Are composers artists?

practice

A philosophical question today, to which the answer to any non-computer-music fanatic would be an obvious er.... of course!

Mention 'artist' to anyone who's organised a digital music library, however, and they might begin to bore you with the minutiae of identifying and tagging different involved artists for a given piece of music, the difference between album artist and track artist and how different music players support different tags in different ways. Underlying computer audio tagging are the de facto tagging standards that have emerged over the last decade-and-a-half. Unfortunately they have emerged with classical music very much an afterthought.

You see, 'artist' means something special to computer music collectors. To organise a music collection and make it navigable by, say, the performer of a particular piece of music, you must use the Artist tag. By tagging, for instance, "The Beatles" as the Artist for Hello Goodbye and all of the tracks in Magical Mystery Tour you will be able to browse The Beatles in your music collection and find those albums and tracks.

The Artist tag, along with Track name, Track position and Album name, is one of the most important tags, the lowest common denominator that every music player supports.

Thankfully, most music purchased online or ripped from CD already has these tags. Apart from correcting mistakes or inconsistencies your music player should read them and you're good-to-go.

Classical dilemmas

For classical music, it's not so straightforward. The trouble is that with classical there are far more involved persons that you may want to include in your metadata. For starters there's the composer of the piece. Then, there's the performers, conductors and soloists. Classical music lovers tend to want to include all of this information in their music because they like to choose music based on the orchestra that performed it or a particular soloist, maybe because of the performer's exuberant or calm style.

This means we need more fields to accept more information. The good news is: these fields exist! For ID3v2.3, the most common tagging format, there are some special fields defined for classical music:

Tag Use
TCOM Composer
TPE1 Lead performer(s)/Soloist(s)
TPE2 Band/orchestra/accompaniment
TPE3 Conductor/performer refinement

Other tag formats define similar fields.

Great! Only, it's not that simple. As usual, the watch-phrase is music player compatibility. See TPE1 in the table above? That's the formal name for the Artist tag. So, if you go ahead and place all your composers in TCOM and all the soloists in TPE1 your classical music collection will only look as you intended if your music player supports these tags and allows you to browse, for example, by composer. If it doesn't, you'll likely see only the soloists when you browse by artist.

So... what to do?

It you have a music player that supports all of these tags you can go ahead and use them. Just make sure all of your music players support them, including your smartphone and other players you use around the house.

All to often, because music players support different tags, you will have to adopt a lowest common denominator approach to choose which data goes where.

Personally, I tend to browse classical music by composer. This maybe because I'm a classical music newbie, and I just don't own many recordings, but I tend to browse by style and musical movement. If I fancy something minimalist I go for more modern composers. Something more in-your-face... then it's Wagner. For this reason I tag composers as artists in my music collection. This makes browsing classical music with any music player easy.

Once you've decided on your tagging scheme for classical composers, then it's time to break out the music tagger. There's definitely scope for automated rules for bliss to accomplish the above, so post an idea on the bliss ideas forum... if it gets enough support it will be implemented!

Thanks to nosha for the image above.
tags: classical artist tagging
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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.