A Digital Symphony

Classical music from Computer to HiFi

Tagging and How to do it

This section sets out what we are trying to achieve. Others may wish to do things slightly differently. Hopefully by setting out my objectives here, any differences in requirements can be identified and the appropriate changes made.

The key components of the system are:

  • Muso - to organise libraries and to view and queue music to play from the server to the player(s);
  • LMS - to play the music on the SB Touch and other players and to display the now playing info on the screens; limited use for selecting music to play (although improved in the newest versions of LMS);
  • iPod touch (or iPhone or iPad) - to control the above; optionally - to select and play music when not connected to the server, using the native player.

In each case, we are trying to deal with the two main requirements, namely (1) to handle the structure of classical music and (2) to provide a rich set of metadata with as little effort as possible. In Muso, this is easily achieved as it is specifically designed with these purposes in mind - the album is displayed in a "CD Insert" format with tracks grouped as appropriate and all artist and composer information given; music can then be chosen either by browsing, through multi-dimensional hierarchies, or by searching and filtering. With LMS and the iPod Touch player, it is not so straightforward. It is possible to use the "custom tag" and "custom browse" plug-ins for LMS, but I find those slightly complex and they also appear to slow down the LMS scanning considerably as well as interfering with music playing while scanning; also once you have Muso, you will find that you rarely use LMS for browsing and selecting music. The new version of LMS (7.9 +) has “additional browse modes” which reduces the need for “custom browse”, making matters simpler and quicker.

The approach I use is to store all the key metadata in "base" tags and then automatically construct any additional tags from these to meet the objectives, using an "action" in Mp3tag. However a simpler approach which avoids the use of Mp3tag is also possible.

This section provides an overview of the main tags and how they are used in my “Classical” tagging scheme. While this is designed for classical music, it also works for other types of music, particularly those with more complex tagging needs, such as jazz. The main tags for any music track are:

  1. The album name
  2. The title of the track
  3. The “artists” – these can be one of six roles. The term “role” will be used henceforth to avoid confusion. LMS uses the equivalent term “contributor”. The roles are:
    1. Album Artist
    2. Artist
    3. Band / Ensemble
    4. Composer
    5. Conductor
    6. Performer
  4. The genre

Before going into detail on these an overview is given of each tag with a discussion of them and how they are used in my system. Muso stores tags in database “fields” and permits a variety of methods to map tags into these fields. The simplest scheme is to use tags and fields with the same names, in which case no “custom import” action is required. However, if you also want to optimise the display on Squeezebox devices (including iPeng etc) then some customisation is necessary.


This is usually the name of the CD etc. from which the music is sourced. For popular music, this is fairly straightforward. However, for classical music it is usually helpful to use an album name which gives a bit more information.

Ideally the format is “Composer(s): Works description / Album name [artist/conductor]”, e.g. “Mendelssohn: Octet; Schubert: 'Trout' Quintet” or “Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy: The Romantic Piano [Gilham]” but this does not always fit. For an album where one artist plays many composers, “Artist: Works description / Album name” may be necessary.

One advantage of using an album name which has the artist or composer’s name at the start is that, if the same name is used for the folder containing the tracks, it is easier to find the album in (say) Windows. However, it is not crucial, as Muso supplies lots of ways of finding the album you want and when you are in Muso’s album view, you can click on “Browse Album Folder” to open the actual folder in Windows.

An alternative approach, used by some, is to have a separate “album” for each work/opus. This gives an appropriate grouping in systems that do not permit grouping of tracks other than into albums (such as LMS). I did this originally, but Muso has excellent grouping capabilities. If you do wish to pursue this method, then I recommend having another tag, say “CDName” which maps onto Muso’s Album field.

Finally, how to deal with odd collections of tracks which may have been downloaded from various sources. My approach is to compile “pseudo albums” of these. Muso permits the creation of albums from tracks spread across many different folders.

Track Title

Simple enough for a piece of pop music, the track title is a potential minefield for classical music. Helpfully, Muso allows you to structure the title into three levels – Track Group Header, Group Subheader and the track title itself. Writing the Title tag as, for example “Requiem, KV 626::III. Sequentia: Dies irae” provides for the separation into these three levels while keeping all the information in the Title tag (for less capable systems). The rule is that everything before the first single colon is the Group Header, with anything in that header after a double colon being the Subheader. So this has the structure:

Requiem, KV 626
III. Sequentia
Dies irae

Note that in “Cello Sonata in G minor, Op 5 No 2: Movement 3: Rondo: Allegro”, the structure is

Cello Sonata in G minor, Op 5 No 2
Movement 3: Rondo: Allegro

i.e. all colons after the first are part of the movement title, not the opus title.

Muso will actually split the Group Header from the rest at any point, if the tracks are given an identical “GroupHeading” tag before importing them. Alternatively you can specify the Group Header during the import process – Muso will guess this based on the repeating pattern in the titles, if you use the scheme described above. When exporting tags, Muso will write out the Header and Title combined as one Title tag, separated by a colon (and avoiding any duplication if the Header also forms part of the Title). Because of this, and because the colon separator is also generally accepted practice, I recommend using a colon as the separator between Opus and Movement.

