Soulseek is a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing network and application. The term Soulseek might refer to one of the two networks, or one of the three official user client interfaces. Soulseek is used mostly to exchange music, although users are able to share a variety of files. Soulseek was created by Nir Arbel, an Israeli programmer from Safed.
Two independent networks have made up Soulseek since 2006, both run by the same management. The older and now the less used one is accessed by Soulseek client 156; the newer network and one with greatest usage is accessed by Soulseek client 157 (Windows only) or SoulseekQt (Microsoft Windows, macOS, or Linux platforms). There are reportedly five times more users on the network accessed by clients 157/Qt than 156 as of August 2011.
New developments are solely on the SoulseekQt client interface. Work on Client 157 (Windows only) stopped in 2008. SoulseekQt has somewhat different functionality compared to the 157 client interface.
The original Soulseek user base around 2000 was composed mostly of members of the IDM mailing list, and most of the music first found on Soulseek was underground electronic music or music created by the users themselves. Aided by Soulseek users, the developer Nir Arbel released new versions of the client very frequently, in response to user requests for new features or bug fixes.
There is no known published usage data. Soulseek got a first boost in 2001 when Napster was closed down and then a second boost in 2002 when the site Audiogalaxy was closed down. Nir Arbel stated in an interview published December 26, 2003 that there were, at that time, over a million registered usernames and that 80,000–100,000 users log on during peak hours. The increase in Soulseek users after the shutdown of Audiogalaxy was plainly evident from a before-and-after comparison of chat room populations. Before the shutdown of its competitor, Soulseek's most-joined chat rooms averaged 50 or so people. After the shutdown, the population of these chat rooms increased to 100 or more.
As a peer to peer (P2P) file sharing program, the accessible content is determined by the users of the Soulseek client, and what files they choose to share. The network has historically had a diverse mix of music, including underground and independent artists, unreleased music, such as demos and mixtapes, bootlegs, live tracks, and live DJ sets, but releases from major and independent labels can also be found.
Users can search for items; the results returned being a list of files whose names match the search term used. Searches may be explicit or may use wildcards/patterns or terms to be excluded. For example, searching for blue suede -shoes will return a list of files whose names containing the strings blue and suede, but files containing the string shoes in their names will be excluded.
A feature specific to the Soulseek search engine is the inclusion of the folder names and file paths in the search list. This allows users to search by folder name. For example, typing in experimental will return all the files that are contained in folders having that name, providing quick access to bands and albums in a determined musical genre.
The list of search results shows details, such as the full name and path of the file, its size, the user who is hosting the file, together with that users' average transfer rate, and brief details about the encoded track itself, such as bit rate, length, etc. The resulting search list may then be sorted in a variety of ways and individual files (or folders) chosen for download.
The Soulseek protocol search algorithms are not published, as those algorithms run on the server.
Soulseek is more of a community than a simple file sharing client. In Soulseek, users can connect with other users with similar music tastes to share files and to chat. Users even have the ability to create their own chat rooms and invite other users with similar tastes to discuss their favorite music. Many musicians from the electronic scene are themselves too part of this Soulseek community. In summer 2004, Soulseek users from all the world met in Augsburg, Germany. Every year since then, that meeting still takes place at a digital arts festival called Lab30 (30 being the street number of the Abraxas Theater) in Augsburg, Germany, organized by longtime Soulseek user Manfred Genther and other Augsburg locals. This festival focuses on showcasing digital musicians, digital artists, and netlabels from all over the world. Many Soulseek artists have performed at the festival, and a large number of them have performed live for the very first time there. Lab30 has steadily grown in size since the first event and continues to be a meeting place for the musicians and users of Soulseek. Attendees usually come from all over Europe and the United States. Lab30 is a well known event in Augsburg and widely supported and cherished by the Augsburg music and art scene.
Soulseek is entirely financed by donations, with no advertising or user fees. Nir Arbel writes, as of July 1, 2008:
I would also like to take this opportunity to address some of the lies that have been spread about our lifestyle and the money we make off Soulseek. We live from hand to mouth. A few months ago we had to let go of sierracat, our system admin, despite his excellent work, because we could no longer afford his services. We are pretty heavily in debt. We are fighting a legal battle in France. We are not poor nor starving, but neither of us drives a fancy car nor could we begin to afford one if we wanted to. I don't like discussing money issues, but I feel it necessary to defend ourselves from accusations that are, and have always been, patently untrue. With that, I would like to thank you all for using Soulseek and making it a significant, if not hugely popular or successful, experience. Thanks.
Official website Soulseek
P2P: Soul Seek Reviewed.
March 6, 2003