There are No Categories for Music Genre

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.

The Problem

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

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.

TagScanner
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.

MP3Tag
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.

MusicBrainz Picard
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.

Spotify
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.

TidySongs
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.

WinAmp
No thanks. It does have MP3 tagging abilities, but it is clunky and slow. Not great for use on a large library.

XBMC
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.

dBpoweramp
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.

Media Companion
it’s ok. also works with movies and tv shows, but I can’t get it to run at all on windows 8.

MediaMonkey
pretty good. still, a bit tedious for large libraries.

tag&rename
didn’t try this one.

The GodFather
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.

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