please tell me about tagging your mp3s with multiple genres
December 27, 2017 4:40 AM   Subscribe

I have ~50GB music collection, and have recently invested in software that will let me meticulously edit all the metadata. I'd love to extend the existing genre tags to include multiple genres; my hope is that this will help me make better playlists, and that it will make the software's smart playlists smarter too. Since this will be a big project, I want to know more about potential pitfalls and helpful hints...

I will be doing this manually, track by track. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also scared that I'm going to mess things up somehow. So if you've done this, I'd love to hear about what you learned through the process. What was surprisingly helpful? What went wrong? The following concerns are particularly interesting to me, but please feel free to share anything you found.

Did you decide to use multiple discrete genres, or nested subgenres?

Did you consider the quantity of each music type before deciding it should be a genre or subgenre?

Were there any unintentional effects?

Do you consider your music collection to be perfectly tagged now? Why?

In case it matters: I use Windows and have previously tried WMP, Winamp, MediaMonkey, and MusicBee; now I'm using JRiver Media Center (I have been through their forums.) My library has the largest amounts of electronica, hip hop, incidental, lounge/exotica, and 60s - 80s pop/rock.
posted by heatvision to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a chunker. For tagging, I don't care about the difference between metal and folk-rock: compared to jazz or spoken word or symphonic music, it's all rock to me. And that is how I tag it.

If there were a legitimate subgenre field in the ID3v2 tag system, I'd maybe want to use it . Genre: jazz Subgenre: bebop, or swing, or fusion, or what have you......but there isn't really one, is there? I guess I could re-purpose some other field for that, but honestly, I'm pretty happy with having basically given up.
posted by thelonius at 5:26 AM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I will be doing this manually, track by track. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also scared that I'm going to mess things up somehow.

Then make a backup of the entire 50GB collection before you even start, so that you know that no matter how badly you mess things up, you can unmess them all in one easy restoration.

Also, if you're going to be working one track at a time, I recommend building up a set of entirely new trial collections out of tracks whose metadata you've edited, leaving the unedited tracks exactly where they are and how they are. That way, you can try assorted metadata schemes on small subsets of your collection and evaluate how well they work for you in practice before committing to doing the whole lot any particular way.

There is no objectively correct way to build a media collection classification scheme. There are ways that work well for you, and ways that work less well, and unfortunately the only way to find out which way actually does work for you is to build several and test them.
posted by flabdablet at 5:55 AM on December 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's not a direct match but iTunes has a Group field and used that as a CSV field because I wanted multiple groups. So the group field might say ",instrumental,guitar,mellow,". That allowed me to create a smart playlist that searched for ",instrumental," or ",guitar," and include that song. Of course the playlist can also filter for rating or last played or anything else.

Note that you have to wrap every entry in commas (,word,) because it's not really a CSV and you don't know if the word will be at the beginning or end of the list. So you wrap them all and you don't have to worry about it.

For the actual Genre I'm using very broad categories followed by sub-genres. For example, "Rock.Guitar.Instrumental" is probably a genre that I have.

And yes, there's some overlap in my system between the group and the genre. I didn't put a lot of thought in it, I was just looking for ways to make smart lists find the right songs.
posted by Awfki at 6:04 AM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just use the genre field in iTunes to enter multiple categories. For smart playlists, it’ll sort that way even without using the group field. I never view the collection by genre, so I don’t have a need for nested sub genres. I suggest that you think about your viewing preferences. Do you want to be able to pull up all the variants off “jazz” in a list organized by sub genre? If you never plan to do that, you may be fine just using tag search. That’s what I do.

Spend some time designing your tag vocabulary before you actually tag anything. Pick short words or abbreviations that aren’t a pain to enter “instrumental” is a really boring word to type 300 times, even with predictive text). Decide whether “old time” is “oldtime,” “OT” or “old-time” ahead of getting started.

One non-obvious tag that might be useful (depending on your collection) is “live”.
posted by Miko at 6:12 AM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

All of my music is tagged the way I want it.

Basically what everyone else said, I have very broad genres. They are based on what I might want to hear together. For instance everything remotely related is "rock/pop", "country/blues/folk" etc. Very broad. I use grouping for some, but not a lot, of definition. "dub" or "down" might contain tracks from different genres.

The problem for me is once you've divided things into micro genres it's much harder to listen to broad music selections without making playlists. Plus, the confusion over genres quickly gets out of control. I guess it depends on what kind of music you have, but I would get nowhere trying to decide on a lot of what I have.
posted by bongo_x at 10:54 AM on December 27, 2017

I am kind of obsessive about organizing my music and I've tried a lot of different strategies. At the moment, I'm doing nested subgenres. So for example I have:

Metal > Progressive Metal
Metal > Doom Metal
Metal > Thrash Metal

The reason I do it this way is because I often want to view my music by genre, but creating smart playlists for every genre would be unworkable for me. If I did "metal, doom metal, finland" or whatever, that would show on the genre lists as a separate entry rather than being grouped under "metal," "doom metal," "finland."

Whether I split into subgenres is pretty personal and depends on if I ever want to just listen to that subgenre. So I only have one tag for "Laotian Pop" because I don't have much of it and I never really want to just listen to a subgenre, but I split "Thai Pop" into "Thai Pop > Molam" and "Thai Pop > Luk Thung" because I have a lot of Thai pop, and sometimes I just want to listen to either Molam or Luk Thung.

Two downsides to this system:

(1) If just want to listen to all "metal," I have to use search or a smart playlist. But it's easier to lump things together that you want to listen to, rather than separate stuff out.

(2) It does make you pick one genre and subgenre, and a lot of music crosses genres ... so you have to pick one, or create a "fusion" genre, or some other annoying thing.

