Dilemma that gives me headache: Tagging classical music

January 15, 2017 at 02:29 AM · Hello,

I am really organized and neat about sorting and tagging my music library (digital music files), and I have a big dilemma when tagging classical music. This topic may be "too technical" and boring for some people that are not into tagging music files or simply into the digital world. Anyway, your musical brain can help me out because in the end this is just a post to find out the best possible way of sorting my music. Let's begin:

There are almost no problems when tagging (embed information in each individual music file about the song's name, year, album, artist...) music outside the classical world, cause almost always the composer, conductor and performer is the same person (or band).

My music library goes like this: "Music/artist/album/artist - song.mp3". So if you want to find Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, the path is:

"Music/Queen/A Night at the Opera/Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody.mp3"

If Queen covers The Beatle's She loves you, the path would be:

"Music/Queen/Tribute to The Beatles/Queen - She loves you (The Beatles cover).mp3"

I have a golden rule: there can't be 2 different music files with the very same file name. So, if I have in my music library a live performance of Bohemian Rhapsody, the name can't be "Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody.mp3", cause that one already exists and it's the one of the studio version. So I will name it "Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody (live).mp3"

But what happen if I have 2 different live performances, which happens a lot?

Well, that's why that solution up there is not valid, and I came up with this:

"Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody (live at Tokyo, 1977).mp3"

I include the city and the year, and that way I solve my tagging problems once and for all. Oh, before anything, when browsing my music library through my HiFi music player, the interface shows all the albums (cover arts), sorted alphabetically by artist and then by year. So, all the Queen albums will be in the middle of the library, all together and sorted by year. All the Beatles albums will be at the beginning of the library, sorted by year. So I don't navigate or browse through folders, it's ugly and slow.

Now, the hell of the hells of tagging: classical music. The fake example piece will be the Mendelssohn violin concerto, solo violin Maxim Vengerov, conducted by Simon Rattle, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra in 2012.

What should be the name of the first folder (artist level): Mendelssohn or Maxim Vengerov or Simon Rattle or London Symphony Orchestra?

At first I sorted it by the actual composer, which made total sense, so the path would be:

"Music/Mendelssohn/Violin Concerto in E minor/Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, 1st movement Allegro molto appassionato.mp3"

But, I love Simon Rattle, I have a lot of his works. By naming the folders like this, yeah, I would have the Mendelssohn works all together in the middle (which is awesome) of the interface above Queen, but Simon Rattle's albums would be all over the library.

And I love even more Vengerov, and this way he would be also all over the place, and I wouldn't have his albums all together at the end of the library, sorted by year and with the possibility of analyzing his evolution over the years.

And what about the LSO? Poor orchestras!

I love the LSO, it's a shame if I couldn't have all their works together.

And also, what year should I put in the album: 2012 or 1845?

And what name should I put in the album?

OK, that's easy, Violin Concerto in E minor.

But what if we're talking about the 99.99% of classical music CD's where there is always a sum of different works, like Bach and Verdi, LSO with Perlman under Karajan?

Now what's the year? What piece should I choose to set the year? 1689, 1807 or 1987?

And the name of the album?

Should I name it as the actual CD: "Bach sonatas and partitas for violin and Verdi symphonies and overtures"?

Quite crazy that name, and the problem of the year is still there. Where would that album be in my HiFi music player interface? Letter B or V?

Should I split the album in 2 pieces: Bach and Verdi?

Doesn't sound quite good either, splitting an album in pieces of composers, it would be crazy and very time consuming to do that in many albums. And what about the cover arts, I would have dozens of repeated cover arts, incredibly ugly and 0% efficient.

And to loop the loop, what about those albums of one top violinist including violin concertos of over 4 different composers?

As you can see, this is CRAZY.

Replies (24)

January 15, 2017 at 03:40 AM · Tim, I have a similar challenge with my FiiO X5 device; great sound capabilities, but quite poor user interface. The only way to find files is to manually browse through folders. (this might have been improved with their X7 model with Android-based interface)

iTunes (iPod) does have some search capabilities, but also many weaknesses. Playlists are not designed for classical music, and there is no grouping whatsoever.

