Genre: separating your 'epic doom metal' from your 'free funk jazz'

Here's a sample of the genres currently reported in my music library:

Alt. Rock
Alternative Pop
Alternative & Punk
Alternative Rap
Ambient Pop, Space Rock
Art Rock
Dance & DJ
Dance Hall
Drum & Bass
Easy Listening
Electronica & Dance
General Jazz

Hopefully it's clear that genres here are, well, a mess. If I want to browse my collection of electronica I not only need to view the albums in the 'Electronic' genre but also those in 'Electronica & Dance', 'Electropop', 'Electro' and more... and that's ignoring 'General'!

Poorly categorised genres make it more difficult to select the music you want to play.

There are many reasons why the list above makes life difficult.

The 'I give up' and 'just plain wrong' problems

These are albums and tracks that are just incorrectly tagged, or tagged so generally as to make the tag meaningless. This can occur when the tags are looked up from a public database with incorrect data.

It is common for community created music databases to have incorrect genre information, and these mistakes end up in your music library.

There isn't much of an excuse for this; the genre, simply, should at least vaguely describe the style of music.

The 'hip hop' or 'acid-dubstep-revival' problems

Genres often appear at wildly varying levels of detail. Most music genres have sub genres, sub-sub genres and... you get the picture.

Now this isn't 'wrong' per se, but it does make your music collection more difficult to browse and it does look plain ugly.

Genres populated from community databases have inconsistent levels of detail.

Typically I find myself wanting different levels of granularity at different times; it entirely depends on what I want to listen to. Thus, while having very general genres such as 'rock', 'pop', 'classical' and so on may look tidier, they don't provide the detail you sometimes need.

A further improvement rarely found in automatically tagged music is to specify multiple genres. The approach to this depends on your music player of choice and the underlying file formats being used to store the music. When a piece of music is tagged both with a general and a specific genre it means you can both browse for general and specific styles.

Using rules to gain control over genres

To gain a correct and consistent view of your music collection it is important to use both an authoritative source and to specify a consistent level of detail to be applied across your collection.

Authoritative, reviewed sources are available such as allmusic and MusicBrainz, both of which have more accurate data than the other commonly used databases such as CDDB and FreeDB. Furthermore, allmusic offers a comprehensive genre tree which, ideally, one could adopt to categorise their library.

Once you have decided how you want genres to appear, its time to put this into action. This is where you realise you have 10,000 tracks to tag, and you better get each one right. Best put the coffee on, it's going to be a long night!

Using authoritative sources for music information should be enforced via rules over your entire library, because editing the music directly is both tiresome and prone to mistakes.
tags: genre
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The Music Library Management blog

Dan Gravell

I'm Dan, the founder and programmer of bliss. I write bliss to solve my own problems with my digital music collection.