Genre Busting

Nostrich’s brief post about mp3 genre tags is something that I’ve been thinking about since I purchased an iPod Touch (and more so since I upgraded to iTunes 8.) Apple places too much focus on the genre tag, which has always been of dubious value. For years, the genre has been an unsorted mess in my music library. Any ID3 information I enter manually, I do so ignoring the genre tag (I never know how to classify music); and any ID3 information that is loaded for the CDDB comes back inconsistent or just plain weird. I couldn’t tell you the difference between Techno and House. There are many people like this, it seems, because most CDDB entries fall under the all encompassing “electronic” label. “Electronic” covers everything from music programmed on a GameBoy to instrumental Jazz with some post-production added to it. It’s a catch-all for anything that has ever met a computer. I couldn’t tell you at what point, specifically, “rock” ends and “post rock” begins. Or even “prog rock” or, hell, “progressive metal.” I don’t even have a clue what “DSP” or “Morr” or “Skwee” are supposed to be despite having music that is labelled as such. The only accurate genre tag listing I have is “soundtrack”, but that’s simply because it applies to the context of where the music was played rather than the nature of the music itself. If it wasn’t for a movie I wouldn’t know how to classify it.

iTunes itself doesn’t know how to group these genres. It has a few preset genres with fancy little iconic graphics, like “rock” and “rap” and “dance”, that it tries to group more specific labels into. “House”, for example, shows up with the “dance” icon. But even this grouping falls apart. “rock/pop” shows up as “rock” only; “brit pop” is neither “rock” or “pop”; and rhythmic noise”, which is this, shows up as “R&B”. It clearly is as far from “R&B” as you can get.

Rhythmic Noise

So what to do about this superfluous tag? You can remove it from iTunes entirely but maybe there’s another way. I don’t know how useful it’ll be or what it will actually say in the end, but I’m going to go through my library and change every genre tag to represent the place of origin of the artist. If anything, it’ll be more concrete, and more useful, than “Unknown Genre.”

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