One day the classical music industry will wake up to ID3 tags and its mind will blow

I just tried looking for Haydn’s Symphony no.73, ‘La chasse’ on Spotify.

Being a contrary type, and knowing that searches for symphony + no. very rarely narrow the field, even for a number as high as 73, I thought I’d just pull up Haydn and flick through a few album covers instead.

Oh look, here’s Antal Doráti and the Philharmonia Hungarica performing the complete symphonies on Decca. Perfect – just click and scroll until I hit no.73.

Oh.

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There are 425 lines of this. Around four times that number if you include all the ‘additional tracks’ that Spotify lists – similarly without any identifying features.

It’s word soup: an endless stream of tempo indications, with barely anything to attach them to one particular symphony. I’m listening to a minuet and trio at the moment – God knows which one. The information is completely meaningless, completely unusable. And, if I had searched for “Symphony no.73″, or even “La chasse”, unfindable too.

This a particularly shaming example, but this kind of metadata wastage happens all over digital classical music. Even in new music, where pieces tend to have unique titles, it can be almost impossible to find things that you know are there using first-time search terms. There’s one album I know where each track is simply identified by the surname of its composer. No titles at all. And there are too many others where the composer’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in the tagging. Who browses anyway, right?

Please: we’ve had digital music for nearly two decades now. Can we start to get our act together on this?

(NB I have just found that “La chasse” – on disc 21 of 33 of the Decca set – is actually one of few that can be found by searching by its title. But I think my point still stands.)

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13 comments

  1. Yes. Importing CDs into iTunes is a similar nightmare. I share your frustration! But who is going to sort it out? I suppose there must be an industry body?

  2. A somewhat useful trick I’ve discovered, exploiting a feature? glitch? in Spotify’s search: looking for a [whatever] no. 73 or an op. 110, say, include “no73″ or “op110″ (without spaces) in the search. Many title tags lack the space after the period sign (ugly but convenient), and this apparently leads to concatenation in the search index. Examples: “haydn no73″; “beethoven op110″.

  3. It sounds like you have hope. I’d given up (hope, not Spotify). You think classical publishers can use the existing tools to fix this problem? Is it just a case of smart and consistent use of metadata fields?

  4. Almost all of the commercial services use metadata that’s been provided/massaged by Rovio/AMG. They’re the people to yell at (but unless you’re one of their actual customers paying silly money to license the data, ‘rotsa ruck’ as Scooby sez. A client of mine was in talks to get access to the metadata stream until the first quote from Rovio came in. Insanely high.)

  5. I hope you don’t mind me noting, though, that your previous Radio Rambler playlist has plenty of pieces in it where you, er, don’t mention upfront who plays them. Obviously not actually the point you’re addressing here but it’s always interesting to me to see what information is and isn’t deemed worthy by its transmitters of being kept front and centre…

    • That’s true. Partly that’s laziness on my part, saving myself some typing. And partly it’s because in playlists like that I’m interested in promoting the composers/pieces concerned, so that’s what takes priority. Anyone interested can always click through to the label page for more information if they want it. But maybe I need to be more upfront about giving credit where it’s due.

  6. Pingback: Classical music: a game of tags | 5:4

    • My point is not that it’s impossible to find a recording of the piece, but rather that poor metadata is limiting the available search pathways.

      I’ve just checked, and the ‘Haydn Symphony 73′ doesn’t seem to pull up the Dorati set. And ‘Haydn Symphony 73 Dorati’ gets you nothing at all, so more fool Decca…

  7. Pingback: Spotify just got a whole lot easier for classical listeners « The Rambler


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