What's your Various Artists tag?

The Marching Band

Various Artists releases are two-a-penny. They are mostly compilation releases ranging from pop music collections (e.g. the famous Now That's What I Call Music series in the UK) to the highest of the highbrow. What distinguishes these types of releases is that there is no one artist identified as being the artist for the release as a whole. There can be artists identifiable for the individual tracks, but not the entire release.

So if such releases are common, it stands to reason that you will have a few Various Artists releases in your music library. And, as such, you want those releases to be easily searchable so you can easily add these releases to your playlists when you want to listen to them.

Problems with Various Artists variations

But here lie problems, similar to those of artist canonicalisation. Whereas artist canonicalisation is chiefly concerned with making sure we get the same standardised spellings of an artist name, here we become concerned with standardising the "Various Artists" title.

In my own music library, I have 27 albums listed under Various Artists and 30 under Various. To select either album via an artist I need to first select the correct variety of "Various Artists", but I'm unlikely to know that in advance. Furthermore, the albums are separated when I'd rather have them grouped. Both of these problems make browsing and selecting music more difficult than it needs to be.

So what should it be: "Various Artists" or "Various"?

Deciding the correct Various Artists naming

It appears I can be forgiven for my indecisiveness. I took a quick survey of some of the larger online music databases, to see what naming they adopt:

Database "Various Artists" text
MusicBrainz Various Artists
Discogs Various
Wikipedia [none]
FreeDB Various
Rate Your Music Various Artists

So there is no commonly accepted way!

Therefore, it comes down to personal choice. Personally, I prefer the verbosity of "Various Artists", and so that's what I'll use to re-organise my compilations by.

Tagging best practices

Once you've chosen how you want to represent Various Artist releases, what's the best way of tagging your music files?

It comes down to your track artist and album artist tags. The ideal setup to maximise the richness of your collection's metadata, and therefore its searchability, browsability and all-round usability, is to store the track artist in each track artist field, for each track, and then your choice of "Various Artists" style in the album artist field.

In some cases it's not possible to find the information on individual track artists. In these cases, I advise duplicating the "Various Artists" format in both the album artist AND the track artist fields in each track. This aids future portability because, in some music software, album artist is not supported.

bliss and Various Artists

This seems like a good idea for a rule in bliss. One thing I'm wondering, though, is how music collectors in different countries with different languages store this information. Maybe there isn't even a related problem in other languages. Any advice on this? Add it to the comments!

Thanks to Kevin Dooley for the image above.
tags: various artists various compilations tagging databases
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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.