Music Business

A Surprisingly Interesting Dive Into Classical Music Metadata

1 (1)Many digital service providers have been criticized for their failure to properly populate the metadata for their classical music. This article breaks down how such metadata works, and what standards need to be followed in order to ensure that DSP's classical content remains up to snuff.



Guest Post by Tom Brown of The Orchard on The Daily Rind

They said to me, “write about anything you like Tom, just keep it light. Mine the veins of your imagination and dredge those grey cells for something enriching and life affirming to impart…” So today, I thought we’d talk about classical music metadata.

Digital service providers (DSPs) have copped a lot of flack for a perceived lack of support for classical music. Some of the criticism has been leveled at the methodologies used to ingest and display classical, which can vary widely from store to store. A universal standard amongst stores for organising classical music would be ideal. However, this is half the problem; for DSPs to ever display classical metadata correctly, they’ll always be reliant on a supply of consistently good metadata.

One solution is to supply classical content in a way that’s homogenous with the way the same content is managed by the digital services that invest the most in it. iTunes, in particular, has an established methodology for classical metadata, which encompasses many millions of albums and tracks. Their conventions therefore heavily influence how we should supply our metadata. Or to put it another way, do as the store demands consistently, or don’t see it on store.

This is a fine approach for the present, but is it future-proof? If or when online stores and streaming providers have the capacity to return more complex classical music queries, we need to ensure the classical content in our system is fit for purpose. This means understanding the standards and following them religiously.

So, what do you need to brush up on? Here are a few tips:

1. Reference Source

I’ll warn you now. Variations on the following phrase will appear a lot throughout the rest of this post:


IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project) is a non-profit virtual music library of public domain music scores. It’s a free resource, it’s Apple approved and it’s a brilliant reference point for classical metadata queries.

2. Composer Names

The iTunes Style Guide tells us, in section 22, to “use the generally accepted, standard and/or legal artist name and spelling, with no abbreviations, commas, or additional information.”

Here are some of the many variations we’ve seen:

  • 2Peter Ilyitch Tchaikofsky
  • Piotr Tchaikovski
  • Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovski
  • P. I. Tchaïkovski
  • Petr Ilitch Tchaïkovski
  • Piotr Ilic Tchaikovskij
  • Peter Tchaikovsky
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

With so many options, what do you do? We’d generally recommend utilising the resources listed in the iTunes Style Guide to find the appropriate spelling. So that’s IMSLP, or alternatively, if you’ve got a few shekels to spare, you can also consult Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, or The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.

There’s also a handy list of accepted composer names towards the back of the Style Guide: Appendix 1: Standards and Abbreviations, Table 3.

3. Primary Artists

Here’s what the guide reads in regards to Primary Artists, section 23: “All performing artists must be marked as Primary for western classical music albums and ringtones. This includes any soloists, ensembles, accompanists, and conductors.”

Since you’re restricted to 3 primary artists at the album level, iTunes really wants the main performers listed here. So for example:

  • If you’ve got a recording of symphonies performed by a single orchestra and conductor: mark both the ORCHESTRA and CONDUCTOR as Primary.
  • Symphonies performed by several orchestras but with the same conductor: mark only the CONDUCTOR as Primary.
  • Symphonies performed by several orchestras and several conductors: mark VARIOUS ARTISTS as Primary.
  • Concertos performed by the same orchestra and conductor but featuring several soloists: mark the ORCHESTRA and the CONDUCTOR as Primary.
  • For complete operas: mark the PRINCIPAL VOCAL SOLOISTS, the ORCHESTRA, and the CONDUCTOR all as Primary.

There’s room in Release Builder to provide some additional classical-specific album-level info that’s not currently ingested by the stores. For instance, orchestras, ensembles and conductors can all be added.

At track level, all performers should be listed. So for instance:

  • A concerto should include AT LEAST ONE SOLOIST (within the Performer field), ORCHESTRA and CONDUCTOR.
  • With an opera: ALL ARTISTS present on that track should be listed.
  • A choir accompanied by piano or orchestra (i.e. a Requiem): list the CHOIR (within the Ensemble field), the ACCOMPANISTS or ORCHESTRA, and the CONDUCTOR.
  • With an orchestral track featuring a prominent solo: list the ORCHESTRA, SOLOISTS and CONDUCTOR.

