Friday, April 25, 2008

ISSUES FOR IDIOTS -- Artist subgenre classifications with MP3 players

So this is an ongoing problem I seem to have...and it seems to have no end in sight.

First of all, I'd like to say that I'm generally not a fan of classifying music, as many artists defy category. I guess the fact that I listen to many artists that cross music categories I believe demonstrates how I have breadth and diversity in my music collection. That stated, my collection certainly can always use more (such as opera, classical, blues, and electronica).

As the line under the title of the blog states: "...the musical journey continues."

...but now we need you at the bridge, Captain! WE'RE HAVING ISSUES!!!

So, back to the subject of classifying artists. Those of us who have MP3 players (in my case, the 160GB iPod, of which I've filled so far with 104.90GB of music - that's 19,785 songs most of which are ripped at 192 kbps) obviously must deal with assigning a classification of music for our music artists when we helicopter the songs onto our computer program, which the MP3 device takes to set itself up.

Many folks don't care, or don't know to pay attention to those sorts of details and live in MP3 bliss without thinking about "music genres and subgenres." However, for those of us who have hundreds of artists and CDs ripped to our MP3s - and do actually care, because we know no other way - we have no choice. We must classify the artists by genre if we're to find them on the device...otherwise you'll grow gray searching for what you want to play.

So this classification of genre process has taken on a life of its own. Some of it's simple: John Lee Hooker goes under "Blues" while Louis Armstrong goes under "Jazz."

In other cases, I'll bump into an artist that was accidentally classified under one tab and recategorize them... for example I realized that my Joni Mitchell CDs Blue and Ladies of the Canyon were classified under Rock, when I thought that the Folk category was more appropriate - so after it passed muster with the music committee in my head, I issued an executive order and made the change.

The big issues I run into are with my extensive rock collection. The drama never ends, and some problems simply let's journey back to the beginning with this one.

A long time ago, in a land far, far away - an MP3 player was purchased...

To go back one step further to set up the rest of this post; my "physical" CD collection on my shelf has all rock artists together, alphabetically, without any rock subgenre a punk CD by the Sex Pistols has a home next to a band like Santana, etc. Simple and easy...I know where to find the artist I want, when I want.

However, an MP3 is more interactive and the selection of music is more handily at your when you have over 1,200 rock CDs on the unit, you need to break them down into subgenre. In addition, some of the smart features on MP3 players such as shuffle and playlist options make you want to divide things out a bit so you don't get an Aerosmith tune playing when you're in the mood for Dire Straits, let's say.

So as things have evolved, I've come up with 8 genres of rock music, and recently decided that in order to keep track of all of them I had to label them starting with the umbrella genre of rock... for example, if you want to hear Kiss you must look under "Rock: Hard Rock." To hear The Beatles, you look under "Rock: Classic Rock."

The subgenres under "Rock: " that I have are:

  1. Alternative,
  2. Art & Progressive,
  3. Classic Rock,
  4. Hard Alternative,
  5. Hard Rock,
  6. Heavy Metal,
  7. Southern Rock, and
  8. The 1950s.
Of course, much of this is dictated by the makeup of my music collection, and what I want to hear in a specific subgenre... however, there are some distinctions I ignore that might be important to others. For example, I don't recognize what some might refer to as "80s hair bands" or "pop metal," simply because I don't own enough of that sort of thing in my collection to dictate my rock genre expanding into those kinds of subgenres.

Then there's the artists who make a compelling case for being categorized into more than one subgenre. Neil Young comes to mind... I have his solo albums (despite their wide range unto themselves) under "Rock: Classic Rock" while I have his collaborations with Crazy Horse under "Rock: Hard Rock." There's an intended and obvious difference in his sound between those two worlds he roams between, so that's easy.

Other artists aren't so easy... for example, I still can't figure out what in the hell to do with Lou Reed, and the Velvet Underground for that matter. Currently I have solo Lou and VU under "Rock: Hard Rock," which I know is very disputable... I decided to put them there not so much due to their band sound being heavy as much as the heavy hit with their thematic elements. I find that the themes in the music do factor into the overall package, and therefore what classification I ultimately determine.

Again, the classification for Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground is totally disputable. In some ways, the VU may have been the Godfathers of alternative music, considering how outside the box they were at the time against the 60s counterculture...but did alternative music really spawn out of the mid-1960s? That's very hard to absorb, let alone believe.

All this considered, as an interesting side note; I believe I only have ONE artist filed into THREE OVERALL GENRES, which would be Bob Dylan (country, folk and rock: classic rock).

In the case of alternative music, I found I had to research exactly what "alternative" means in my subgenre accuracy endeavors on my iPod... and I got a VERY interesting overview of it on Wikipedia, which is totally worth your time to review, if nothing else you might learn something you didn't consider:
Alternative rock - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. In the end, I divided my alternative rock into two subgenres: "hard alternative" (to umbrella punk, grunge, and harder post-grunge alternative) and simply "alternative" (80s new wave, weird bands like They Might Be Giants, and bands like No Doubt).

So that's the deal...please feel free to comment with your MP3 classification issues, especially if you've spent as much time as I have pondering all the subgenres and experiencing the "Clash of the Titans scenarios" in your head. S

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