This is the last part of my series on ripping your CD collection. I hope you have found it useful. This part deals with the thorny problems faced by collectors of classical music, who face additional frustrations when it comes to managing a computerized music collection. A warning straight off the top – there are no definitive answers for this!
Rock, pop, and jazz albums are generally conceived right
from the word go as albums. The artist
goes into the studio with the objective of recording an album. The record company signs the artist up to a
deal that is usually expressed in terms of so many albums. An advance is paid out to the artist to
prepare an album. And as a rule, record
companies, studios, artists, and consumers all have converging expectations as
to what an “Album” means.
Classical music is different. Take for example the CD of Dvorak’s 6th
symphony I have in front of me. The
performance is about 40 minutes long.
Most record companies don’t want to short-change their customers by
selling them a 40-minute CD (of course, 40-minute LPs were not at all unusual!),
and customers don’t like to be short-changed by buying a 40-minute CD. So what usually happens is some other piece
of filler gets put on the disk as a companion piece. Maybe a piece by Dvorak, maybe by someone
else. In my case in point it is a piece by the obscure Vítezslav Novak called
Most classical albums don’t have a formal name. They are often content to just list the
pieces they contain on the front cover.
In my example the disk says on the cover “DVORAK Symphony No 6, NOVAK Eternal longing, BBC SO/Jiri Belohlavek”. If I enter that as the album name then it
will be (a) a large mouthful; (b) will probably not fit into the space
allocated to display the album name; and (c) will be lost amongst all the other
classical albums whose names are equally clumsy. In my case, the standard I have adopted leads
me to store this album as “Dvorak –
Symphony No 6 (Belohlavek)”. FYI,
freedB recognizes this disc, not unreasonably, as "Dvorak, Symphony No. 6 - Novak, Eternal Longing". An option, and one that I have experimented
with, is to store the two works as two virtual albums, one for each piece, with
both showing the same Album Art.
That example was not too much of a challenge. How about this one from Deutsche Grammophon? (The great teutonic classical music label
loves this sort of thing.) There are two
major pieces on this disc, each are equally prominent, and the common theme is
the Cello. The two pieces are “DVORAK:
CELLO CONCERTO IN B MINOR” (DG loves to put its titles in upper
case) and “TCHAIKOVSKY: VARIATIONS ON A ROCOCCO THEME, OP 33”. First of all, what title do I provide for
this “Album”? You could do what I did: “Dvorak
& Tchaikovsky – Cello Concertos” (yes,
I know …), or you could find some other bastardization, or even just
replicate in its entirety the original DG mouthful. The main point is, suppose you wanted to see
if you had one or other of those pieces in your very large album collection
(which you inherited from a late relative, for example, so you don’t know for
sure everything that’s in it). What type
of search through your database would properly identify it? There really is absolutely no answer to this
problem. Metadata standards have evolved
in a fashion that is extremely unhelpful to classical music enthusiasts.
Here is another unwelcome wrinkle. When a record company finally decides to make
its music available for purchase by download, the way they do this is that they
generally retain the services of an “Aggregator”. The aggregator does various things, but one
of them is to embed the metadata. Since
there are no firm standards for doing this with classical music, you get all
sorts of inconsistencies. One common one
is who is the Artist? Or more to the
point, whose name gets put in the Artist field?
Sometimes you will find the conductor’s name in there. Other times the name of the orchestra is used
(Is an orchestra actually an Artist? If not, what is it? Most metadata standards now recognize
“Ensemble” as a Field, but I have not yet seen it implemented in any of the
mainstream music player Apps). Yet
other times it is the composer’s name that appears in the Artist field, even
though the composer already has his own unambiguous Field! When something as simple as this can get
screwed up through ambiguity, you know you have a problem.
And another one!
Opera. On what basis do you
determine whose names go into the Artist fields on an operatic recording? A cast can have over a dozen listed
performers. Do you embed all of their
names, or just a selection? Does
everybody’s name get embedded in every track, or do we just include those
Artists who perform on the individual tracks?
(Some people might prefer to see that, but it represents a Herculean
metadata grooming task.)
Classical music listeners are left with the thin end of the
wedge. The existing metadata standards
just don’t serve their needs at all well.
Each individual has a choice to make as to how far, and in what
direction, to bend it in order to make it fit.
There is no one solution that will meet everybody’s needs. To make one will require someone with enough
clout to force all of the stakeholders to line up behind them, and I don’t see
anyone who has the combination of ideas, motivation, and (most important) resources
to take that on.
Back to Part V.