The trouble with classical...

The challenge begins day 1/5

I recently enjoyed a discussion with a user of bliss, where he described what he saw as the problems with classical music tagging. These boil down to problems discussed elsewhere on this blog, but his visualisation of the problems really hit home.

The user in question laid out a sample table of tags:

Composer Title of Composition Label Orchestra Conductor
Johann Sebastian Bach Brandenburgische Konzerte Deutche Grammaphon Resonance Festival Strings Lucerne Rudulf Baumgartner
Bach The Brandenburg Concertos Deutche Grammaphon Berliner Philharmoniker Herbert von Karajan
Bach Brandenburg Concertos Seraphim Bath Festival Orchestra Yehudi Menuhin

The first thing I notice is variation inside the columns. The composer column stands out instantly, with the two discrete values "Johann Sebastian Bach" and "Bach". One can imagine further developments of this composer's name that could be used. What this means is that you will have multiple entries for this composer inside your music player, making browsing and searching for his music more difficult.

Another variation is language. Do you go for the original language used by the release, in the case of the Deutsche Grammapon label's Brandenburg Concertos? Or do you attempt to have all of the releases retaining the same language?

More fundamental than these concerns is how your music player actually displays this data. The tagging standards for music files and the music players that depend upon these tagging standards both have a bent toward more popular music forms, in particular the typical artist/album/track granularity assumed of the typical popular music release. Compare that with composers/performers/conductors/soloists and works/movements common to classical releases and you can see two instant problems: there's not enough space for all this data and the semantics of the data itself differ.

One final consideration. On first glimpse you may be tempted to read each row as a file. And, if you do, you can instantly see all the problems I've described above, to the extent that individual tracks may be split up inside your music player. In actual fact, these rows are per-release, but the same problems occur even if you regard one row as the shared tags among a set of files, comprising a release. Arguably, those kind of problems are probably more prevalent in that case.

Where does that leave us? For now, there are no easy answers. As your choice of music player(s) is the most important determinant of what is possible, try to choose one that allows classical music concepts to be displayed, and stored in the correct tag field.

Thanks to Nina Matthews Photography for the image above.
tags: classical tags consistency composer
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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.