CD producers are partly to blame: there is no standard for using composer's and performer's name, or some sort of rules for cataloging.

Embedded information takes forever to update on each and every imported disk.

Ideally, one should use a database for storage and fast query. Logical categories and search criteria should be independent from storage.

January 15, 2017 at 01:10 PM · YEAH! Exactly, I'm in that situation. By the way, FiiO just released the next X5 generation: FiiO X5 iii. It looks amazing and it's very powerful.

How do you organize your music?

I suppose a lot of people organize their music like me: Music folder with artist folders, and each artist folder with album folders containing the songs or pieces.

For example, you just bought a Perlman CD, Bruch and Mendelssohn concertos. Once you've ripped it (I guess, having that DAP, into loseless FLAC), where do you put it?

Do you divide the album and create a new album in the artist folder "Bruch" and another album in the artist folder of "Mendelssohn"?

Or do you have a Perlman folder?

If so, how do you name the albums? Like the concerts their-selves?

Which year do you set in each album, year of Perlman's performance, year of Mendelssohn's premiere?

What about the cover art if you divide the album?

How does the UI of your regular DAC look?

Or better, what kind of browser would be the best one in you opinion?

I find showing all your music using an ALBUM view is the best option, with all the cover arts right there. I sort the albums alphabetically by artist name, and then by year. But the questions above are the big problems I face doing this.

January 15, 2017 at 02:19 PM · An interesting topic, especially since stand-alone MP3 players seem to be dropping out of the market.

For my portable listening I use an old Samsung GT-S3350 (semi)smartphone, but without a SIM, as a reasonably efficient audio player. The music files are stored on a 32GB microSSD card which doesn't require the battery to removed before being easily accessed. The audio formats include WAV, MP3, and, very usefully, FLAC, and possibly other formats. The device has a good sound profile manager, and the output through good quality 'phones (of whatever type) is very acceptable.

The searchable field on sound files on the Samsung are,

Albums

Artists

Genres

Composers

Year

There are also the following categories, which I don't use:

Playlists

Personal Rating

Most Played

Recently Played

Recently Added

Unfortunately, the Samsung doesn't have a category for Comments

The Genres category turns out to be very useful as an additional search field, because you can put whatever you like in it. For example, one genre I've generated is "Mozart Late Operas" (from Zaida onwards), and another is "Solo Violin".

I input the category metadata on the files on my PC, clicking on the file for Properties > Details. This can either be done individually or globally. MP3 files are the easiest to deal with in this respect because they have the most fields.

Be aware that the file Name and Title in metadata are not necessarily the same, which can cause confusion when searching. What I do is either to delete the Title or ensure that the Name and the Title are identical.

Also be very aware of the rubbish that only too frequently passes for metadata on classical CDs. On a number of occasions when backing up a CD I've noticed, for example, that the Artist is the Composer (miraculous when the Composer has been dead for centuries), and perhaps vice versa; and typos are legion. So these things need to be checked out very carefully for one's own peace of mind.

My new Medion smartphone (with the latest Android OS) also has provision for a removable microSSD up to 32GB (but it is stored underneath the battery - a slight nuisance). The Android sound system is very good.

Bottom line: it might be worth looking out for an old smartphone (not Apple - you're tied into its OS too much) to see if it can be pressed into service as a decent MP3 player.

January 15, 2017 at 03:13 PM · Yes, FLAC format is the way to go!

My music has been organized in iPod so far and I am about to start a massive conversion of my CDs to FLAC before storing them into X5 (with current capacity of 256GB) I have been following folder structure based on performer, but the more music I add, the more time it will take to locate a particular piece. Not to mention that disc are organized by performer(s), but it is often secondary (unless you are a fan of a particular violin player).

The challenge is in fact that any static organization simply does not satisfy my ever-changing needs for music. On some days I want to listen certain era or composer, on others I am looking for a specific music form, or to compare performers. There are days when I only want to listen performers using pure gut strings, etc. I have no solution yet.