I don't think it's particularly practical to try to get a fixed level of granularity, because (a) that's too hard and time-intensive, and (b) this is really for my own listening convenience. I'm not a library or a music database, so I don't need to be exhaustive. How broad your genres are should really depend on your listening habits.

If I didn't ever use the genre sort functions, I probably would do what other posters say, and just enter a comma separated list of "tags." But this would mean that if I ever wanted to listen to "progressive metal," I would need to use search or smart playlists. This isn't a big deal on my laptop with iTunes, but it gets a lot trickier when I want to use an iPod or my (non-iphone) phone.

I really wish the genre field would just work like tags. Since it doesn't you kind of have to kludge together a system that works for you.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:03 AM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, an obvious thing that is still worth mentioning, because it might not become obvious until it's an issue:

It's really easy to change one genre into another. You just do a search and do a bulk edit of the genre field. I could easily collapse all of my "metal" music into one genre if I felt like it.

It's a lot less easy to split a genre or to make changes where you want to edit part of the genre field. You have to do that piece by piece. So, for example, if I have genres that say "metal, prog metal, finland" and tags that say "metal, prog metal, usa" and I want to change "prog metal" to "progressive metal", I can't just bulk edit everything that has "prog metal" in it because I don't want to rewrite the entire field.

So, if you do subgenres and you're not sure how specific you want to do, start out by being more specific. If you do the tagging system, keep a list of how you're writing your genres (I'd use notepad or something) so you don't end up doing that.

But even if it takes you some time to fix something, it's not like you can fuck up permanently and ruin your music sorting forever or anything, so don't get too stressed about it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:15 AM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

If your music is organized into a file/folder structure you like, you might try using playlists as the starting point for your organization activities, since songs can belong to as many playlists as you like, and it doesn't require changing the tagging on your files.
posted by Aleyn at 1:13 PM on December 27, 2017

I've been tagging my music in iTunes for ages. It's fantastic for making smarter smart playlists.

Here's what I do:

In the "Songs" section of the Library, and in all of my playlists, I right-click the info bar that shows things like Name, Artist, Time, Album, Year, etc... and I add a column for Grouping.

In this Grouping field, I add my own tags.

Pro-Tip! You can add as many tags as you want in the Grouping field and there's no need for a special character to separate them. A space is fine. Once you start adding text in this Grouping field, iTunes will learn it and offer to automatically fill it in, next time. So, for example, if one of your tags is Acoustic, the next time you type the letter a at the beginning of the Grouping field, iTunes will offer to fill it in with Acoustic. If another one of your tags is Mellow, and if you've used both tags in the Grouping field together, with you type the letter a, iTunes will offer to fill it in as Acoustic Mellow. So... it's wise to always fill in tags for a song alphabetically, that way, they'll always show up in the same order. It'll make it easier for iTunes to automatically fill them in as you type.

I find that it's better to start with as few tags as possible and add more later as you learn how you want to use them.

I love using smart playlists based on groupings instead of genres - or in addition to them.

For example, I have a smart playlist for mellow music:

Match Music for All of the following rules:
Grouping contains mellow
Grouping does not contain xmas
Genre does not contain Pop
Rating is greater than 1 star
Limit to 250 items selected by Least Recently Played

Using multiple tags is so handy! For the holidays:

A mellow playlist:
Grouping contains xmas
Grouping contains mellow

An upbeat holiday playlist:
Grouping contains xmas
Grouping does not contain mellow
posted by 2oh1 at 4:42 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Media Monkey lets me have more than one genre per song. I use this to let me add keywords for certain playlists. One single track might have genres percussion; exotica; instrumental; for modelling; for studying

Genre is a useful place to define how you listen to music and how you group songs in your head. I may have a 60's genre. Pink Floyd released albums in the 60's but I probably wouldn't put them in that genre because I can't imagine wanting See Emily Play in the same playlist with White Rabbit. That's me. YMMV
posted by irisclara at 7:53 PM on December 27, 2017

I have finally completed this project. Here are my answers to my own questions:

Did you decide to use multiple discrete genres, or nested subgenres?
Both! You don't have to decide!

Did you consider the quantity of each music type before deciding it should be a genre or subgenre?

Yes, and I regret having done that. Going through your music collection and listening to every single song--or at least significant portions of every song--is even more time-consuming than I thought it would be. For certain genres, I misjudged how much I had and didn't expect to want tags. So at the beginning, I was treating these like anomalies and not tagging them. I should have simply added every single tag that I thought I ever might possibly want. It's easy to delete unneeded tags later. I don't know of a smart way to judge how much of any genre you have if you haven't tagged it yet.

Were there any unintentional effects?

Yes, while the software on my laptop likes what I did just fine, the software in my car is really, really confused. So I've had to change the way I'm storing the mp3s that I use in my car.

Do you consider your music collection to be perfectly tagged now? Why?

No. On top of the quantity issue described above, I made another mistake. Part of the way through this project, my ideas about certain genres shifted, so the way things were classified at the very beginning is different from the ones at the end. When I began, I was working with a list, but instead I should have made a dictionary with rules of identification.

If I could go back in time and give myself other advice, I would mention this: when you're doing this project, it's a great time to do a lot of other micromanagement of your data that you normally can't be bothered with. Make sure you have years listed on each song, and that it's the year of recording or release or whichever one you want to see. Make sure you have cover art. Fill in blank tags. Decide how you want to handle album names for singles, Soundtrack/Various Artists and Recording Artist/Album Artist etc. and make that universal. By the end, I had figured this out. I feel good about the way part of my collection looks, but I skipped some of those things at the beginning, so here I am after my multi-month project looking back and seeing more work to do.
posted by heatvision at 11:13 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

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