Nothing Better to Do: Gripe about Music Software

I have never encountered music software that I like.

Right now I am using Zune because I have a ZuneHD player. I love the device and I’m really disappointed that Microsoft discontinued them. I definitely would have upgraded at some point. Zune is a pretty good digital music manager. I like it as much as I liked WinAMP before I got my first Zune.

My main issue with all of the mainstream music media managers I’ve used is that they are too restrictive and aren’t adaptable to fit tracks with metadata just outside of the normal single artist, album, genre scheme.

Let’s look at a couple examples.

“Orange Sky” by Alexi Murdoch from Time Without Consequence
I love this track. It is among quite a few tracks that I discovered through the Music from The OC mixed CDs. I eventually downloaded his whole album. So, now I have this track that belongs to two separate albums.

This is a problem I also have with showtunes in my collection. I’d like to credit both the character and the actor for the song.

Collision Course by Jay-Z and Linkin Park
I would love for this album to show up under both Linkin Park and Jay-Z.

Furthermore, what genre is Linkin Park? Or Rilo Kiley? They are best described by the multiple genres they combine. But, I have to choose one. So, if I describe them accurately, they are the only artist that belongs to their exact genre. So, what’s the point? A couple months back I wiped all of the genre data from my collection just so I could start the slow process of reducing everything to a few general genres so at least they would provide some organizational function.

All of these issues could be easily resolved by tagging and meta-tagging. What I’ve always hoped for, and what Zune was rumored to deliver before it came out, was that any label applied to a track was just a tag among many tags applied to that track. So, I could apply a tag that was the artist’s name. I could apply a separate tag for each artist that created the track, and a separate tag for each album the track belongs to.

Then, I could qualify the tags as artist tags, or album tags, or genre tags. Whatever. That is the meta-tagging. The tags themselves are tagged with certain descriptive qualifiers so the management software can organize the tracks. Ratings would also just be tags. In fact, you could create multiple different rating systems within the same collection. I would then hope the system would be robust enough that users could create their own meta-tag categories. Maybe I want to create a bunch of Source tags, so I can organize my collection by where I discovered it.

This would make creating playlists incredibly easy, but also interesting. Along with tags for all of the typical categories, I could tag a track with any word or phrase that described it. Right now I have a carefully culled and curated playlist with songs that feature rain, are about rain, or just remind me of rain. It is very difficult to maintain this playlist. But it would be simple if, as I’m listening to a track, I could just tag it with “Rain”.

At first glance, this idea would seem to require a lot from the user, but a bit of careful design would keep the interface simple, but still provide these features to users that want them. Preferably, it would look like the music managers that already exist, with an “Artist” field and “Album” field in the track properties. But, I could enter multiple artists or albums and, behind the scenes, it is creating a separate tag for each one.

The larger a music collection grows, the more important it is to have an effective way to search through it and group tracks that share characteristics. This idea seems so simple and straight-forward. Why do none of the mainstream music managers use this?

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