January 15, 2017 at 03:16 PM · My primary organization is by composer. I use search to find the artists, etc.

iTunes (which is what I use) is absolutely terrible on large music libraries, though.

January 15, 2017 at 05:44 PM · Yeah Trevor, I never ever trust in automatic tagging. This topic was more about how do you organize your music library. I want to know how do you store digitally your music, if it's by artists (performers), or conductors, or orchestras, or composers.

And then, more important, how do you navigate your library: if it's like me in an album view, sorted alphabetically by artist, or by composer...

Anyways, I'll explain as well what I do to convert my CD to digital files.

First, rip the CD and convert it to FLAC (loseless), using EAC and some plugins to verify every thing went right.

Then I always, always tag all the ripped files by myself: title, year, artist, album, genre and track number. And then I name the music file as "Artist - Song".

Here's already one problem, I've always left the Composer field blank. In classical music, what I was doing was putting the composer in the artist field. Then I started to have a lot of different versions of violin concertos, and this method failed, so that's why I created this thread.

I really like the idea of navigating a music library in album view, cause that's the most natural way, it's like you have all the CD's in front of you. I also love the idea of having all the albums of an artist or composer altogether, and sorted by year, so I can have a better idea of the artist/composer evolution through the years.

But this leads to a very frustrating problem, which is that I have the Mendelssohn concerto played by Perlman, Hahn, Vengerov... you know, a lot of violinists.

First, how do I organize Mendelssohn pieces?

One way is to literally make up an album that does not exist, calling it "Violin Concerto in E...". One for each different violinist.

But what cover art should I put?

The original one seems the best option, but the cover art will probably have Bruch, Beethoven and many other stuff. Kind of confusing selecting it and only find a Mendelssohn concerto. If I do this, as well, I will have this cover art repeated several times, and this applies to almost every single CD of classical music, so my album view would be incredibly confusing and ugly.

So, my favorite ideal and theoretical way of sorting classical music is full of deception and confusion. I don't know how to deal with this.

January 15, 2017 at 07:32 PM · I go by the name of the player first, then the composer. If I had to specify a year, it would be the year that the player played the music, since this seems to stick in the mind much more easily than "that one performance where they...".:)

January 15, 2017 at 08:19 PM · OK, OK, let's do something that actually works better. Imagine you just purchased this CD:

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26

Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47

Album name: Perlman plays violin concertos

Composers: Bruch, Sibelius and Mendelssohn

Solo violinist: Perlman

Conductor: Simon Rattle (Bruch and Sibelius), Karajan (Mendelssohn)

Orhcesta: L.A. Phil (Bruch and Sibelius), London SO (Mendelssohn)

Year: Bruch and Sibelius recorded in 1993, Mendelssohn recorded in 1982

Year of the actual pieces: Sibelius (1904), Bruch (1866), Mendelssohn (1838)

Where would you put the music files, how would you name them, and what would you put in each file's tag: title, artist, year, album name...

January 15, 2017 at 10:06 PM · First, I do it myself. After thinking about it a little bit, this is what I would do:

I would have 3 different folders (artist folders) in my main music folder (root): Bruch, Mendelssohn and Sibelius.

In Bruch, I would have a folder named "Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, I. Perlman S. Rattle LA Phil 1993". That would be the album name. That way, only looking at the album title I'd know the year of the performance, the soloist , the conductor and the orchestra.

The music file would be named: "Bruch - Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26, 1st movement Vorspiel Allegro moderato (Perlman S. Rattle LA Phil 1993)".

This method is awesome because you can know all the general info about the actual performance in the album title, and the thing is you can tag the files with the actual year of the piece (1866, etc...), the actual composer (artist)...

The big disadvantages are:

1. Which cover art would you use?

2. You're literally making up an album, which is not cool at all.

3. Large names, although I'm kind of used to when tagging and naming classical pieces, as I like to have all the general information right there.

4. Another real big problem is all the info you got to search. Sometimes it's very difficult to find out what orchestra is playing, or in which year the actual recording took place. I hate it when CD's don't come with proper detailed information about what's inside. I suffer this constantly with OST CD's, where sometimes it's impossible to find out these kind of things.

