My EMMS and elfeed setup

My EMMS and elfeed setup


This is the current state of my quest to live in Emacs, at least in part of reading RSS and music.

Even before I lost my mind about customizing obscure keyboard-driven software, I tried Inoreader, self-hosted FreshRSS, and then newsboat from the RSS side and ncmpcpp+MPD from the audio player side. At some point, I got curious about whether I can do the same in Emacs.

The respective emacs packages, elfeed and EMMS, proved somewhat tricky to set up, i.e. I had to figure out the source code in both cases. I even submitted a small patch to EMMS to make it parse my MPD library correctly.

But in the end, only extensive customization capacities of Emacs enabled me to make a setup where these parts nicely come together and do more or less exactly what I want. However, this means there are a lot of degrees of freedom involved, so I’ll try to cover the important parts and link to the original sources wherever possible.

I’d call it “workflow”, but the “work” part does not quite catch the point here.


So, we have to start somewhere.

MPD is a server for playing music, although it is usually hosted on the local machine, i.e. the one on which you intend to listen to music. There is bunch of clients available (take a look at ncmpcpp is you like terminal-based apps), but here our point of interest is its integration with EMMS.

While EMMS is capable of playing music without it, MPD has the advantage of being independent of Emacs. That means it won’t close if Emacs crashes and it can be controlled more easily with other means.

MPD configuration is a pretty easy process. First, install MPD and mpc (a minimal MPD CLI client) from your distribution’s package repository. After doing that, you’d have to create a config file at the location ~/.config/mpd/mpd.conf. Mine looks something like this:

music_directory     "~/Music"
playlist_directory  "~/.mpd/playlists"
db_file             "~/.mpd/database"
log_file            "~/.mpd/log"
pid_file            "~/.mpd/pid"
state_file          "~/.mpd/state"
sticker_file        "~/.mpd/sticker.sql"

audio_output {
  type    "pulse"
  name    "My Pulse Output"

Here music_directory is, well, a directory in which MPD will look for music files. Take a look at man mpd.conf and the default config example for more information.

Because MPD is a daemon, it has to be started in order to work. The easiest way is to add mpd to your init system, e.g. with GNU Shepherd:

(define mpd
  (make <service>
    #:provides '(mpd)
    #:respawn? #t
    #:start (make-forkexec-constructor '("mpd" "--no-daemon"))
    #:stop (make-kill-destructor)))

You can also launch mpd manually, as it will daemonize itself by default. To check if MPD is working, run mpc status:

mpc status

Take a look at the official documentation for more information on this subject.

Music directory

The next question after we’ve set up MPD is how to organize the music directory.

MPD itself is not too concerned about the structure of your music_directory, because it uses audio tags to classify the files. However, if you want to have album covers in EMMS, you need to have one folder per one album. Otherwise and in other respects, the structure can be arbitrary.

So we need to tag the audio files. My favorite audio-tagging software is MusicBrainz Picard, which can set tags automatically even if the file has no metadata at all, and move the file automatically according to the configuration. The aforementioned ncmpcpp also has a decent tag editor; finally, there is a simple mutagen-based CLI tool.


EMMS is the Emacs Multimedia System, a package that can get play stuff from various sources using various players. It is a part of Emacs, which means you can use the built-in version, but the git version has a few useful patches, so I advise using the latter.

Install it however you usually install packages in Emacs; I use use-package + straight:

(use-package emms
  :straight t)

Setup & MPD integration

Now we have to configure EMMS. The following expressions have to be executed after EMMS is loaded, which means we can add them to the :config section of the use-package expression above.

First, EMMS exposes a handy function that loads all the stable EMMS features. You can take a look at its source and pick the features you need or load everything like this:

(require 'emms-setup)

Then we need to set up a directory for EMMS files and the required parameters for emms-player-mpd. Note that emms-player-mpd-music-directory should be set to the same value as music_directory in mpd.conf.

(setq emms-source-file-default-directory (expand-file-name "~/Music/"))

(setq emms-player-mpd-server-name "localhost")
(setq emms-player-mpd-server-port "6600")
(setq emms-player-mpd-music-directory "~/Music")

Add the required functions to EMMS lists:

(add-to-list 'emms-info-functions 'emms-info-mpd)
(add-to-list 'emms-player-list 'emms-player-mpd)

Now we can connect EMMS to MPD. For some reason, executing this function stops the MPD playback, but it is not a big issue because it has to be executed only once.


The last thing we may want is to link EMMS playlist clearing to MPD playlist clearing. I’m not sure how this interacts with MPD’s own playlists because I don’t use them, so you may need to watch out here if you do.

(add-hook 'emms-playlist-cleared-hook 'emms-player-mpd-clear)


One rough edge of EMMS & MPD integration is that EMMS and MPD have separate libraries and playlists.

So, first we have to populate the MPD library with M-x emms-player-mpd-update-all. This operation is executed asynchronously by MPD and may take a few minutes for the first run. The subsequent runs are much faster. You can do the same by invoking mpc update from the command line.

