Classification Declassified

GenresCorrectly tagging and cataloging our music collections is an important point for all of us Musicscramble writers, so when it came to an article about the subject and the myriad of available tagging options and genres in partiular, we couldn’t decide who should be the author. So, for the first time in Musicscramble’s history, we have written a joint article with two authors. Even more amazingly, we actually agreed with each other!

Gareth: MP3 tagging is very important to me. I love the ability it allows to organise music in (effectively) more ways than anyone should ever need, but also for someone with slightly obsessional tendencies it does cause no end of brain-melt. I hate when MP3s aren’t tagged within an inch of their life. Why haven’t they been? Nothing makes me more annoyed than flicking through a friend’s collection and song names registered as “Track 1”, “Track 2”, etc. I mean come on, you must have heard of Gracenote!

Once the basics like title and track number is sorted, what can really get me is when the same band are placed in multiple genres. They should at least all be the same. Not the ones which something like iTunes hilariously “recommend” but you know, the ones you want to use yourself.

Indie, Rock, and Metal are my favourites but then I start to think about the bands which fall into each category. Where would I put Iron Maiden for example? Do the way heavier Obituary share the same Metal genre? Should Maiden perhaps be in Rock then?

If they are Rock though then what about Feeder? Are Feeder Indie? Indie started out in my collection with mostly 90s Britpop bands like Oasis, Blur, Charlatans so that’s not really Feeder. However if Feeder is indeed Indie then they don’t sound much like Kate Nash or The Joy Formidable who are also tagged Indie.

Maybe simply that means Kate Nash is tagged wrong and she is Pop? But then it all starts again – if Kate is Pop she doesn’t really sound like Scissor Sisters. Perhaps Scissor Sisters are Dance or Electronic, but I know for sure that The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy would complain!

Currently the Prog Rock genre is proving a hard one. Sure, Dream Theater and Rush seem obvious and correct enough. But where does it end? Not every song by Rush is Prog-Rock really, perhaps they would be better as Rock. Again though they sound nothing like Feeder (or Iron Maiden)! And what about Oceansize? Are they Prog Rock enough? Perhaps they too are simply Rock? Maybe I don’t even need a Prog Rock Genre at all!?

Hmmm. This is hard. What do you do? Do you care about Genres or correct MP3 tagging at all?

Paul: I couldn’t agree more about the need for an accurately tagged music collection. When an album shows as “Track 1”, or album artwork is missing, it sends a little chill down my spine and the ‘must fix’ twitch begins to take hold. In fact, on my iPod I have a smart playlist that only contains tracks with a one star rating – those which I’ve marked as to be fixed. I also created a custom album cover for any songs that have no official artwork. Better than the default missing icon anyway. The genre though, I’m personally not too bothered about. Clearly I’m not going to chuck Mastodon in the Pop bracket, but I’m not going to waste time trying to classify the specific level of Prog-ness to slot the band into a tidy folder.

Indie is one genre I find to be quite absurd. Lets take a look at the word shall we? Indie. Short for Independent. The insinuation clearly being that the band in question does not require the major labels to be successful. So how exactly does a band sound Indie? We might as well start genres like “Nice Hair” or “Lives in Brighton”. I do get the idea that the independent nature of a band means it can sound like whatever it wants to sound like, and that is commendable, but it seems stupid to me that you can class the pop-rock shenanigans of The Academy Is… alongside the monotone musings of Interpol. If the Indie genre is so diverse, why don’t we call the genre “Unclassified” or “Diverse Rock” instead? The same bugbear exists in Alternative too. Alternative to what exactly? Surely every persons  musical preference is an alternative to someone else’s?

Metal ChartSadly though, the big one that takes the biscuit for me is my personal favourite genre of choice – Metal. As Gareth touched on above, metal is notoriously difficult to compartmentalise, but it gets truly insane when you drill down into the lower sub-sub-sub genres. Starting from the top though, even the word Metal is can be seen as a sub genre of Heavy Metal. Many would assume that Heavy Metal means the original bands that started it all off, such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, et al, but does that mean that the singular word Metal means everything else with a loud guitar?

Off the top of my head I can think of the following Metal genres – Black, Doom, Sludge, Math, Hair, Thrash, Speed, Power, Industrial, Pirate (yes, seriously – it’s awesomely silly), Battle, Progressive, Classic, Death, Melodic Death, Technical, Groove and Symphonic. And those are only the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at the chart to the right for more ridiculous sub-genres. I’m not responsible for it, so all credit due to its creator whoever they may be. Or maybe it’s Kreator if we’re sticking with Metal bands….

I don’t think I can sum up Metal better than this fella though (warning, naughty words):

In the end, I think genre tagging is an entirely personal choice. If you think a band deserves a label, then you go for it. In the end, it’s your collection and genres are used as a way to either catalogue stuff or quickly find bands on your media player of choice. If you believe Blur should be Alternative and not Britpop then fair play to you. You’ll find what you’re looking for when you go looking for it. Though I would advise against going into obsessional territory and start tagging your collection song by song. That could get very messy very quickly.

Or perhaps we should all take a leaf out of The Mad Capsule Markets book by trying to cover as much as possible one fell swoop. The awesome and slightly insane Japanese band once referred to themselves as “Techno-Industrial-Goth-Punk-Metal”. Now that’s a genre I do enjoy.

Gareth Fraser
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2 thoughts on “Classification Declassified

  1. The Rambling Man (aka The Night Hawk Photographer) March 2, 2013 at 17:44 -

    That tip about the 1 star rating for any song that needs fixing is really useful. So obvious when you say it, though, but one of those ones that until you see it you don’t really think of it! (I don’t rate music I’d rate below 3 stars these days, just isn’t worth it, so this tip is perfect for me).

    And yes, genre is a hugely difficult and very personal battlefield to sort out. I gave up and just classed everything under each artist as their main sound, after years of finessing every album to the exact genre it fit. Life, in the end, is too short…

  2. Ta for the comment. I confess to pinching the 1 star thing off a random post I read on the ‘net once if I’m honest. The only other use for the star ratings I’ve found it creating one dynamic playlist of the best of the best by marking as 5 stars. I’ve called it “The Dogs Danglies”