Which website can I have a discussion about appropriate genre to classify music in my mp3 collection?
December 28, 2011 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Is there a web-site/forum where I can have a sensible/intelligent/non-flame wars discussion about appropriate ways to classify the genre of particular music, artists, etc of my mp3 music collection? I know I can classify my music with any genre I wish, but I would like to have a discussion of our other people classify the music, for example, of Paul Robson. Is it Classical, Classical vocal, or whatever? I have looked at MusicBrainz, but that doesn't, as far as I can tell, have the genre of music. Everything but it seems.
posted by vac2003 to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
To save you and others some time looking, Musicbrainz definitely does not do genres but they probably discuss it thoughtfully in their forums. Here's the Musicbrainz FAQ addressing the issue:

Why does MusicBrainz not support genre information?

Because doing genres right is very hard. We have thought about how to implement genres, but we haven't completely settled on the right approach yet.

posted by zippy at 12:39 PM on December 28, 2011

The problem with defined genres is they tend to reduce music to suit their parameters, whereas I've heard it said that the best music transcends genre. Interesting that you should use Paul Robeson (?) as an example, because there's a man who was too big for any genre.

That said, I long ago started breaking my mp3s into playlists (and sub-lists) based mostly on relative intensity. That is, stuff like PARTY, MORNING, EVERYDAY, DINNER MUSIC ... and so on. In this context, Paul Robeson shows up in both MORNING and DINNER.
posted by philip-random at 12:58 PM on December 28, 2011

The thing about genres is that unlike, for example, animal species where you have relatively clear lines of descent and a hierarchical tree, music is much more fluid and a song or artist could be drawing from more than one tradition -- just as one example, is Cee Lo Green Soul or Hip-hop? What about Adele -- country or soul? Or getting into dance music, is Skrillex electro or dubstep?

Most genres as people commonly use them are marketing terms, and it has always been that way -- r&b was just rock and roll that was sung by black people (or alternatively, rock and roll was R&B sung by white people).

Even just talking about classical, some people would put Beethoven and Bach in the same category (classical), and some of them would put Bach under "Baroque" and Beethoven under "Classical". Some people might put Phillip Glass under "Classical" and someone else might put him under "Minimalist" or "Modern". Somebody else just might put all their orchestral music under 'soundtrack' (I do this, even when it isn't sound track music)..

You really have to choose a scheme that's useful to you. Since the majority of my music is dance music or electronic, I've got it split up by categories like 'techno', 'house', 'electro' 'old school', 'breaks' and so on, but someone else might just put them all under 'dance'. I've got all my rock music (not much!) under 'rock', but someone else might list them under 'grunge', 'nu metal', 'screamo', etc...

I guess the answer here is that there isn't always a single right answer as to what genre a song is.
posted by empath at 2:01 PM on December 28, 2011

Last.fm folksonomy work for you?
posted by oceanjesse at 2:02 PM on December 28, 2011

Here's Robeson's tags -- you can see how difficult it can be to pick one genre.
posted by empath at 2:03 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Genre description is really hard and really subjective. One person might distinguish between a million kinds of electronica, another might file it all -- along with Cee Lo Green, Adele, and Britney Spears -- as "Pop." Another person might label Berlioz, Handel, and Josh Groban as "classical" whereas I'd file them as Romantic, Baroque, and Execrable, respectively. It depends on where your level of discrimination is at.
posted by KathrynT at 2:05 PM on December 28, 2011

This is screaming out for a tag-based approach.

* Itunes (and other programs, but iTunes is what I use) should include an easy interface for tagging MP3s. Maybe something like a column for tags, a column with songs, and a "tray" area. You select the songs you want, drag them to the tray, then select the tags you want, and drag them onto the songs. And vice versa: Drop songs onto tags.

* With permission, you could then upload your tags to the cloud, where the most popular tags for any given song would be offered as suggestions to others.

* You could then use these tags to build awesome playlists. Like: "Shuffle and play all music tagged with: BLUES DELTA MELLOW SLIDE 1960s ACCOUSTIC INSTRUMENTAL"

- aj
posted by Alaska Jack at 4:57 PM on December 28, 2011

Rateyourmusic.com has a pretty robust and specific classification of just about any music you can think of. I enjoyed it for the specificity of subgenres that it gets into. It's very much a collaborative, crowd-sourced website, and there are discussion forums. I'm not too sure as to the tone of the discussion, but it seems decently civil.
posted by malapropist at 6:59 PM on December 28, 2011

Thank you all for your helpful answers. Most of the comments confirm what I already suspected: classifying music by genre is "very hard" as Zippy quoted from the MusicBrainz FAQ. It fact it may well be essentially unsolveable except by having a purely personal schema. philip-random's suggestion about an alternative approach was intriguing and got me thinking about other options. I should also explore last.fm more as suggested by oceanjesse and empath. Thank you also to malapropist for suggesting Rateyourmusic.com.

And apologies for misspelling the name Robeson. I would tend to agree that his music is almost beyond classification: his versions of 'Shenandoah' and 'Danny Boy' are timeless classics that are almost diminished by classifying them with what can only ever be an arbitary label.
posted by vac2003 at 12:01 PM on December 29, 2011

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