Second, we have to populate the EMMS library (cache) from the MPD library. To do that, run M-x emms-cache-set-all-from-mpd. If something went wrong with the EMMS cache, you always can clean it with M-x emms-cache-reset.

After this is done, we can finally play music! To do that, run M-x emms-browser. The left window should have the EMMS browser buffer with the loaded library, the right one should contain (as for now empty) playlist.

In the browser we can use the following commands to add elements to the playlist:

  • M-x emms-browser-toggle-subitems (<tab> in evil, SPC in vanilla) to open/close the element under cursor
  • M-x emms-browser-add-tracks (RET in both styles) to add the element under the cursor to the playlist

Now, we have a few tracks in the EMMS playlist, but they are not in the MPD playlist yet.

In the EMMS playlist buffer, M-x emms-playlist-mode-play-smart (RET) will sync the playlists and start playing the song under the cursor. Also, use

  • M-x emms-playlist-mode-kill-track (D) to remove the element under cursor
  • M-x emms-playlist-clear (C) to clear the playlist. With the hook from the previous section this should also clear the MPD playlist.

Take a look at the EMMS manual for more information, including sections about playlist and browser.

Fetching lyrics

One feature of ncmpcpp I was missing here is fetching lyrics, so I’ve written a small package to do just that.

Debugging the package turned out to be quite funny because apparently, there is no way around parsing HTML with this task. So I’ve chosen as the source, but the site turned out to provide different versions of itself (with different DOMs!) to different users.

At any rate, I’ve processed the cases I found, and it seems to be working, at least for me. To use the package, get the API key from Genius and install it:

(use-package lyrics-fetcher
  :straight t
  :after (emms)
  (setq lyrics-fetcher-genius-access-token
        (password-store-get "My_Online/APIs/")))

To fetch lyrics for the current playing EMMS song, run M-x lyrics-fetcher-show-lyrics. Or run M-x lyrics-fetcher-emms-browser-show-at-point to fetch data for the current point in the EMMS browser. See the package homepage for more information.

Album covers

I’ve mentioned above that EMMS supports displaying album covers.

For this to work, it is necessary to have one album per one folder. By default the cover image should be saved to images named cover_small (100x100 recommended), cover_medium (200x200 recommended) and cover_large. The small version is to be displayed in the EMMS browser, the medium one in the playlist.

It’s not required for images to be exactly of these sizes, but they definitely should be of one size across different albums to look nice in the interface.

You can resize images with ImageMagick with commands like this:

convert cover.jpg -resize 100x100^ -gravity Center -extent 100x100 cover_small.jpg
convert cover.jpg -resize 200x200^ -gravity Center -extent 200x200 cover_medium.jpg

lyrics-fetcher can (try to) do this automatically by downloading the cover from with M-x lyrics-fetcher-emms-browser-fetch-covers-at-point in EMMS browser.

MPV and YouTube

MPV is an extensible media player, which integrates with youtube-dl and is controllable by EMMS, thus quite fitting for this setup.

MPV and youtube-dl

First, install both mpv and youtube-dl from your distribution’s package repository.

Then we can add another player to the list:

(add-to-list 'emms-player-list 'emms-player-mpv t)

EMMS determines which player to use by a regexp. emms-player-mpd sets the default regexp from MPD’s diagnostic output so that regex opens basically everything, including videos, HTTPS links, etc. That is fine if MPD is the only player in EMMS, but as we want to use MPV as well, we need to override the regexes.

MPD regexp can look like this:

(emms-player-set emms-player-mpd
                  "m3u" "ogg" "flac" "mp3" "wav" "mod" "au" "aiff"))

And a regexp for MPV to open videos and youtube URLs:

(emms-player-set emms-player-mpv
                 (rx (or (: "https://" (* nonl) "" (* nonl))
                         (+ (? (or "https://" "http://"))
                            (* nonl)
                            (regexp (eval (emms-player-simple-regexp
                                           "mp4" "mov" "wmv" "webm" "flv" "avi" "mkv")))))))

Then, by default youtube-dl plays the video in the best possible quality, which may be pretty high. To have some control over it, we can modify the --ytdl-format key in the emms-player-mpv-parameters variable. I’ve come up with the following solution:

(setq my/youtube-dl-quality-list

(setq my/default-emms-player-mpv-parameters
      '("--quiet" "--really-quiet" "--no-audio-display"))

(defun my/set-emms-mpd-youtube-quality (quality)
  (interactive "P")
  (unless quality
    (setq quality (completing-read "Quality: " my/youtube-dl-quality-list nil t)))
  (setq emms-player-mpv-parameters
        `(,@my/default-emms-player-mpv-parameters ,(format "--ytdl-format=%s" quality))))

(my/set-emms-mpd-youtube-quality (car my/youtube-dl-quality-list))

Run M-x my/set-emms-mpd-youtube-quality to pick the required quality. Take a look at youtube-dl docs for more information about the format selection.

