Tagging your music for Christmas

Sing us a song

It's about this time that the thoughts of a music lover turn to Christmas playlists! Whether it's party music for visitors, music to accompany children's frenetic unwrapping or just some music to relax to with a glass of mulled wine, music can really help capture the Christmas mood.

Luckily for computer audio enthusiasts, music tagging provides a powerful way of being able to search, categorise and shortlist candidate music for Christmas playlists.

So how best to categorise your music library so that it's easy to find your Christmas music?

A manual approach

The first way, that I still employ (mainly as I only have to do this once a year), is to look for full albums that satisfy the following criteria:

  • Has a genre of Christmas, Festive or Holiday
  • Has a title with the word christmas

I then store all of these albums as 'favourites' in my music player in Squeezebox Server. Squeezebox Server allows all of these albums to be stored under a 'Christmas' folder to keep things nice and tidy.

Another option is to create a playlist of these tracks, but I find having them separated and still accessible as individual releases allows me more flexibility in choosing music to play.

This works ok once per year... it only takes a few minutes to put together. However I do occasionally miss out albums, and the wife does her own sweep each year of music she wants played during the Christmas period. So if you were categorising music by Christmas, Easter, birthdays or some other occasion, and more regularly, what would be the most efficient way of tagging your music collection?

Using genre

A quick and dirty solution is to tag the name of the occasion into the GENRE tag inside your music files. It appears this is quite a common approach, and it works in limited situations. Once this is done, you can simply browse your music by genre, select the Christmas genre and there's your music.

The first drawback of this approach is that, in most cases, a track isn't really of the 'Christmas' genre. Most tracks are of a different genre, say 'Pop' or 'Choral' on the theme of Christmas. This becomes a practical problem when you want to be able to find this music by a different genre.

Multiple genre tagging provides a solution, but some music players don't support it. And even if they do, Christmas's arguably still not a genre.

If you are forced into single genres, another reason that you will want to retain the actual genre of a track is if you wanted to create playlists for certain Christmas events. For example, you could create party music by filtering the Christmas albums you have by those with a genre of Pop. If, however, you are forced to use the genre to store only Christmas, this option won't be available to you.

So what other options are there?

Different tags

The underlying issue here is that there is no well-defined way to associate an occasion with a given music file. Unlike genre, year of release, associated artwork etc, there's no standard tag. So, the alternative is to create your own.

While we're at it, let's generalise. Rather than tagging just the Christmas tracks, let's adopt a scheme that'll allow us to do the same for Easter, Eid, Halloween, kids' birthday parties and whatever other celebration you can think of.

It's instructive to look at how music players handle this. MediaMonkey allows an OCCASION tag. As you can see on the above link, any such tag, as well as any user-defined tag you create yourself, is non-standard. For you to be able to see the tag values in your music player depends on whether your music player will show user-defined tags. Many won't.

Creating your own user defined tag is a two stage process. First, you decide what it should be called, or more specifically: what the field name should be. Second, you populate the field for each music file with the desired value.

Deciding on the field name is inspired partly by the underlying tagging technology. This is most simple for FLAC, OGG and WMA formats, which all allow a simple textual descriptor of the tag. For these use OCCASION.

MP4 (.m4b, m4p et al) is slightly more complicated. In standard MP4 'atoms' (tag fields) you can only have a four character name. Therefore, OCCASION could be truncated to simply occa (as suggested by MediaMonkey)

The most complicated is ID3, as used in MP3. I would suggest using the TXXX field. Here, you augment 'TXXX' with the name of your data. For example: TXXX:OCCASION.

Once you have the field names decided, the not-insignificant task of filling them in begins. You could adopt the rules I outlined in the manual process to auto fill using a manual music tagger. Most allow bulk operations to fill in tags. So, where the following is true:

  • Has a genre of Christmas, Festive or Holiday
  • Has a title with the word christmas
  • Is an MP3 file

Do the following:

  • Add TXXX:OCCASION=Christmas

I hope this gives you some good ideas for organising your music for Christmas. Have a wondering Christmas period!

Thanks to flickr./com/photos/amanda_munoz for the image above.
tags: tags genre playlist christmas
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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.