Friday, June 22, 2007

Playing Music in Ubuntu 7.04

Rhythmbox, the Ubuntu Music Player

Although double-clicking on media files opens Totem, the Ubuntu media player, your best bet for really listening and organizing a music collection is Rhythmbox. People have told me that Rhythmbox looks a lot like iTunes, and I guess I agree based on this screenshot from Softpedia.
I really like the Genre, Artist, and Album selection boxes in Rhythmbox, which appear to be missing in iTunes. Since iTunes is renowned for its usability, though, I don't see a problem with using a setup which is similar to the best on the market.

Start Rhythmbox at Applications ->; Sound and Video ->; Rhythmbox Music Player.

What File Formats Can Rhythmbox Play?

If you completed these instructions in Playing Movies in Ubuntu then you can skip this section.

Rhythmbox can play any format which GStreamer recognizes. Unfortunately, GStreamer recognizes very few formats in its default configuration. Just like in WindowsXP, you need to install many codecs in order to play the hundreds of forms of multimedia that exist. I'll tell you how to do that in a few seconds. First, a little aside.

Why doesn't Rhythmbox play MP3 files by default?

Codecs are a tricky thing. Many codecs are free to download but must be paid for in order to distribute them. Since Ubuntu is a free piece of software and gives me the right to distribute it to other for free or at any price I choose, it can't legally distribute many codecs, and they must be downloaded after installation. Some codecs, such as Windows Media Player audio and video codecs, require a license of Microsoft Windows in order to install them. Some things, like the CSS codes for encrypted DVDs, are illegal to have in the U.S. Most of the codecs you'll need are available for download from the unsupported side of Ubuntu, but a couple actually require you to download from outside areas which respect the DMCA and similar laws. You decide how far you want to go to play media files.

Adding Software Sources

In order to make the download and install process as easy as possible, we need to make sure that the Ubuntu system knows where to get the codecs from. These locations are called repositories, and we'll add them using the Software Sources application. Click on System -> Administration -> Software Sources, input your password, and you should get a dialog which looks like the one below.
Make sure that the four top boxes are checked. If you live in the U.S., the "multiverse" choice should probably remain unchecked, and you won't be able to install some of the packages I'll talk about. Click on the "Third-Party Software" tab, and you'll see something like the following.
Click "Add" and type the following in the text entry area:
deb feisty free non-free
Click "Add Source," and you'll be prompted to update your list of installable packages. Close the window and go to Applications -> Add/Remove. Type "gstreamer" into the search box, make sure that the right-hand pull-down menu says "All available applications," and you should see a list like the following.

Make sure all the applications which have GStreamer and plugin in the title are checked. Click "OK" to install the missing codecs.

Importing Your Music Library

When you first start Rhythmbox, it will ask you for the location of your music collection, which it will index for you. The metadata tags in the files will be parsed by genre, artist, album, title, and track number. If you already skipped that step or want to change your location, you can do that at Edit -> Preferences. The main tab (pictured above) allows you to choose where the program looks for your music and where new music is stored. You should check "Watch my library ..." just to be safe. Turn it off if you notice strange behavior from the player. You can also choose the library structure, which will help the program guess at program data if none exists.

Playing Your Music

At the top of the music player, just under the menu system, is an intuitive set of controls for playing. Use the Genre, Artist, and Album selection boxes to limit the view of your music library. Clicking play will start the selected song, the first song if none are selected, or a random song if none are selected and Shuffle is on. The next song will be one of those in the current view unless there is a play queue. Add songs to the play queue by right clicking on a song and choosing "Add to Play Queue."

There is no stop or pause button. Stop or pause a track by clicking on the Play button.

Getting and Playing Podcasts

Rhythmbox has the ability to keep a podcast library for you. Once you find a podcast you like, right click on the Podcasts line in the Source pane of the Rhythmbox player and click "New Podcast Feed." Copy the feed URL and paste it into the New Feed text box. Rhythmbox will automatically look for the latest podcasts and download them in the background for you to play at your convenience. Set up where Rhythmbox saves the podcasts and how often it checks for updates using the Edit -> Preferences dialog.

What is a Podcast?

The word podcast was made popular by the iPod, which allows you to automatically download new audio blogs from sources that you find interesting. The term has widened to include any audio blog recording. Most of the time, these recordings come in the form of MP3s. You can find podcasts at .

Playing Internet Radio

You can listen to radio streamed from radio stations across the world. Whether you're interested in news, weather, or music, there are plenty to choose from. Find a radio station at Wikipedia, copy the stream URL, right click on "Radio Stations" in your Rhythmbox Music Player, click "New Internet Radio Station," then paste the stream URL into the text box and click enter. The radio station will appear in your list of stations. Modify the name and genre by right clicking on the radio station and choosing Properties. Click play and listen to your selected station. It's that easy.

What is Internet Radio?

Wikipedia states:
Internet radio (aka e-Radio) is an audio broadcasting service transmitted via the Internet. Broadcasting on the Internet is usually referred to as webcasting since it is not transmitted broadly through wireless means but is delivered over the World Wide Web. The term "e-Radio" suggests a streaming media that presents listeners with a continuous stream of audio to which they have no control much like traditional broadcast media. It is not synonymous with podcasting which involves downloading and therefore copyright issues. Nor does e-Radio suggest "on-demand" file serving. Many Internet "radio stations" are associated with a corresponding traditional "terrestrial" radio station or radio network. Internet-only radio stations are usually independent of such associations.