Now M-x emms-add-url should work on YouTube URLs just fine. Just keep in mind that it will only add the URL to the playlist, not play it right away.

Cleanup EMMS cache

All the added URLs stay in the EMMS cache after being played. We probably don’t want them to remain there, so here is a function to remove URLs from the EMMS cache.

(defun my/emms-cleanup-urls ()
  (let ((keys-to-delete '()))
    (maphash (lambda (key value)
               (when (eq (cdr (assoc 'type value)) 'url)
                 (add-to-list 'keys-to-delete key)))
    (dolist (key keys-to-delete)
      (remhash key emms-cache-db)))
  (setq emms-cache-dirty t))

YouTube RSS

Where to get URLs?

So, we are able to watch YouTube videos by URLs, but where to get URLs from? A natural solution is to use elfeed and RSS feeds.

I’ve tried a bunch of options to get feeds for YouTube channels. The first one is Invidious, a FOSS YouTube frontend. The problem here is that various instances I tried weren’t particularly stable (at least when I was using them) and hosting the thing by myself would be overkill. And switching instances is causing duplicate entries in the Elfeed DB.

The second option is to use YouTube’s own RSS. The feed URL looks like<CHANNEL_ID>=. Here are a couple of options of figuring out CHANNEL_ID in case it’s not easily available. The problem with YouTube RSS is that it uses fields that are not supported by elfeed, so the feed entry lacks a preview and description.

As my workaround, I’ve written a small web-server which converts an RSS feed from YouTube to an elfeed-compatible Atom feed. It doesn’t do much, so you can just download the thing and launch it:

git clone
cd ./yt-rss
pip install -r requirements.txt
gunicorn main:app

A feed for a particular channel will be available at


where <token> is set in .env file to the default value of 12345.


Elfeed is an Emacs Atom & RSS reader. It’s a pretty popular package with lots of information written over the years, so I’ll cover just my particular setup.

My elfeed config, sans keybindings, looks like this:

(use-package elfeed
  :straight t
  :commands (elfeed)
  (setq elfeed-db-directory "~/.elfeed")
  (setq elfeed-enclosure-default-dir (expand-file-name "~/Downloads"))
  (advice-add #'elfeed-insert-html
              (lambda (fun &rest r)
                (let ((shr-use-fonts nil))
                  (apply fun r)))))

The advice there forces elfeed to use monospace fonts in the show buffer.

I also use elfeed-org, which gives an option to store the feed config in an .org file instead of a variable:

(use-package elfeed-org
  :straight t
  :after (elfeed)
  (setq rmh-elfeed-org-files '("~/.emacs.d/"))

So, however you’ve got URLs for YouTube channels, put them into elfeed.

To fetch the feeds, open elfeed with M-x elfeed and run M-x elfeed-search-fetch in the search buffer. And as usual, take a look at the package documentation for more information.

To help with navigating through the long list of entries, I’ve made the following function to narrow the search buffer to the feed of the entry under cursor:

(defun my/elfeed-search-filter-source (entry)
  "Filter elfeed search buffer by the feed under cursor."
  (interactive (list (elfeed-search-selected :ignore-region)))
  (when (elfeed-entry-p entry)
      "@6-months-ago "
      "+unread "
       (rx "?" (* not-newline) eos)
       (elfeed-feed-url (elfeed-entry-feed entry)))))))

So I mostly alternate between M-x my/elfeed-search-filter-source and M-x elfeed-search-clear-filter. I tag the entries which I want to watch later with +later, and add the ones I want to watch right now to the playlist.

Integrating with EMMS

Finally, here’s the solution I came up with to add an entry from elfeed to the EMMS playlist. First, we’ve got to get a URL:

(defun my/get-youtube-url (link)
  (let ((watch-id (cadr
                   (assoc "watch?v"
                             (url-generic-parse-url link))
    (concat "" watch-id)))

This function is intended to work with both Invidious and YouTube RSS feeds. Of course, it will require some adaptation if you want to watch channels from something like PeerTube or Odysee.

The easiest way to put the URL to the playlist is to define a new source for EMMS:

(define-emms-source elfeed (entry)
    (let ((track (emms-track
                  'url (my/get-youtube-url (elfeed-entry-link entry)))))
      (emms-track-set track 'info-title (elfeed-entry-title entry))
      (emms-playlist-insert-track track)))

Because define-emms-source is an EMMS macro, the code block above has to be evaluated with EMMS loaded. E.g. you can wrap it into (with-eval-after-load 'emms ...) or put in the :config section.

The macro defines a bunch of functions to work with the source, which we can use in another function:

(defun my/elfeed-add-emms-youtube ()
  (emms-add-elfeed elfeed-show-entry)
  (elfeed-tag elfeed-show-entry 'watched)

Now, calling M-x my/elfeed-add-emms-youtube in the *elfeed-show* buffer will add the correct URL to the playlist and tag the entry with +watched. I’ve bound the function to gm.