5. You can't have all the Perlman works together in the album view, or all the conductor works together.

What do you think about this method?

January 16, 2017 at 12:36 AM · I vote for a voice-controlled system where you say or hum the recording you want to the tech, and it starts playing it immediately after.

Surely they can already do this (we have cortana and siri etc)?

January 16, 2017 at 12:49 AM · It is worth noting that if you use iTunes to back-up a CD (to WAV, MP3 or one of the Apple formats, but not FLAC, unfortunately) the metadata oddities I mentioned in my previous post become visible, so you can do something about them. The CD sleeve is usually a reliable source, but the most information I find can be gleaned from the Naxos website, if the CD is in their collection (the chances are that it will be). Of course, you have to be a subscribing member of Naxos to do this; you can join through the IMSLP website.

I use iTunes to back-up a CD because it's convenient and quick, and I always use the WAV format. Then I convert the WAV files to FLAC or MP3 using the very versatile Audacity app. If I want it to, Audacity can carry out format conversions on multiple files with ease, and can also combine a large number of tracks in their correct order into a single file with equal ease.

Another useful app for converting files between WAV and FLAC is the FLAC founder's own "FLAC Frontend", which is a free download from Sourceforge.net.

January 16, 2017 at 02:34 AM · Well, I don't "back-up" my CD's, the CD's themselves are my back-up of what I consider my music source, which are my FLAC's (well, obtained from the CD's but whatever). I rip the CD's into FLAC directly, don't know why I would want to rip them to wav to then convert them to FLAC.

Can you guys answer the questions of my last 2 posts:

"Let's do something that actually works better. Imagine you just purchased a CD containing:

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64

Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26

Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47

Album name: Perlman plays violin concertos

Composers: Bruch, Sibelius and Mendelssohn

Solo violinist: Perlman

Conductor: Simon Rattle (Bruch and Sibelius), Karajan (Mendelssohn)

Orhcesta: L.A. Phil (Bruch and Sibelius), London SO (Mendelssohn)

Year: Bruch and Sibelius recorded in 1993, Mendelssohn recorded in 1982

Year of the actual pieces: Sibelius (1904), Bruch (1866), Mendelssohn (1838)

Where would you put the music files, how would you name them, and what would you put in each file's tag: title, artist, year, album name... "

I'm really looking for your answers, wanna see how you solve that. How would you tag it, how would you name the music files (FLAC file), and how it would be shown in your regular Digital Audio Player.

After that, please, tell me more about Naxos, never heard of it. What is it?

January 16, 2017 at 03:38 AM · Just checked - I have 20,000 files in my music library. There is no way I would want to try to organize that by folders. Software is your friend - I recommend looking into the many available media libraries. Many are quite good, well-developed and maintained, and reasonably priced. I use JRiver Media Center for everything, except ripping my SACDs (I use iso2DSD for that), and let it handle the folder creation; I really don't care to. All my music's on a Synology NAS, which serves all my various devices, usually controlled somehow by Media Center from PC or Android phone app. You can create any TAG you want, and create permanent library views. All the standard TAGs can be read by other devices. For example, I use views such as Composer(last name) => sub-genre => album; soloist => album; sub-genre => album; conductor => composer => album; composer (last name)=> conductor => album; etc. You get the idea. All the standard ones, and anything you can imagine. You can be as obsessive as you like. I also sort by box set name, if DSD/DSF format, and have TAGs for year recorded, year released, year purchased, etc. It had a bit of a learning curve at first for me, but the Wiki's pretty good and I'm glad I put the time in because I'm pretty happy with it now.

January 16, 2017 at 05:15 PM · Tim, I expect you know about the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library from which you can download for free a vast amount of public domain classical sheet music. IMSLP have a link-up with Naxos, one of the world's largest record labels, whereby, if you are a subscriber, you can stream classical CD tracks from the Naxos collection which includes CDs not only from Naxos but a large number of other labels as well. I checked today, and the Naxos disc count currently stands at 126950 CDs and 1941339 tracks.

