Album name? Think 'release name'.

The New Explore

Music metadata, and the 'tags' in music files in which they are stored, make up the underpinnings of your music library. It's these metadata that dictate how your music collection is structured, how it can be browsed and how searchable it is. Metadata of differing types (album name, artist name, track number and so on) need to be stored with a descriptor indicating the type of the data so that your music player knows how to interpret each piece of metadata.

This means that these descriptors that describe each piece of metadata (meta-metadata? sorry!) should be commonly named. For instance, it's accepted that a track number in ID3v2.x is called TRCK. The equivalent for FLAC is TRACKNUMBER. So, all files with an ID3 tag will have their TRCK data in the track number column alongside all data in FLAC files with a TRACKNUMBER tag.

I often comment that there are few formal specifications for music file tag names. ID3 (used in MP3 files) is actually an attempt to sit down and write up all of the field names. However, sometimes, even though such specifications do exist, I think they get it a little wrong. Ladies and gentleman, I present: the album name tag.


Here's how the TALB field is described in the ID3v2.3.0 spec (this also applies to the refined, more recent but less used v2.4.0 of the spec):

TALB Album/Movie/Show title
The 'Album/Movie/Show title' frame is intended for the title of the recording(/source of sound) which the audio in the file is taken from.

Now, there are a number of things wrong with this definition. On the plus side, it indicates an acceptance that the audio may come from sources other than a conventional music album.

However, the notion that the surrounding work (let's, just for a second, call it an album) could be defined as a recording is pretty bizarre; there aren't many albums recorded all the way through in one take... live albums aside. Source of sound is a better attempt but it's too generic; various parts of my body are a "source of sound" but I wouldn't tag them in the TALB field. No, the worst part of the spec is the use of the word album.

'Album' can mean several things, but here in the UK it's generally meant to refer to a long player and, occasionally, EPs. Indeed, the official rules for album chart elegibility state that albums must be greater than four tracks or longer than 25 minutes in running time. This means, were the specification applied rigorously, TALB could become pretty useless for any track not in an "album".

That's not just singles and the like... consider classical releases. Many classical releases can be considered compilations and are built around a specific composer, some around a theme and some featuring a particular performer. None of these particularly translate to the meaning of "album" in contemporary terms, although some contemporary classical composer/performers such as Einaudi do release what would be termed "albums".

Thankfully, the TALB field applied in a much more lenient fashion, and rather than spawning multiple tag fields for different types of musical release - "promo", "single", "demo" and so on - the names of those releases are simply placed in the TALB field instead.

Think release name, not album name

I started using the word "release" in that last paragraph. That, I think, is the best way of describing the data commonly stored in the TALB tag. "Release" encompasses singles, albums, compilations and more. I don't think it need be constrained to only "offical" releases; bootleg releases can be covered too.

Not only does this cover all types of contemporary releases, other musical forms such as classical are covered too.

So when you see "album" tags, think "release"!

Thanks to Kevin Dooley for the image above.
tags: tags classical
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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.