Tagging MP3s and the Rock genre
July 26, 2006 11:14 AM   Subscribe

How much or how little and in what ways should one consider breaking up the "Rock" genre when tagging MP3s?

Years ago, I thought I'd "keep it simple" by not getting too wild with a ton of sub-genres of "Rock". I basically started with "Classic Rock" (anything pre-1980, for the most part), "Metal" (which includes everything thing from Def Leppard and Ratt to Metallica, Vader and Entombed). Everything else rock gets dropped into "Rock". There are, of course, a handful of exceptions to these "rules".

I still would like to avoid getting too crazy with genres. But anynow, several years and a lot more music later, I'm finding "Rock" to be just too broad. So does anyone have any suggestions for how I can comfortably break this up a bit more?

Genre selection can be such a headache. I mean, where to put R.E.M., for instance? In my day, they were "Alternative" or was it "Progressive"? Now what are they... just R.E.M. right? And this whole "Indie" thing they got now... I just can't seem to peg it.

Anyway... I know I'm "allowed" to do whatever I want and tag them however. But I'd like for my catalogue to make sense and be as useful to more people (friends, family) than just myself.
posted by Witty to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't want to subcategorize "Rock" into oblivion, how about doing it like the music stores do- alphabetically by artist within broadly defined genres.
posted by TedW at 11:17 AM on July 26, 2006

I follow what AllMusic.com does. They place artists into both a "Genre" and one or more "Styles".

Def Leppard and R.E.M. are both in the "Rock" genre.

R.E.M. is in the following "Styles":
American Underground
Alternative Pop/ Rock
Jangle Pop
College Rock
Adult Alternative Pop/ Rock

Def Leppard is in the following "Styles":
British Metal
Hard Rock
Heavy Metal
Hair Metal
New Wave of British Heavy Metal

I put two or three of the "Styles" into the "Grouping" tag in iTunes, separated by commas. I have a "British Metal" smart playlist that gives me any band with "British Metal" in the grouping.

This may be more OCD than you care for. :)
posted by DWRoelands at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I decided to be more fine-grained once I realized most of my music is rock and so tagging everything "Rock" is not ultimately helpful.

Do whatever is useful to help you find songs you want to listen to. In fact, my music is mostly progressive rock, so that's where I really got specific. I have Classical, Jazz, Alternative, Classic Rock, and then I have Progressive Rock, Hard Rock, Metal, Progressive Metal, Death Metal, Power Metal, Fusion, etc.

I tried to do it so that the albums/songs in a genre are ones I usually listen to together. So for example, in my music collection I have Orphaned Land and Opeth, which can both be classified as "Progressive Death Metal". Orphaned Land went in Progressive Metal since I tend to listen to them when I'm in a proggy mood, and Opeth in Death Metal since I almost always listen to them when I'm hankering for some good growlin'.

Now you may not listen to those particular genres, but I think the general idea should work for anyone. :-)
posted by Khalad at 11:31 AM on July 26, 2006

Good suggestion DWRoelands... although I've already been doing similar things for a while now, with iTunes.

To describe my situation more completely, I'm trying to make the genres for a catalogue of music on my local Ampache installation make as much sense as possible without being too ridiculous. Ampache doesn't really have smartlist-functionality (not in the same way iTunes does) and there's a lot more demand for "browsing by genre".

I like the styles suggestion from allmusic.com though.
posted by Witty at 11:33 AM on July 26, 2006

I generally define the "kind of Rock" by decade, so formed older than ~1975 is Classic Rock, formed older than 1990 is Rock, formed older than 2000 is Alternative, formed newer than 2000 is Indie. Punk, Metal, and Industrial seem to be a bit clearer so those bands get those tags no matter when they were formed.
posted by togdon at 11:37 AM on July 26, 2006

I would love to be able to add style information as DWRoelands described, but I don't plan to go to all that effort until there's some kind of widely-supported system. That is, until the mp3 tagging system incorporates the feature that MeFi posts call "tags".

I run into this problem a lot with my classical collection. It's all classical, but a Bach cantata is also: Baroque, choral, cantata, sacred. Or you've got a Shostakovich string quartet: string quartet, chamber, modern, Russian.

I'm not about to do it all in iTunes though; I'll go nuts with classifying things when there's a system that's likely to be useful in a variety of players and formats.
posted by agropyron at 11:39 AM on July 26, 2006

Side note (bonus question): Does anyone know of a good tagging script I can run from the command line (Linux)?
posted by Witty at 11:46 AM on July 26, 2006

I'm trying to make the genres for a catalogue of music on my local Ampache installation make as much sense as possible without being too ridiculous.

You could combine the "Genre" and "Styles" in the "genre field of Ampache, no? In other words, the "Genre" field for R.E.M. would have the following values:
American Underground
Alternative Pop/ Rock
Jangle Pop
College Rock
Adult Alternative Pop/ Rock

This way, someone browsing the "Rock" genre would field R.E.M., Def Leppard, Quiet Riot, and so on. Someone browsing the "Jangle Pop" genre would find R.E.M. The Bangles, Camper Van Beethoven, and such.

You'll end up with a -lot- of Genres, but people browsing the list will have an easier time finding the sort of music they want.

Afterthought: Instead of using "Rock" in the above example, use "--Rock" or "**Rock". Put some character in front of the "Genre" that will force the Genre tags to sort to the top of any alphabetical list.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:56 AM on July 26, 2006

I'm also quite the genre nazi, ever since I discovered Audiogalaxy's genre guide. I have a bunch of directories that represent genres and subdirectories that represent sub-genres, and I try to place artists in them accordingly. I the tags, I have Rock, Rock (Classic), Rock (Garage), Rock (Hard), etc.