Album Artist

If you do a bit of research you will find many different views on the use of “Album Artist”. Much depends on the library management / player software you are using. Muso hardly ever requires an Album Artist as it will determine its own view of who is the “Titled Artist” based on the roles present in the album. Specifying an Album Artist will over-ride Muso’s internal logic and make the Album Artist be the Titled Artist. I tend to only use it if Muso can’t discern a Titled Artist and I think there should be one (i.e. not a compilation album).


This should be used for the main performing artist, but not for a band/ensemble or conductor, who have separate tags/fields. It will normally be the name of a single person, but could be more than one name – for a duet or even more – if there is no band name. Separate multiple artists with semi-colons. I like to also include their instruments (or voices) in brackets, e.g.

“Mischa Maisky (cello); Martha Argerich (piano)”
“Katarina Karnéus (soprano); Julius Drake (piano)”

Muso ignores text in brackets (user-configurable) when looking up external references such as last.fm.


Fairly obvious for a simple band/ensemble name, this can be a bit more complicated if there are multiple ensembles. My practice is to include all ensembles in the Band tag, regardless of whether they are orchestras, choruses etc. Some music files have separate tags for Orchestra and Chorus, so combine these, separated by a semi-colon, e.g. “BBC Singers; BBC Philharmonic”. Do not include the conductor here (as there is a separate tag for conductors), but if you want to include, say, a chorus director without listing him/her as a Conductor, then you could include them in brackets.


In the simplest case this is just the composer’s name in “FirstName SecondName” format, e.g. “Johann Sebastian Bach”. Muso is pre-populated with a “composer roster” including dates and country of origin, so it is best to use the exact same name as is in the roster (or to add it if the composer is not there); the roster also gives a “sort name” for each composer, e.g. “Bach JS”.

Some works may have more than one composer or (more frequently in classical music) a composer plus an arranger. If you annotate the arranger’s name in brackets then this makes the role clearer without interfering with Muso’s lookup capability, e.g. “Johann Sebastian Bach; John Ireland (Arr)”.

If you want to attribute composition specifically to "Anonymous" then use that as the composer and put any additional information in brackets - e.g. "Anonymous (13thC England)"


The conductor’s name in “FirstName SecondName” format. More than one name can be included, separated by semi-colons. The specific role can be made clearer by putting additional attributes in brackets, e.g. “Anne Manson; David Jones (chorusmaster)”.


This tag is for all supporting artists that you wish to be credited. Include them in “FirstName SecondName” format with their instruments in brackets, separated by semi-colons, e.g. “Christopher Hughes (organ); Kim Porter (mezzo-soprano); Neil MacKenzie (tenor); Stephen Charlesworth (baritone)”. Again, Muso will ignore the brackets when performing last.fm look-ups.

A note about brackets
Assuming you configure Muso accordingly, all brackets in role names will be ignored in look-ups, so do not use them if they are genuinely part of the name – so “Joseph Hellmesberger, Jr.”, not “Joseph Hellmesberger (Jr)”. If this is a problem, Muso allows different bracket types to be configured – see the detailed notes for this.


Just using the tag “Classical” is not very helpful. I use one of Ballet, Opera, Orchestral, Concerto, Choral, Instrumental, Vocal, Chamber. An alternative approach is to prefix all classical genres with “Classical –“, e.g. “Classical – Concerto”. Some people also put instruments in here, although I use a separate custom tag for that and, if you put instruments with the artist/performers then arguably it is unnecessary to have it elsewhere. In any case, Muso allows you to specify all genres which are “Classical”: this then optimises the views to suit classical music (e.g. giving composers priority over artists in credits).

Other tags

There are a number of other tags worthy of mention. Some of these (such as Label and Year) I tend not to be very fussy about. Others, such as compilation, may need to be used occasionally to achieve the desired result. You can also add a comment tag, but this is not normally displayed anywhere. You can display comments in Muso by using the AlbumSubheader and DiscSubheader tags. You can also add your own tags such as Period and Instrument. See the details section for more information on using these tags.

How you implement this tagging scheme depends on whether you want to “Keep it simple, stupid” or to add “bells and whistles” to optimise the information provided in various devices/software. The following table sets out the differences in these approaches:



Bells and Whistles

Initial tagging

Whatever you wish / manual

dBpoweramp – CDRipper (for CDs)

Tag editing


Mp3tag / Muso. (“Classical” mp3tag action will facilitate synchronisation of changes between platforms).

Sorting by second name etc.

Only for composers in Muso’s roster

Sort keys created in Mp3tag

Custom fields


Instrument, Period

Basic LMS display (on SB touch, iPeng etc.)

No customisation – “No Artist” will be displayed if there is no Artist tag, even if there is, say, a Band tag.

Artist will display Artist, Band (if no artist) or Composer (if no artist or band).

Enhanced LMS display on SB touch and Squeezeplay (on PC).

None. Just Album, Title, Contributors (mixed up) with limited space and much scrolling

Further custom display possible using “Custom Clock”, e.g.
Album, Title, Composer, Artist & Performers, Band & Conductor all clearly shown.

Which approach you adopt is up to you. However, provided it will fit into your playing platform, Muso is a must. If you start with the simple approach, it should be fairly straightforward to add the bells and whistles later.

I would also recommend the dBpoweramp CDRipper as it provides access to some of the best metadata available on the internet, as well as enabling easy review and pre-processing of tags.

Whichever method you use, I recommend that, wherever possible you keep each album in a separate folder on your hard drive, with a name similar to the album name.