Magazine article Gramophone

Tag-Wrestling Is No Fun: Getting Your Music on to Hard Disk Storage Is Easy-The Problems Start When You Want to Find It Again. One Company Thinks It Has a Solution

Magazine article Gramophone

Tag-Wrestling Is No Fun: Getting Your Music on to Hard Disk Storage Is Easy-The Problems Start When You Want to Find It Again. One Company Thinks It Has a Solution

Article excerpt

We've been here before. From iTunes--remember that?--onwards, computer-based music storage and playback have been based around the simple idea of the pop album or single: one artist, one album title, one track name. Based in a world where a track isn't a track but a 'song', and where hardly anyone plays an album all the way through any more, that doesn't place too much stress on the metadata tagging systems use to identify pieces of music.

In fact, just four pieces of data will cover it: artist, album, track number, track title, and you're done. You can search on any of those text fields and if you want to play a whole album the tracks will appear in the right order--well, as long as track 1 is track '01', track 2 '02' and so on (otherwise some systems will play track 1, then tracks 10-19, before getting to track 2).

The first time you come across an album that doesn't conform to that single-artist norm, you see how poorly this simple approach serves real-world music listening. Faced with a compilation, in which every track is by a different artist, some indexing systems will see each track as a separate album by that artist, unless a box is ticked in the metadata to indicate that the album is a compilation--and even then the performer is likely to be rendered as some variation on 'various artists', which is hardly conducive to accurate search.

The problem grows when each 'song' is a movement of a symphony or one aria in an opera or oratorio, and it is exacerbated when that opera has different performers on various tracks. Meanwhile, albums containing works by different composers bring their own problem, unless you can remember that, say, the Bruch First Violin Concerto is actually on an album whose headline title is Bach Violin Concertos.

It's no surprise that those of us with large music collections on servers have got quite adept at using tag editing software, such as the excellent Mp3tag (from mp3tag. de), which edits a lot more than tags on MP3 files, is free (though donations are encouraged) and works on both Windows and OS X computers. With this you can cure most tagging problems, although occasionally anomalies occur: I must have spent a day on a near-forensic examination of why one track from the middle of an album refused to join up with its teammates and insisted on appearing as a stand-alone one-track album! The answer, by the way, was an errant accent on the name of one performer buried deep in an extensive list. There are times when tag-wrestling is no fun.

Yes, there are programs designed to rationalise your library by improving tagging. I've used and recommended Bliss (blisshq.com) in the past, while the Roon ecosystem (roonlabs.com) does a very good job of sorting the music you have and presenting it in a more logical and appealing fashion, but requires a subscription and compatible player hardware. …

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