Is classical music asking the right questions?
What will have more impact on the future of classical music? Roberto Alagna’s latest “squeeze”, or our ability to organise, search and access digital music files? My view tends to the latter, which is why in a comment on a recent post I said “It has long puzzled me as to why the subject of metadata about music recordings is so neglected”. Now reader Mike has responded with the following comment which justifies a post of its own:
Music metadata has been a small bugbear of mine ever since I started digitising music in the 90s. In particular the metadata databases used by Apple's iTunes and Microsoft's Media Players are quite awful when you move out of pop/rock music to classical/jazz/world. I don't let either bit of software touch my collection, especially as you can't trust either to honour their metadata settings, and the penalty for them breaching the trust is the loss of hundreds of manhours of labelling.How can classical music bet the farm on a digital future when the basic data needed to organise, search and access digital music files is not available?
It's also sad that a great many digital downloads have poor to no composer metadata. Even when browsing iTunes, Spotify etc this information is nowhere to be seen. So many times I've seen a recital disc full of etudes, nocturnes and other no clue as to the composer. The rear disc information is rarely available to browse (although so many releases of more contemporary classical music eschew any clue as to the contents - is it vocal?, chamber?, musique concrète? - the label has decided to make it a secret). One of the online music stores I buy from said that because iTunes doesn't display composers, the publishers simply don't provide that information any more to *any* online stores.
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Good point here about metadata neglect of digital music. I burnt a CD at home of "Fax and Binzi"
The standard was extended to include additional fields for 'Performer' and 'Composer', but these are rarely used by content providers and cataloguing and search in music players is based on the 'Artist'. So it all comes down to find out who is the 'Artist' in a classical music recording. Two questions come to my mind:
* Whose picture is in the cover?
* Whose name is typed with a larger font?
The big problem is that the downloaded metadata often has (say) Beethoven as the performer. Spotify, when it can be bothered, will simply throw composers and performers into the same field. iTunes ill sometimes have the composer metadata but does not display it, so for example you could search on Takemitsu, and find albums that nowhere list his name.
If the picture on the cover has a picture of grazing cows then I'm not going to put them down in any of the metadata fields, even if it usually signifies that Thea King is one of the performers.
Why Spotify's classical music community is frustrated and leaving -- please help!!
I recently found out about a new recording of my music on Spotify only because a fan had found it and he'd emailed me. There was no composer meta-data.
As the Spotify comments suggest, this is partially the fault of the record companies and partially the fault of the way music is represented online, as a song-centric 'product', not a composer-centric 'work'.
The maintainers of the MusicBrainz database used by most CD ripping software to identify CDs and download their metadata have some reasonable guidelines on how to populate classical music metadata for a correct identification of albums and tracks (http://wiki.musicbrainz.org/Style/Classical) but whenever I rip a CD to MP3, as you say, I can see that not everyone follows them.
Metadata in recordings available through the iTunes Store or Spotify are beyond repair in this area. Both the recording and the media distribution/players are to blame for this. The available file formats metadata support a correct identification of composers and performers. But their use by recording companies and support by media distribution/players is not uniform.
Regarding cover pictures and font sizes, I was referring to practices that have been documented in this blog. Will they fix in the digital world the very same problem they created when vinyl recordings ruled the Earth? The answer is in the metadata.
On a brighter note, there's a fantastic company out of London working hard to solve this problem called Decibel (http://www.decibel.net/). The people are great and the solution is killer, provided they can get industry adoption.
I tend to buy from amazon (I prefer always portable mp3s), but first thing I do is copy the downloaded file into iTunes in order to add the metadata I want (I tend to set composer, set 'group' to the work title, artist to "conductor; orchestra[; soloist]" (unless it is a release specifically for a famous sololist like Hahn or Bell), and then run a tool I wrote to then set the conductor field.
After that, I then merge the file into my own collection which is separately organized by something that only makes sense to me...in time I want to muck around with the genre settings to improve this. From this point on, iTunes's metatagging never sees the file again and I use winamp to play the m3u files I generate from that. Yeah, it helps being a programmer who can write his own stuff here.
Works great except for in amazon cloud player, where I'm often stuck with the garbage ID3 settings amazon/label provides.
This is why years ago I gave up trying to create a comprehensive digital library. The physical media is hard enough to catalog because there are so many different compilation formats used by different labels. Some discs can be ordered by composer while others have to be organized by performer for me to have any hope of finding them. I briefly flirted with separating multi-composer discs into their tracks, but I did not like this at all because I felt like I was missing what the producers and performers wanted me to hear as a continuous experience. Now remind me...Did I put Graun under Baroque or Classical?
The joy of Genre being a multivalued field is that it can be both.
My digital library is much easier to locate tracks in as I don't have to remember where I put the physical disk, and I can browse it by whichever tag "dimension" I want.