I know it’s becoming unfashionable to actually own a digital copy of music anymore, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have several thousand songs that I have collected over the years. Lately I’ve become interested in cleaning up the information about my music library, the metadata tags that describe the music’s genre, in particular. I’d like to be able to kick back with my iphone or whatever and quickly scroll through a list of genres. I’d like for that list to help me easily answer the question “what kind of music do I want to listen to right now”. Sadly, nearly all the music in my collection has a genre tag that is way too general “alternative” or way too specific “pre-punk indie rock” to be very good.
So, the next question seems to be: where can I get a good, reliable list of music genres? That’s a very tricky question, because “genre” is such a subjective concept. It’s so obtuse that many people simply don’t pay attention to the ‘genre’ information in their collections. Likewise, lots of the music software either ignores it, or, as iTunes does, takes a very general approach (they hope you’ll just use “genius” to get around the issue).
Different Lists of Genres
- Discogs.com list of Genres and Styles (these “styles” are one-to-many sub-sub categories)
- Allmusic has a very comprehensive list but it isn’t easily portable to other systems or software.
- Wikipedia has collected many genres on its list over the years, but again there’s no way to automatically apply those to my music without LOTS of work.
- Gracenote uses a three-tired system of categories and sub-categories. Here’s an overview of the top two tiers.
- Spotify, iTunes and many others who use the Gracenote service appear to flatten those tiers.
- Pandora has a “genre” taxonomy that is completely revolutionary, and hard to use for a simple text-based tag field.
- The people at Sony have written an interesting discussion of taxonomy of music genres
There are so many different ways to categorize the genres of music! It’s safe to conclude, then, that really… there are no categories! With so many different options, it’s easy to wonder: is it even possible for software to automatically add good genre tags to music files?
A Solution that Works for Me
The answer is yes, it is possible. It isn’t easy or perfect, but with so many options out there, there’s bound to be a solution that works for you. Here’s what worked for me: I used an obscure, older application called QMP to run an automated cleanup overnight of my MP3 library’s tags. It was quick, efficient, and not very prone to mistakes. iTunes caught right up with the changes, the next time I told it to re-import my library. My ratings and playcounts were left in tact. Granted, this solution favors the very specific genres over the very general, so I sill have some work to do to re-generalize. (personally, I’m not so sure how many different versions of “rock” that I want to list, but when it comes to “electronic” music, I like to keep my Goa Trance apart from my Chiptune, thank you very much) When I’m done, the general genre tags will be the ones I want to generalize, and I’ll have the specific groups that I want. I’m not sure how to handle sub-genres yet, but I’ll get there.
I should mention that my main computer runs windows 8, my portable device of choice is an iPhone and iTunes is my computer-based media player of choice, and I use both Apple TV and XBMC for my couch surfing. I like a media library that works with all this stuff.
p.s. a list of MP3 tagging software that I tried, but didn’t use.
fail. too slow. clunky interface. crashes.
Magix Music Manager 2007
fail. paid app. really built for burning CDs. Doesn’t recognize enough music. doesn’t work well with Windows 8.
A great app, but mostly built for manually tagging.It will search for metadata @ many popular online sources but it’s not very fast, efficient at album-level lookups. Runs a bit slow.
Pretty good. Not so customizable. Bit of a learning curve. Requires a free login to do some lookups via API key. Doesn’t always provide Genre information.
Roxio Creator 2012 Pro
Definately not worth the money. itunes can do everything for music that it can do, for free.
Apparently Spotify once had a feature to edit MP3 metadata tags to fill them with Spotify data (which is good data) but that feature seems to have been removed, or I couldn’t find it.
This one is good. Even if you don’t pay for it, it is very useful for cleaning/merging the genre information in your library. I think of this is a “second-step” tool, for use after the tags have been entered/cleaned.
No thanks. It does have MP3 tagging abilities, but it is clunky and slow. Not great for use on a large library.
has excellent abilities to lookup metadata, fan art, lyrics, etc. but doesn’t edit the tags of your files to contain that stuff, so the lookup data isn’t available elsewhere (i.e. iTunes, etc.)
Windows Media Player
very reliable lookup and tagging abilities, but very slow.
great for editing MP3 tags manually while browsing through their windows folders, but that’s about it.
Ember Media Manager
great for movies and tv shows. wish it worked for music, too.
Media Info Plus
it’s ok. it also scrapes info about movies and tv shows, but it’s a little bit unstable and doesn’t work so well with Windows 8. Not sure how often it gets updated. a bit slow. crashes occasionally. worth a look anyway.
it’s ok. also works with movies and tv shows, but I can’t get it to run at all on windows 8.
pretty good. still, a bit tedious for large libraries.
didn’t try this one.
One of the best. not the most user-friendly interface, but it’s learnable. best for manual editing. its online lookup abilities are a bit clunky. still, a bit tedious for large libraries.
p.p.s. mood tagging? ha! not yet.