point can still be applied to music-related sites (think about using Spotify for the mainstream stuff and Soundcloud for the lesser-known hobbyist projects). We don’t really have a universal streaming site yet and wel’ll probably never will, but that’s fine (see the 3rd point for more).

2. They make me feel restricted and manipulated

The fact that I can’t do anything to the files themselves makes me uneasy.

  • What if I want to listen tracks in higher quality?
    • (I don’t ever say that because I don’t have any good audiophile gear yet. :P)
  • What if the album has multiple album arts that differ between releases and I want my app to show the exact one I want?
  • I want to sample a part of some song to use it in my music projects. What if I need to edit the song itself? I can’t access the track that way in any streaming app.

As you’ll see in a few paragraphs below, this is not about convenience for me. It’s about the freedom to do anything I want with what I access and download on the Internet. Streaming services take that right away from me. You don’t download anything in the traditional sense while using them, the files are not yours to keep. By subscribing to a service like music streaming, I restrict myself to an ecosystem of features I can’t expand on. I can’t distribute or share music to those who don’t use the same service and also can’t use whatever software I want to enjoy an artist’s work. I’m also strictly limited to the clients that use the service’s API (Nuclear is a popular third-party Spotify client for example). I can’t use VLC or any other music playing software to access the service.

Not to mention the manipulative nature of the algorithms they use to shuffle music (when I click shuffle, I want my music to be truly random instead of whatever this is) for example. In Spotify’s case, the service can tell if you’re happy or sad and it can use that data to manipulate you. That is an unnecessary layer of surveilance I don’t want to subject myself to.

When I briefly used Spotify for a few hours, I got this weird feeling that can be roughly summarized as I’m not in control, I don’t own this piece of media and I itch and scratch and say: This isn’t right.

Me no likey.

3. They lack nuance

I’ll probably use this word a lot in my posts about anything tech-related.

When I say nuance, I mean the slight differences in each of our experiences with a service/app/site. Everyone has their habits when it comes to media consumption. Some like ebooks more than traditional books, for some, it’s the other way around. There’s also the ongoing flamewar between PC Masterrace elitists and console plebs.

It’s all about choice and the preferences you have. I like talking with people about how they use technology. Which programs they use, what tips they have or even just how they customize their homescreen or desktops. With these services, these discussions are nonexistent. Same themes, same general look and feel for everyone.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of audio apps available on Android (or wherever you want to listen to music) that let you style the app to your liking, or choose another app if you don’t like one’s set of features. Again, freedom to do anything you want, let it be choosing the device you want to listen to music on or the free and unlimited sharing of files between your peers.

If you want to read more about the reasons to ditch streaming sites, check out Richard Stallman’s blog post about Spotify or Benn Jordan’s “Why Spotify Will Ultimately Fail” video on YouTube (I don’t have an Invidous instance yet, but I’ll use that in the future if I want to link YouTube vids here).

I might have bashed Spotify a lot in these few paragraphs, but that’s because it’s the most widely used one in my circles. I’m also sure that basically every kind of streaming service uses the same — if not more — amounts of shady or downright restrictive practices. It’s your choice whether you want to use them and if they are worth the convenience of just searching for a song, tapping play and enjoying music that’s readily available at any time.

The steps above are my workflow. Sure, there probably are things to improve or tools to use that could make this easier. If you know any or have tips for me, feel free to contact me. I can even update this post to include your recommendations.

It was nice sharing all this with you. Thanks for reading! I’ll see you later.

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