Why I Got Down

Just after New Years 2013, I lost a computer and gained an epiphany.

I had moved my main desktop over to Windows 8 in October, and was mostly loving the experience. Win8 gave me a new generation of fluid applications, PowerShellV3 built in, and virtualization on every box. Unfortunately moving to Win8 effectively took away my music player.

The built-in music player, Xbox Music, left several things to be desired: It couldn't really manage playlists. It couldn't load my collection. It sorted my collection unimaginatively. More infuriatingly, it hid my own collection behind two screen of marketplace for the eponymous Xbox Music service.

So many things about it just weren't right, that from October to January, I did what most of us do: I let my life worsen as I worked around my technology. I used Remote Desktop to listen to Zune on an older PC. Unfortunately, when that PC died in In January, my workaround no longer worked.

For three days, I worked in relative silence, and that silence gnawed at my psyche. I couldn't use iTunes - it collapsed under the weight of my 30,000+ collection years ago. Zune clearly wouldn't have a presence on Win8, and Xbox Music wasn't enough. My own media had been made useless to me.

How did music players come to this? What was a music lover to do?

For years, we've been watching as the modern media players worsen. We all can see that the modern media player has become a pawn on the chessboard in a game for digital thrones. iTunes is the beachhead for the iOS device ecosystem and it's apps. Xbox Music is the right flank of the Xbox digital entertainment empire. While these are both great companies with great ecosystems, the level of mind paid to making a media player is moderately minimal.

This wouldn't matter if our media didn't mean so much to us, but it does. We all have favorite songs, films, and photos. They help make us who we are. For many of us, they serve as anchors in our memory. Losing these anchors into a deep digital sea due to a subpar user experience isn't just sad for me: it's sad for all of us.

This was the epiphany:

Our lives were all being hurt by mediocre media experiences, and I was completely capable of doing something about it.

Making a media players isn't exactly child's play. They must be fast, fault-tolerant, reliable, and fun. To make matters more difficult, one needs some server side-savvy to make metadata lookup work. Luckily, I've been programming for 23 years. Four of those years were spent building VJ software for use in live video performances I did at nightclubs and bars (I was the guy that controls the gigantic screens you'd see at a show). This set of software savvy is almost exactly what one needs to build a better player. After my years as a VJ, I honed my softwared skills by working at Microsoft for 6 years, opening a software services company (Start-Automating), and writing a web language (Powershell Pipeworks). So I realized that I had the technology to make a better media experience, and that me not trying to scuplt something superior was being silly and self-defeating. If I had the power, why wasn't I using it?

And so I began to chip away at the problem.

First, I realized that there simply no serendepity to a music player. Sorting by recently added or alphabetically accidentally tilts your listening towards the top of a very arbitrary chart. At it's most mundane, you'll end up listening to Alanis Morisette a lot more than ZZ Top. At it's most mean, you'll wonder why your collection seems so bad because you're first exposed to the albums you just bought but barely listening to the albums you've always had. So I created a way to rain down random songs from my collection.

Second, I realized that lyrics were unloved in most music players. While most of us love lyrics, no player I know of shows them simply. So I added automatic lyric lookup.

Third, I realized tagging was tough. So I started storing the lyrics and BPMs I found, and I made it easy to look up and edit song metadata.

While there were thousands of other little things to chip away at, I'm very pleased with what I have sculpted so far.

Gruvity Screenshot

It has helped me discover dozens of songs I barely knew I had, and hundreds of more I hadn't listened in forever.

I've released Gruvity as a free app for Windows 8. Please download it and try it out. May it bring you as much joy as it has brought me. As for me, I'm getting back to work.

Hope this helps,

James Brundage

Founder, Start-Automating