Thursday, January 11, 2007

On Tagging (Not the Spraypaint Kind)

When I'm not going to concerts (which, in the scheme of a year, isn't that often), I'm probably listening to music in some other form. I'm the anal retentive music geek who not only alphabetizes his CDs by artist and then organizes within the artist by release year (to the endless fascination of my wife, who can't figure out a.) why the CDs are that important to me and b.) why I need to keep them in such a and rather difficult detailed order), but also does his damnedest to keep his large mp3 collection organized; not just including title and artist information, but also release year, genre, album name and album art. Henry Rollins, with his rants about music organization, is my hero.

To be honest, I blame my current fixation on mp3 tagging on one thing: iTunes. Back in the day (by which I mean up until about 2 years ago), I was a Winamp user. I did some tag editing, but as Winamp didn't correct your song information when you added music to the player, I lived a fairly ignorant and blissful existence. And then I downloaded iTunes.

All of the sudden there were all kinds of new tags to fill and even worse, the program had filled most of them for me! Now aware to the vast possibilities of arranging all of this new information, I found myself editing tags like a fiend, mining the CDDB for missing release years (which are the devil in the details for iTunes to download, for some reason) and then trying to decide the proper genre. Was Van Halen rock or metal or both? Did it depend on the album or even the song? Was I going to get that granular? Would I buy into the hype of post-punk and label The Cure as "Alternative & Punk"? Would I invent new tags of my own?

I settled for a happy medium that allows me to organize without going crazy - my obsessive compulsive nature settles for strong organization without getting to Monk-like levels - and went for the default tags, making an overarching decision about a band's genre even if they've defied classification throughout their career. Van Halen became metal (yes, even the Van Hagar material), The Cure became Alternative & Punk and I was happy.

In the end, I found there was so much music and so little time to absorb it all that I needed a new listening system. Most people would have gone for shuffle, but thanks to the work I put into my tags, I had another, much geekier option: I started listening to things chronologically. I'll leave you to contemplate the full depths of that one.

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