The Epic Fail of Music Syncing under Linux

Ouch. Ask a silly question, get a ridiculous answer.

I have, as has been noted before, a Motorola Droid X. Mostly, I use Grooveshark, Slacker, and Pandora for my music needs, but I do have 5000+ songs on a server at home. On my desktop (wherever I might be) I access those songs via Ampache, streaming as I need them.

To sync some songs with my Droid, I turned to the wonderful Media Monkey, under Windows. The Monkey is a truly awesome piece of software; the kids and I have used it forever to sync music into various MP3 players. Always works. Edits tags with ease. Displays none of iTunes despicable bloat. Doesn’t crash. Handles a network music collection with aplomb. My oldest daughter goes to sleep to a playlist in Media Monkey!

I’ve used MM for so long, on so many different little players, of course it was where I turned first for my Droid.

Trivial. Plug in with Mass Storage mode, configure the directories for Music and Playlists, boom, works.

I promptly forgot about it. I don’t sync that often. Local content is music of last resort for me.

Until this weekend, when I was recovering from my Number One Daughter’s ten-girl sleepover. Traumatic events prompt the strangest questions.

In this case I asked, “Surely I can sync my playlists and music from Linux, right?”

What a silly answer…

I went through three major players and a fourth, lesser contender.

On track to be the default music player in Ubuntu, Banshee swallowed the networked collection (presented as a SSHFS mount point) with no problem. Created playlists. Saw the Droid!

Would only sync one playlist. Oh Bog, why do you torment me?

Really. One playlist. WTF? Little did I know that that was as close as I would get….

The current default player in Ubuntu, RythmBox managed to grab my networked collection okay, though it gave the impression it was importing the music files somewhere else, which was scary. Plus, around 2500 files in, it crashed completely.

To get it to recognize my Droid as a mass storage device, I had to create a file in the root directory of my SD Card. Really. Magic! (The file in question is “.is_audio_player”). This does nothing, really, except make the Droid a place you can fling MP3 files willy-nilly. Not sync, just in-application copying.

That’s a fail.

Running Amarok under Gnome is sketchy. You always feel like things are going to fly apart at any second. Plus it is part of the whole KDE4 wave, which drove me away from KDE in the end.

Amarok was happy to swallow the music collection. Fast too.

But, again, no real syncing. I couldn’t even get it to really give me a list of devices to configure. I suspect that it needs more of KDE’s framework to work correctly, but, you know, that’s not my problem.

And wow, what a contra-iTunes interface. Designed with the principal of Maximal Surprise, a trusted maxim of user interface design. Not sure I could live with it anyhow.


As a flyer, I took a shot at Exaile; which is small, fast, liked the music collection, but never saw the Droid, despite having a Device Configuration screen that made me hope. Sad face.

And so…
I’ve rebooted to Windows, rescanned my library (mounted via ExpanDrive/ssh), and re-synced. In less time than it took to tell you about it.

Perhaps I missed something obvious (always a possibility with Linux). I don’t really have time to futz with it anymore. I choose to view it as an experiment that didn’t pan out — that happens. But it is such a solved problem under Windows (Media Monkey is far from the only player that handles mass storage devices easily), and seems so straightforward, that you wonder just what is the problem? Why so hard? (Common Linux Refrain #7. On the other hand, I remember when auto-mounting mass storage devices was hard, so I have hope. Just not time.)

My only regret is that I didn’t try the developer build of Songbird for Linux. I just plum ran out of time.

The State of Linux Media Player Sync Support: Total Suck.

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7 Comments on “The Epic Fail of Music Syncing under Linux”

  1. Joe Says:

    So true. But I also have an ipod touch that for whatever reasons has songs disappear on it and on itunes even though the actual files are still on the hard drive on the computer in the same itunes music folder.

    Go fig. YMMV.

  2. Salsa Doom Says:

    Such an annoying issue. You’d think this should actually be something very simple. Make a playlist, copy it and any files needed to the music folder. But your spot on here, none of that works in Linux. You actually got farther than I did with my Android and Banshee — it won’t detect my phone even with messing around with the .is_audio_player file.

  3. Dave H. Says:

    I got the detect to work right away after creating the .is_audio_player file (which is still a little bit embarrasing for Linux to require you to edit a text file on your phone!). But once I got that working, the experience was as disappointing as you described.

  4. Alessandro Says:

    With RhythmBox you can sync all your playlist with usb device
    It works great!!!

  5. Richard Says:

    In Banshee, if you create a smart playlist which contains all your music (using a filter such as ‘size of file is not 0 bytes’) and synch this with your droid, it will not only copy all the files over but seems to do the playlists as well. Obviously you end up with a playlist with all your songs in it as well, but it does solve your problem!

  6. I’m with you on this one. I recently got my first Android device after being a LONG time user of apple/ipod/iphones. I wanted to be able to sync AND transcode. Seems to be impossible on Linux.

    I have found that you can copy a playlist in banshee to a local directory, and sync that with the android, by btsync if you really wanted to make it fun. Still a pain. I’ll stick to an ipod on windows. It “just works”

  7. Eric Says:

    yea, I had stopped using Linux 3 years ago for this reason. I thought it would be much improved now, but now that Android has moved to using MTP only, it seems like the Linux players (Banshee, Rhythmbox, Clementine) cannot sync music and playlists again. So it seems that I have to stop my linux experiment again at this stage. I guess I have to choose a cloud music service if I want my linux music experience to be painless.

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