You can subscribe to Naxos direct or, better in my view if you use IMSLP a lot, do it by becoming a subscription member of IMSLP. IMSLP membership brings certain advantages among which are much faster and immediate downloads of sheet music, together with membership of the Naxos Library. The cost of the subscription? - it may vary a little according to national currency rates, but generally an annual subscription would buy you a couple of classical CDs from an online store. When I joined last year I paid £17 (UK).

January 16, 2017 at 06:12 PM · Naxos music library is also available through Toronto Public Library for free. It does come handy when I am looking for something not otherwise readily available. Great for use at home, but the mobile audio still needs some sort of database and search engine.

January 16, 2017 at 10:04 PM · You can also get access to the Naxos library by supporting IMSLP with a subscription.

January 17, 2017 at 08:26 PM · I do something like this: music/classical/b/Bach, J.S. - Violin Concerto in A minor - David Oistrakh/01 - Violin Concerto in A minor - 1st movement.mp3

The "classical" folder is a genre classification, separating classical music from pop, bluegrass, etc. Underneath that is one folder for each letter of the alphabet (composer for classical, artist otherwise); this keeps the size of each subfolder down to a reasonable number of albums. Note that the names of the actual audio files are prefixed by a two-digit sequence number - if all else fails I can sort by file name to ensure all movements come out in the proper order. (For multiple-CD albums, I use a 3-digit number, the first digit being the disc number.)

This enables me to find music by composer, artist, and title, using the file search capabilities offered by most operating systems. Being an old-style Unix command-line geek, I prefer to play a piece by typing a command like "mplayer classical/b/Bach*Concerto*A\ minor/*.mp3". (Yes, I'm a good typist and know my collection pretty well. Your mileage may vary.)

I store additional information (e.g. year or assorted comments) in the ID3 tags. This doesn't give me search capabilities, but I'm usually not concerned about that. If I were, I could probably find something that would list ID3 tags in a way I could search - or write it myself.

I prefer to store my files my own way, and not surrender control to a third party like Google or Apple.

January 18, 2017 at 12:58 AM · Thank you Charlie, that's the kind of posts I wanna read.

So, under the letter o, you don't have a folder named "Oistrakh"?

You always divide all the tracks of a single album (for example, "Oistrakh plays famous violin concertos" album) in very different folders in you classical folder, right?

So, in your music player (smartphone app, digital audio player such iPod's, HiFi devices...), how do you see your music?

Do you have album view of your entire library?

Then what cover art do you put in each separated track of an album?

January 19, 2017 at 09:05 PM · Albums containing pieces by multiple composers is a conundrum I have yet to fully solve. In that Oistrakh CD (you're right, it's not filed under O), I'd be tempted to move the Bach pieces to the B folder and the Tchaikovsky to T. Or maybe I should keep a copy of the entire album in both places (under Linux I could make creative use of file links, but that's getting technogeeky). It's a thorny problem and I'd love to hear how others deal with it - with CDs as well as MP3 or FLAC files.

When I play music on my computer, the entire file structure is visible. My preferred program, mplayer, shows the name of the file and the various ID3 tags that are attached to the current track. I was lucky enough to discover that my MP3 player has an option of presenting a similar folder view and, like my computer, will play the contents of that folder in order by file name (hence the sequence number I mentioned previously). I've found that many MP3 players ignore the ID3 tag that gives track number, and I was getting tired of hearing the movements of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings out of order. This problem is common among MP3 players; apparently a lot of people like shuffle play and don't care about hearing tracks in order.

I suppose I could get an album view of my entire library with a command like

ls -lR
(I told you I'm a Unix geek), but my library is large enough that I prefer to search selected portions.

When listening to music, I usually spend my time looking at other things. If I really wanted to, I could attach images as somewhat bulky ID3 tags. That doesn't solve the problem of separated tracks of an album, but for me it isn't an issue worth spending time on.

Thanks for keeping the discussion going. Let's see if others come up with some interesting ideas.

January 20, 2017 at 12:58 PM · Yap, yap, yap, it's a really hard to solve problem. That's why I want to read and read about it. I have never EVER listened to tracks shuffle. I always put an entire album or piece, from the beginning to the end. Of course, if a classical music album has 2 symphonies, I can start listening to the second with no hesitation or regrets.

