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Zach Saucier's thoughts


My pre-Subsonic era

Remember the days when all the music you owned was on some hardware in your home (computer, iPod Shuffle, CD, etc.)? Before streaming was the norm every person had to be their own music curator.

I never stopped doing that. I’ve always had music that was not on every streaming services: music from NewGrounds, music I made, custom edits of others’ music (mostly just cutting out sections of songs), or music that are only available on one streaming service. This made me never want to transition to streaming services as the primary way that I listened to my own music.

For a while I used Google Play Music’s (now YouTube Music’s) music uploading service. It allows you to upload a ton of music from your computer and listen to it remotely through their app.

However, Google Play / YouTube Music falls short in regards to sharing your playlist with others. Since it’s music you uploaded and they don’t have the rights, Google doesn’t let people other than you listen to the playlists (or music files) that you have uploaded.

To try and remedy this, I wrote a script to scrape my playlists and create tracklists. I experimented with ways of generating playlists from these tracklists in services like YouTube and Spotify. However, nothing really did a great job and there were always missing tracks.

I put up with this for a while but eventually wanted a better solution.

Enter Subsonic

Subsonic is an old, unmaintained, and buggy personal media streamer. However, there’s not really a lot of personal media servers out there that emphasize music (not video) streaming. So I tried it out.

I was able to add my music without issue. I got my music playlists working without too much effort by formatting the tracklists in m3u format then importing them.

My streaming needs from other devices were covered as there are a good many apps (I use iSub on my phone) that support streaming from a premium Subsonic server. Subsonic even supports streaming to the Sonos app!

Sharing was also covered. Subsonic lets you have user accounts, each with their own login. For the first year I shared my playlists with people this way.

Recently I found out that there’s an even better way of sharing a playlist with Subsonic: you can create a “Share” view of a playlist that doesn’t require any authentication! So now I can make a link for a friend to listen to my playlist and share it with them and they can access it instantly. Pretty sweet.

And with that, all of my core needs are covered.

The negatives of Subsonic

Subsonic is far from a perfect product. But thankfully since it is self-hosted I can fix little things myself.

For example, the default playlist section gets too small when you un-hover it. When it’s this small, it’s tough to add a song to a playlist. Thankfully that’s an easy code change!

I also made changes to improve the trackbar to make it easier to click, drag along, and see.

There’s a lot of other UI changes I would make if I were designing this app, but to be honest it’s good enough.

The biggest problem I’ve had with Subsonic

The most major issue I’ve had with Subsonic happens when my computer crashes, which it does fairly often due to some serious overheating issues. One time after restarting my computer and navigating to the Subsonic web app, I found a generic 503 error. I looked into the logs (for me that’s within the C:\Program Files (x86)\Subsonic\log\ directory) and found that it was due to an “out of memory” exception when creating the database. This surprised me given how little RAM Subsonic is supposed to use!

After poking around for a while I found that when my computer crashes and Subsonic is closed unexpectedly, it massively bloats the (for me that’s within C:\subsonic\db\ — notice that it’s a different path than the one before). Others have ran into this issue and at least one person fixed it by trimming down the .data file itself but I couldn’t get that approach working due to null values.

The first time this issue happened I was able to fix it by just bumping up the max amount of RAM Subsonic used. The second time it happened I couldn’t fix it by further increasing the max RAM. When this happened a third time, the error I was receiving was different: It was complaining about NUL values.

The solution: doing a clean reinstall

A clean reinstalling fixes all of these issues. It’s now what I do anytime Subsonic fails to startup, which is a little annoying, but with practice you can get going again in a few minutes.

Note: Before you carry out the steps below, I highly recommend backing up your file from within the subsonic directory and all of your playlists! I made a script to download all playlists that you have, just make sure the number of playlists is changed to ID number of the most recent playlist that have.

To do a clean reinstall make sure to delete both the Subsonic application directory (for me that was C:\Program Files (x86)\Subsonic\) and the Subsonic personal directory (for me that was C:\subsonic\). Install using whatever means of installing Subsonic, add your file back to the subsonic directory, and then upload your playlists.

Pro tips for importing playlists more quickly: In subsonic\jetty\0cfa60\webapp\WEB-INF\jsp\importPlaylist.jsp, add style="width:500px;height:500px;" to the input with the type of file to make the drag area larger. You can also navigate directly to the http://localhost:4040/importPlaylist.view to prevent Subsonic from navigating to the playlist that you imported each time!

Where I stand with Subsonic

I bought the unlimited Premium package. Sure Subsonic has its issues but it solves more important issues that other platforms don’t solve for me. Thankfully the code is also fairly easy to make minor tweaks to.

Is there room for a better product in this space? Definitely. But I’m happy with Subsonic until I hear about something better for my use case.