What to do about a problem like Peter Gabriel?

Exceptions. There are always exceptions. It doesn't matter how consistent our music file paths are, whether we've de-duplicated all music files and ensured all our album art is the same size. It doesn't matter if we've enforced consistent case rules across all our music metadata, exceptions still arise.

Just as you've decided upon the best way of tagging your music files, some smart-arse musical artist will come along with something that ruins your approach. Funny characters, unsortable names. Well now it's time add Peter Gabriel to that list.

It turns out that Peter Gabriel's first four recognised solo albums were called... Peter Gabriel. Yep, that's right, all of them. They are all called the same thing.

You can imagine how conversations between his fans went...

Fan 1: Hey have you heard Biko from your Peter Gabriel album?
Fan 2: Dumbass, there's no such track on my Peter Gabriel album<./i>
Fan 1: No, the other Peter Gabriel album.
Fan 2: The latest Peter Gabriel album?
Fan 1: No, not Peter Gabriel, I'm talking about Peter Gabriel.
Fan 2: Stop wasting my time, I'm going to listen to Phil Collins.

Subsequently, and understandably, the albums began to be known by titles named after the cover art, or simply by a number. Car, Scratch, Melt or Security... 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively.

If the canonical name for these titles are all the same, where does this leave our ALBUM NAME tags? If we are scrolling through a list of our music and we seem the same entry four times, how do we know which one to choose? MusicBrainz, commonly used as an arbiter of the musical canon, has the ability to disambiguate titles as can be seen with Scratch.

Can we do the same thing with music file tags? Overall, I'd caution against it. There's no recognised tag to disambiguate or decorate an album name in ID3. There are such tags for track titles (common uses are for opus numbers in classical music) but not the surrounding release. Even if there was such a tag, music player support would be poor, meaning the disambiguations may not appear on different players and devices. Furthermore, that's only covering ID3. What about FLAC and MP4 (and others)?

The alternative is to make up your own custom tag for disambiguated album titles. This can be applied to all music files. The problem is, again, music player support. It might work great when you play all your music through a customised music app on your Desktop, but move it onto your iPhone and... oh dear.

So, I recommend including disambiguation titles in the album name. In the case of Peter Gabriel, something like:

Peter Gabriel (Car)

Alternatives would be:

  • Peter Gabriel - Car
  • Peter Gabriel [Car]

It would be a good idea to think of a common syntax rule to use for disambiguated album titles, a little like we have for disk artifacts when it is unavoidable to use them in album names.

How this affects bliss

The other advantage of adding the disambiguated title into the album name field is that bliss will see this and separate albums automatically. Without it, bliss will combine all the tracks into one album.

If a custom field was used, bliss would not use this to separate albums. It would see the custom field and display it on the Tags page, but it would not be used to split albums by.

I realise this isn't ideal, but until a commonly accepted tag for separating album names is agreed upon (most likely de facto) there's little else we can do without user intervention.

Let me know how you disambiguate albums in your own collection in the comments below!

Thanks to Upupa4me for the image above.
tags: disambiguation
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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.