Extending Rhythbox with Plugins

Rhythmbox comes with quite a few great plugins installed by default. There are more available, but the included set covers most of what you'd want.

Magnatune Music Store

Magnatune Store offers iTunes-style song previews and paid downloads. They have quality independent artists. You are allowed to listen to all streamed music for free in a try-before-you-buy arrangement. If you like an artist enough to want top-quality versions of the music, you can purchase an album for US$8 by right-clicking on a song in the album, chosing your format, and handing over your credit card information. I suggest downloading in FLAC format because it is lossless, so you get the best possible quality when you convert to other formats. Music Recommendation System is a radio station and more. It helps people out by figuring out your musical tastes (based on what you listen to) and recommending new music to you. From the website:

Scrobbling a song means that when you listen to it, the name of the song is sent to and added to your music profile.

Once you've signed up and downloaded, you can scrobble songs you listen to on your computer or iPod automatically. Start scrobbling yourself, and see what artists you really listen to the most. Songs you listen to will also appear on your profile page for others to see.

Millions of songs are scrobbled every day. This data helps to organise and recommend music to people; we use it to create personalised radio stations, and a lot more besides.

DAAP Music Sharing

If you have ever used iTunes and an iPod on a network, you know that you can listen to other people's music. It's discovered automatically for you. The method by which it is shared is called DAAP, and this plugin allows you to share your music with other iTunes and iPod users. As a side benefit, you also share your music with other DAAP-aware music players, of which there are many on Linux. Go ahead. Share. Your mother and your kindergarten teacher told you to.

Any shared music available on your network will appear in the left-hand pane of Rhythmbox.

Portable Players - iPod

If you have an iPod and would like to play music from it, use this plugin. Many other portables operate as a USB mass storage device and will be automatically recognized if there is a file called .is_audio_player in the portable. Either kind of device will appear in the left-hand pane of Rhythmbox.

Song Lyrics

Rhythmbox can automatically retrieve song lyrics based on the song's name and artist, if known. For those of us that like to spend our time alone, singing to ourselves, this is a blessing. Check the box to enable the plugin, then start playing a song. When you want to look up lyrics, go to View -> Song Lyrics and voila, it will most likely appear. There are some odd times when the data isn't clear enough to retrieve lyrics, but it works amazingly well.

Jamendo Music Store

Jamendo is less picky about the music it puts on line. The quality of material isn't as high as on Magnatune, but the classical is pretty good. A lot of it is French, and most of it is in a foreign language. The upside is that downloads of albums are completely free. If you find something you like, just right click on the song and choose Download Album. Your bittorrent client will start, and you should have the album in five to ten minutes. Leave the client open for as long as possible to help share the load. If your portable player supports OGG Vorbis (or you don't have a player), download in OGG Vorbis format, since the songs are encoded at 300 bps as opposed to the MP3's 200 bps, and OGG sounds better than MP3 even at the same bitrate.


If you want the option to see pretty squigglies on the screen while you listen, check the visualization plugin. Start your hypno-trance by clicking Control -> Visualization.

LIRC Remote Control

If your computer is set up to receive remote control signals, you should enable this plugin so that Rhythmbox starts looking for the remote signals.

Cover Art

Rhythmbox can automatically search the Internet for cover art of the album you're currently playing. Similar in limitation to the Music Lyric plugin, it depends on accurate data about the song and artist. It does pretty well, but you'll get a dud once in a while. The art appears in the lower left corner of the player, which is generally wasted space anyway, so why not use it?



I cant seem to rip cd's into my library in Rythembox. I stick the cd in and it says that it is ripping the music.. but when i go to my library, none of my songs are there!


Yeah, the cd ripper doesn't know where your music library is. The files will appear in your home folder (at the top of the screen, you can click on places, Home Folder to get there). You should see the folders named after the musicians' names in that. There are two things you should probably do:

1) drag the music from the home folder into your music folder. You might have to get to your music folder first, then open another home folder window. While you're at your music folder, you might want to drag it into a blank space (not on top of another icon!) in the "places" section of the file browser. That will make your music collection appear in useful places so you don't have to navigate to it all the time.

2) pop in a cd, or go to (at the top of the screen) Applications, Sound & Video, Sound Juicer CD Extractor. Then, at the top of the Sound Juicer window, click on Edit, Preferences. Then, in the preferences window, the second section of that is called "Music Folder". Select your folder from the box, or, if it's not there, click "Other" and select it in that box.

If you do those two things, 1) the music you've already ripped will show up in your music collection, and 2) music you rip from now on should show up there, too. :-)



Thanks for answering that question, Brian.


Nice tutorial!!
one question.. How to see the radio quality and format? also, put track information on the libnotify popup?



This post is old and you probably know by know, but iTunes *does* have that genre/artist/browser thing, and always has. You toggle it with a keypress; in your screenshot, it is toggled off.

It looks and functions exactly the same way.

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