Genre tags are a messy business

I think I may have decided to start adopting parts of the genre labeling system that’s in use at discogs.com. I say this half-heartedly because I don’t relish the idea of re-tagging all 14,000+ songs in the library and I’m not sure it would be an improvement. But at the same time, I must acknowledge that my existing scheme is arbitrary and borderline fubar.

Part of the problem is that a while back, I started using my genre tags more as a list of stylistic keywords rather than general labels. I did this so I could take advantage of iTunes’ smart playlists to quickly find (or filter) specific styles of music. For example, a quick smart playlist consisting of Genre contains "downtempo" returns 471 songs that I can easily turn on for a chill-out mood. I can easily filter out trip-hop by adding Genre does not contain "trip hop" to the list’s criteria. Overall, the system works fairly well.

But the problem I’ve recently started encountering is the result of 2 dueling forces. On one hand, there’s no limit to how many attributes I can add to a genre tag; I can get very specific if I want to (Ambient Pop Electronic Trip Hop, anyone?). Conversely, I want to keep everything as streamlined as possible. at the moment, my iTunes lists 298 different genres. Scrolling through that many listings on an iPod is an exercise in frustration. To make matters worse, many of those ‘genres’ contain only one album or, in some cases, just a couple of songs.

The point of all this is that I’m conflicted as to what to do with my genre tags. In practice, I tend to cast a wide net when collating music for a playlist, so I’m inclined to include as many keywords as necessary. But I rarely filter based on the more specific criteria, preferring to just skip songs I don’t feel like hearing when the come up.

Though sometimes, filtering is necessary. Indie rock, in general, returns 1400 songs and I usually need to further cull one branch or another based on whatever mood I’m in.

So after writing all this, I may have talked myself out of tackling this.

How would you handle it?

6 thoughts on “Genre tags are a messy business

  1. would using the grouping category help you any? you can add that as a column in your view options and sort that way (at least when not on the iPod).

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    tunequest Reply:

    Thanks for the suggestion David, but I’m not sure that would do it. The crux of the issue is that the genre-as-keywords approach is very useful when sitting at a computer and dealing with iTunes and Smart Playlists. On the iPod, it does create a cumbersome genre list to browse through, but at least they’re available. Using grouping wouldn’t allow that functionality.

    In a pinch, I can at least create on-the-go playlists to include multiple stylings.

    It would be cool though if Apple added a Style or sub-genre field to iTunes.

    Or, if the 5.5G iPod’s new “Search” feature included genres (and allowed creation of on-the-go playlists), that would work too.

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  2. Why not use the “comments” field instead of Genre? I am trying to figure out how to delete all the Genre options in iTunes.

    There are far too many to scroll through.

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  3. what i did with my collection was i first made a “Music” directory on a spare hard drive. then i made sub-directories labeled in a genre, and a few sub-directories i have 2 or 3 genres, because i don’t want rap and hip-hop taking me two folders. Pop, is on a folder of its own because hip-hop isn’t pop. ..so, things like that, i take into consideration when i make the sub-directories. then, when i do that, i use a mass mp3 tagging tool to re-edit all of the songs in that sub-directory with the genre i have it placed it. what that helped me out with was having a nice full branch of music on my playlist view for the genres i have become accustomed to. when i finished that, every file i kept gathering i started labeling them in a more specific genre because you cant have marilyn manson and acdc in the same “rock” genre. keeping this in mind helped me specify my genre views a little more. ..

    since 2005, 24060 songs, all re-tagged to my fulfillment.

    ps. i use winamp version 5. yes its heavy on the ram but highly customizable.

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