Unless I have to stop listening to music (specially classical) because a dumb creature of planet Earth requires my attention, I listen to entire works, never single movements. I hate it so much when I'm walking, listening to a symphony, and someone stops me to ask me something. God, who do you think you are to interrupt Beethoven's 4th? WHO?

I have another loop in this loopy thread, by the way. Another special kind of album that loops the loop even loopier. For example, David Garrett vs Paganini, an album that contains: some works of Paganini, and like 8 or 9 different composer, then it also has OST pieces and another songs. Well, some of those pieces are variations of existing works, and I always like to give credit to the original artist/composer. So, if Garrett decided to make a song that is a variation of Paganini's 24th, then it's a must for me to put somewhere in the tag or file name "based in Paganini's 24th". And same questions as before: where would you put the tracks, which the cover art if you split the album and spread it all around your library, etc...

January 20, 2017 at 03:10 PM · Tim, I too prefer to listen to entire works (just as the composer intended), unless it's for a very specific learning or study reason. Rather than have four separate files for a symphony I combine them into one. I use Audacity to do this very efficiently and quickly, exporting the resulting file in a format of my choice.

The way to combine multiple tracks with Audacity isn't entirely obvious on first inspection, although it's on their website somewhere, so here's how:

Drag all the files you want to combine from your source folder(s) onto the Audacity screen.

Click on Edit > Select > All, (OR use CTRL-A), then

Click on Tracks > Align Tracks > Align End to End.

This will instantly align the selected tracks one after the other so that they follow the Timeline. I think this is done in strict alphabetical name order, so the file names could need some prior adjustment. You can scroll down the screen to see the alignments along the time line.

Press Play to hear the result. If you're satisfied then press File > Export, choosing the name and format you want.

I don't know if there is a numerical limit on the number of files Audacity lets you combine in one go, but I have combined over 60 short files with no problems.

January 20, 2017 at 04:08 PM · Yeah, I've been using Audacity for almost 10 years, hahaha, I do a lot of audio stuff with it. I can rip my CD directly to one FLAC file (about 300MB), but I don't like that, I prefer to have one audio file per movement, piece or song (per track basically).

January 20, 2017 at 04:11 PM · Mobile audio devices and their user interface have not been designed with classical music on mind.

Last night, I started organizing my folders on FiiO X5 by using music form (with preceeeding 2-digit number for better sorting) as the top of directory structure. Next level will most likely be composer, then performer.

Once the CD is ripped into FLAC files, you can do with files whatever you want - you are not bound to the source anymore. XLD free CD->FLAC software for Mac allows for quite flexible file naming convention using placeholders. Some CDs are "clean" in structure and content (say Bach solo partitas and sonatas), others more complex, up to the so-called compilations (a medley of singer's arias, or violinist's encore pieces), notoriously labelled as "Portrait" or "The best of ".

Charlie has got a good point, and some devices, attached to Mac (where the os is Unix) are just like any other file system or device - accessible over terminal window and Unix prompt and therefore possible to manipulate by using old-school Unix commands and tools, such as find, grep, awk, sed, perl, etc. X5's pathetic "Update media lab" option probably uses some of the above, but the result (Album, Artist, Genre and Playlists) is of no use.

All of this is requires a lot of manual labour - we need time to practice violin!

January 20, 2017 at 05:41 PM · Yeah, this is VERY time consuming, but I hate so much the idea of not having a perfectly sorted library that I can't just forget about it, rip CD's and go with whatever it comes.

In simple tagging tasks like adding a Queen album to my library, it takes, once it's ripped into FLAC files, about 20 minutes 'till I have all perfectly tagged, a nice cover art embedded into all the tracks and all the file names correctly typed.

In classical music I have to find the key, the composer, how long the name of the composer should be (I can't name a composer as Strauss, as that will be problematic in the future cause there are several Strauss's), look at the tempo, the opus, verify I'm looking at the right place, etc... there are so many things to verify and gather that may be it takes like 1 hour per album until I have everything correctly named and tagged.

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