From the mailbag: classical tagging

Vintage mail bag at the Postal Museum

I get quite a lot of email discussing tagging and general music organisational tasks to the mailbox. It struck me that it would be a good idea to repeat some of the advice and thoughts I offer via email through the blog.

This week, an email I received about classical music tagging:

So, like everyone else on the planet, my experience of migrating to digital music has been marred by the whole tagging experience. This is annoying if your musical tastes are mainstream, where album tagging occasionally goes AWOL, but for classical music (for instance), it’s just a shambles. Partly this is because there’s a smaller population of people who have downloaded the album and tagged it into the online tagging databases, but mostly it’s because no-one has any idea how to tag classical music consistently. Artist != composer, which is a lot of the problem.

The correspondent is certainly not the only one to highlight the issues of classical tagging! The way you might like to record metadata such as composer, conductor, performers, orchestra etc were just not particularly thought through for music file metadata standards. There's a separate issue too in that the way that data fields are completed is often unhelpful.

Fundamental to this, can composers be considered artists? To an extent I've found that it's easiest to 'get over' using composers as artists. In some cases, if a music player only supports artists then it might be the easiest way to navigate your music (if you happen to choose by composer rather than, say, performer).

The correspondent continues:

Plus; classical tracks have a peculiarity in that the first x characters (where x is a surprisingly large number) of each track in an album are often the same, leading to the sort of result that I’ve attached here [see left], from the Google Android Play music app. That’s a really common situation. Pick a track. There’s no way of knowing what any of tracks are and there’s no player functionality to see the rest of the text in the tag.

The Beethoven example supplied is an interesting one because it displays the lack of support for the 'structure' of classical releases. Pop music releases are generally simple: an album contains a set of tracks. With classical releases you often get multiple larger works within the release, which then themselves contain movements etc.

In theory, massaging the tags is possible to get the best experience. Maybe the concept of 'release' is not so important in classical music, and the performance/work is. So in this example you would not have the wider release ("Beethoven: Cello Sonatas Opus 69 and 102") and instead have three 'albums' Cello Sonata No. 3, Cello Sonata No. 4 and Cello Sonata No. 5 with Allegro, ma non tanto, Scherzo, in A minor and Adagio cantabile – Allegro vivace, for example as the tracks in the first "album". Plus, have the soloists, year, and other performers tagged.

This is an example of how the limitations of our music players force our hands in tagging standards.

Thanks to Marcin Wichary for the image above.
tags: classical release structure composers artists mailbag
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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.