4. Album Titles

“The album title should include the composers, followed by a colon, followed by the work titles, catalog numbers, or type of works such as Sonatas or Preludes,” we find in the iTunes Style Guide, 25.1. For example:

  • Mozart: Requiem in D Minor, K. 626
  • Beethoven: Violin Concerto, Op. 61 – Brahms: Symphony No. 1, Op. 68
  • Schubert & Schumann: Piano Sonatas
  • Britten: Choral Works
  • Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker & Swan Lake (Highlights)
  • Britten: Peter Grimes

Note, if an album has an exact title, then that may also be used e.g. I Am The Song: Choral Music by Bernard Hughes.

5. Track Titles

As for track titles, that’s covered in the iTunes Style Guide, 26.1: “If a track features a movement or selection from a larger work like a symphony or concerto, begin the track title with the name of the larger work.”

So, when we deliver classical content to iTunes they demand:


So that’s….

Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21: I. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio

If you’re uploading an individual album in the Workstation, this process is simplified a little, where separate fields for Work and Movements are provided.

Some background info about catalogue numbers (I know….. the excitement never ceases!): these are numbering systems used to organize a composer’s works. They commonly appear in the form of “opus” numbers, historically assigned by the composers themselves or their publishers. In many cases, the composer might not assign opus numbers or would do so inconsistently (with opus allocation often depending on whether the work was published).

1To make sense of a composer’s complete catalogue, scholars established unique conventions to document these works. Usually, these numbers would be abbreviated by the scholar’s name — Köchel for Mozart (K. 550), Deutsch for Schubert (D. 498), Hoboken for Haydn (Hob. XXII:11) — or by a scholarly work — BWV for “Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis” (BWV 565).

You can find some examples of catalogue number abbreviations in the Style Guide under Appendix 1: Standards and Abbreviations, Table 1: Standard Classical Abbreviations. You need to know these! We use the IMSLP website as a point of reference.

6. Opera Titles

With opera track title formatting, there are a couple of things you’ll need to consider:

– Opera Selections: If the track is an isolated selection from an opera recording, the track title should be formatted per the following:


So that’s……

  • Tosca: Vissi d’arte
  • Don Giovanni, K. 527: Il mio Tesoro

– Complete Operas: For recordings of a complete opera, you’ll need to include act and scene information after the opera title but before the colon and selection title. One-act operas which are through-composed are excluded from this rule. For example:


So that’s…

  • Cosi Fan Tutti, K. 588, Act I Scene I: Una bella serenata
  • Cosi Fan Tutti, K. 588, Act I Scene I: Ah guarda, sorella

7. Language

Where you find album and track titles referencing symphonies, concertos, sonatas, string quartets and other form-based classical genres, we’d generally insist you use English (e.g. Beethoven: Symphony No. 9, Op. 125).

However, for operas or instrumental works with programmatic titles, we’d generally rely on the original language (i.e. Die Zauberflöte, K.620, L’isle joyeuse, L. 106).

As ever, if you’re in any doubt, we’d recommend you consult IMSLP.

8. Casing

Title casing type is generally dependent on the language used. On iTunes, album and track titles should generally adhere to the following casing rules:

  • English titles should be title case with exceptions to a few words (‘a’, ‘an’, ‘and’, ‘as’, ‘but’, ‘for’, ‘from’, ‘nor’, ‘of’, ‘or’, ‘so’, ‘the’, ‘to’, and ‘yet’ should all remain lower case). E.g. Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68.
  • French and Italian titles must be formatted in sentence-case format. E.g. Debussy: La mer, L 109 or Puccini: La rondine
  • German titles must use sentence case, and the first letter of every noun must be capitalized. E.g. Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98

There will be instances where multiple languages will feature within an album or track title; tempo markings for instance, are usually Italian. In such cases the same rules apply.

Taking Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 for example, the track titles here are an amalgamation of English, German and Italian:

Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68: I. Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande (Allegro ma non troppo)

As always, if you have any questions about something you’ve read here, contact your client manager. That’s what we’re here for.

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1 Comment

  1. The problem here lies with navigation and search engine optimisation. Often the metadata varies from recording to recording, and there’s so much of it that it confuses the user experience – see Spotify. Even hardcore classically dedicated services struggle – search Classics Online HD*LL for ‘beethoven piano sonata 2’, and the top result is Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5.

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