The music is the data, so what is the metadata?
Getting the metadata correct can be one of the most important aspects of setting up your iPod (or any MP3 player) for maximum enjoyment. You see, the music is the data. It is the reason you bought the device in the first place, right? The whole purpose of the device is to entertain you by allowing you to carry around and listen to songs. Of course, newer devices also allow you to transport and watch video, as well, but let’s focus on music for the time being.
Accurate and up-to-date metadata makes the iPod experience more enjoyable. What type of metadata? Well, most people, at a bare minimum want to know the song name and probably the artist performing the song. This information – this metadata – makes the music on your device accessible by some means other than random playing. If you make sure that the metadata about the music is accurate when you move it to your device then you can pick and choose the songs you want to play using the device’s interface.
Now there are some MPs players – like the iPod shuffle – that have no user interface so all they can do is play songs randomly. But I bet you had the metadata before you downloaded the songs to that player? In other words, you didn’t just populate the player with a bunch of random MP3 files without knowing what songs they were. So even these type of devices benefit from metadata as you populate them with your music.
So what type of metadata do you need? Think about it before you go about downloading music. As we mentioned earlier, at a bare minimum you’ll want artist and song name. You’ll probably also want to know the album name the song is from, especially if you want to be able to listen to entire albums on your iPod.
Probably the next piece of metadata you’ll want is one of the most vexing to get: genre of music. At least it has been troublesome for me. Why? Well, the term is not rigorously defined. Is there a difference between Rock and Hard Rock? What about Hard Rock and Heavy Metal? Do you want to slice genre even finer so that you’d have Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Rap Metal, Hardcore, and maybe even Hair Metal? It might make all the difference in the world to you if you are a metal fan. Or would you classify Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Poison, and Slayer all as simply Heavy Metal? Or maybe you don’t care enough about metal music at all, so you’d classify anything even remotely metal-ish simply as Hard Rock… or maybe just Rock.
That is not the only example either. How would you classify Pink Floyd? Rock? Hard rock? Progressive? Some might even classify it as electronic. What about Pop, Power Pop, Bubblegum, and Glam? And then how would you classify Sweet? And would “Little Willy” be classified the same as “Fox On The Run,” or “Love is Like Oxygen,” for that matter?
You really do need to put some thought into the categories you want for genre. If you download all of your songs from online stores like iTunes then the metadata should be set up for you. But it might not agree with what you want. One of the most frustrating things I’ve found is genres like “General Country” and “General Alternative.” Why would anyone want the word “General” in there – making it simply Country or Alternative makes it easier to search later when you are looking for songs by genre.
And be careful about automatically populating your metadata from online databases because the information is not consistent, nor is it always accurate. But I’ll leave that discussion for my next post…
But before I leave today’s post, I want to elaborate on other pieces of metadata you might want.
You might want to know the Composer of the song – that is, who wrote it. This comes in handy if you are looking, say, for all McCartney & Lennon songs, even if they aren’t done by The Beatles.
- Album Artist can come in handy, too. For example, you might have the song “The Saints Are Coming” by U2 and Green Day (Artist), from the Album “18 Singles” by U2. In this case, the artist is U2 and Green Day, but the Album Artist is U2.
- Another piece of metadata I like, but that isn’t usually associated with MP3 files is the number from the spine of the album or CD. I store this in my Filemaker database of CDs, but not with my MP3 files or in my iPod.
Let’s stop here for today. Future entries will discuss the benefits and problems with automatic music metadata services, metadata sorting and display issues, dealing with duplicates, using metadata to create playlists, and more. So stay tuned…