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Day 13: Playing Tunes in Banshee

I am spending even more time in Ubuntu Linux, its time to work out critical issues--like how do I play all of my music

For Day 13 of 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux I decided to take a deeper look at Banshee. I dabbled with the music playing app installed by default with Ubuntu during my trials and tribulations trying to sync my iPhone, but I had really barely scratched the surface.

Now, before everyone chimes in to tell me why Banshee sucks, or which is the greatest music app ever written that I should go install from the Ubuntu Software Center, I am looking at Banshee specifically because it is installed by default. I can also get a hundred different media players in Windows or Mac OS X, but trying to test them all and filter it down to the best could be a whole 30 Days With project of its own.

I started out by importing my media. Basically, I pointed Banshee at my music folder on the Windows partition and it indexed and cataloged the whole thing. So, now I have 8,750 songs to choose from in Banshee.

Now, before I start listing all of the reasons I don't care for Banshee, let me just say that I haven't yet found a perfect media player. But, I'll tell you up front that Banshee isn't going to change that, nor is it going to become my new favorite.

My first complaint isn't Banshee-specific, but Banshee is still guilty of it, so it gets counted as a complaint. I hate when the media player catalogs every possible variation of the artist name and/or catalogs every duet or whatever as a separate artist. For example, Banshee considers '2pac', '2Pac', '2Pac/Danny Ray', and '2Pac/Digital Underground' to be four different artists. If I actually wanted to listen to 2Pac's Greatest Hits Disc 2, I would have to listen to all four of those artists, or create some sort of playlist that stitches it all back together.

I could go through and manually edit the track info to make all of them the same--did I mention that I have 8,750 songs? I have had to go through a similar exercise to fix iTunes, but at least in iTunes I could correct entire albums at one time. If that is possible in Banshee, I haven't yet figure it out.

Next, Banshee doesn't give me enough options for navigating my music. The left pane lists Music as a library, and under Music it lists some default Banshee playlists: Favorites, Recently Added, Recently Played, and Unheard. The silly thing is that because I just imported all of my music, it all shows up as Recently Added, and it also all shows up as Unheard, so both of those lists are rendered useless.

When I click on Music, the next pane over displays a list of all of the artists (including the four different variations of 2Pac, or the seven different variations of 50 Cent). Some of the artists listed--like Beck--I wasn't even aware I had. That is because I don't. Not really. I have one song by Beck on a various artists compilation called DGC Rarities, Vol. 1.

Clicking on an individual artist name in the pane brings up a list of that artist's albums in the right pane. In the case of the Beck song, though, clicking the DGC Rarities, Vol 1 album in the right pane will only display or play the one song by Beck, not the whole album. If I click on All Artists at the top of the list of artists, then all of my albums are displayed in the right pane, and in that case I can at least go find the DGC Rarities, Vol 1 album listed alphabetically, and play it in its entirety.

The one redeeming quality of Banshee is its integration with online media. By default it provides connections with the Amazon MP3 Store, Miro Guide, Internet Archive, Last.fm, and the Ubuntu One Music Store.

My favorite part, though, is the Context Pane. It is not on by default, but if you click on View in the menu bar and enable the Context Pane, you get a display at the bottom that shows you recommended artists and relevant information related to the music you are currently listening to. It also displays the top albums and top songs by the artist.

While playing Prince's Dirty Mind album, it showed me a list of recommended artists that included The Family, Wendy & Lisa, Vanity 6, Madhouse, The Time, and Jesse Johnson. As an avid Prince fan, I was already aware of those connections and already own most, if not all, of the music by all of those artists as well, but if it were a new artist I was just getting acquainted with I would appreciate the one-click access to similar music and connected artists.

There is a lot that I hate about iTunes, but Banshee has given me renewed appreciation for that unintuitive disaster of a media player. The Context Pane is cool, but it's not enough to overcome the things I don't like about Banshee. Thankfully, I can just open that Ubuntu Software Center and go find a better media player.

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