Unfortunately, this doesn't really work 'cause some artists may span several genres. For example, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Some of their songs are funk, others punk, others alternative rock (I know that genre's relative), others would fall under emo.

It's times like these when I wish MP3s (and their respective organizers/players) would support tagging in the taxonomy sence of the word (think flickr).
posted by freakystyley at 12:06 PM on July 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

This is how I roll:

Alt Country: anything with both electric and steel guitars. Son Volt, Ryan Adams.

Alternative Pop: I made this one up. It is for stuff that is just pop music, but I like it, so it must be alternative. U2, Coldplay, Counting Crows, R.E.M. and most girls: Tori, Liz, Bjork.

Alternative Rock: "Grunge" essentially. Nirvana, Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom.

Classic Rock: Obvious. Dylan, Beatles, Fleetwood Mac.

Eighties: Anything from the 80's. Luftballons and whatnot.

Indie: Anything I learned about from Pitchfork that is poppy.

Indie Rock: Anything I learned about from Pitchfork that is slightly loud.

Pop Punk: Futureheads. NOFX covering "Build Me Up Buttercup". Who the hell is Against Me!?

Post Punk: I am not even sure what this means, but apparently it is mostly made up of Elvis Costello. Oh wait there goes The Cure. Talking Heads? What the fuck kind of category is this?

Power Pop: New Pornographers? Belle and Sebastian? What the hell? Why do I have this category? Isn't this just indie?

Punk: That "London Calling" band.

Rock: All that appears to be in here are The White Stripes and The Revolting Cocks (why did I ever buy that album?)

Seventies Alternative: I made this one up too, because I didn't know where to put Big Star (Power Pop?), David Bowie (Classic Rock?), The Velvet Underground (?), Warren Zevon (Pop?) and Boston??? (WTF?) These bands may not have even made music in the seventies, but they do seem to be an alternative to something, except maybe Boston. I guess Boston is an alternative to good taste.

So, in conclusion, you may just be better off leaving everything as rock, because my system is stupid. You also might want to take some of the advice above, which I didn't read. Keep on Rocking! or Keep on Seventies Alternativing!
posted by ND¢ at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

Witty: id3v2 and some simple bash commandline scripting or, if you're willing to go GUI, EasyTAG have both worked well for me.
posted by togdon at 1:21 PM on July 26, 2006

I'm glad I'm not the only one can't sleep nights thinking about this. I'm hoping for a subgenre or some other solution myself. Here's my iTunes genres: alt.country, alternative, bluegrass, blues, classical, comedy, country, disco, folk, funk, gospel, hip-hop/rap, indie, jazz, pop, punk, rock, soundtrack, soundtrack (score), spoken word, western swing.

Trying to decide what qualifies as alternative versus indie versus rock is a very diffficult process. :(
posted by keswick at 1:27 PM on July 26, 2006

Ha! Despite getting paid to put dumb genre labels on music, I don't really believe in 'em. Left up to me, I'd never classify my collection by genres and find the fact that when adding things to the CDDB it requires a genre kind of annoying.
That said, the best solution is by decade. Then, in decreasing order: band lineup, and then the myriad "tag"ish clusters of adjectives like College Rock, Death Metal and Roots Country.
posted by klangklangston at 1:49 PM on July 26, 2006

I got fed up with "Alternative" music and now, in my most recent mp3 organization overhauls, have callously applied the label "Rock" to everything I want to leave behind.

I believe wholeheartedly in classification, genre conventions, and musical drift. My labels are edicts from on high, and Rock has been smoten. Smoted. Smitten.
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:58 PM on July 26, 2006

Power Pop: New Pornographers? Belle and Sebastian? What the hell? Why do I have this category? Isn't this just indie?

The New Pornos are power pop, B+S are not. Power pop is 60s tinged pop music with heavy use of big electric guitars, anthemic hooks, and sweet vocal harmonies. B+S are pretty much quintessential indie pop (ditto for Big Star and power pop).

And I don't know the Futureheads terribly well, but I can't imagine them being called pop punk. Pop punk = Blink 182, Sum 41, etc. Ditto with Elvis Costello and post punk.

Anyway, tag your music so that it makes sense to you. Isn't that all that matters?
posted by ludwig_van at 3:06 PM on July 26, 2006

Also, "alternative" was pretty much a late 80s/early 90s term (and a pretty worthless one at that). weezer got called alternative when they came out in 94, but no one would call them that if they came out today. They'd just be power pop.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:43 PM on July 26, 2006

Make sure you keep the Swedish Death Metal separate from the Industrial Grindcore.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:18 PM on July 26, 2006

TheOnlyCoolTim... haha! Nice one.

Thanks for the responses folks. I realize that it all is really bunch of crap and comes down to what I decide to do with it anyway. But it's good to get some ideas and different points of view sometimes. Party On.
posted by Witty at 6:54 AM on July 27, 2006

I went overboard and wrote a perl script to analyse the freedb database and return me the most popular genre for an artist, then I simply went and tagged every track by that artist as having that genre.

Woefully broad brush and completely mucks up artists who branch into other genres (not to mention musicbrainz data) but I was fed up with 100 different genres. I now have about 20 which look pretty reasonable and compilations that have better genre classifications than before.

One day I may turn it into a Windows application with a pretty user interface.
posted by mr_silver at 11:04 AM on July 27, 2006

mr_silver... do you still have that script and would you be willing to share it?
posted by Witty at 4:39 AM on July 28, 2006

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