Beethoven ….. Mozart ……. Schubert ……. Wagner ……… Handel …….. Vivaldi ……. How can you have them in your online music collection?
You may already have established a music collection centred around classical music and / or opera; with at least a few of those Deutsche Grammophon recordings or are just cottoning on to the Great Classics as a break from the regular popular music. Yet you want to add the music in to your digital collection for use on your iPod / portable MP3 player or to play through your DLNA-based home media network. The main problem you will end up with is how to locate a specific work or movement / aria / chorus in your collection; or material by a specific composer.
It may not appeal to those of you who prefer to listen to classical music from an LP or CD through very fine equipment, especially from audiophile-quality recordings or boutique labels; but those of you who are used to and don’t mind listening to classical music from the radio or cassettes or or play classical LPs and CDs through commonly-available equipment may be accepting of this practice.
Most music-management software pitched at classical-music enthusiasts works on a presumption that the music collection is exclusively focused to this genre. But the reality for most music collections is that there is a mixture of the classical-music genre as well as jazz and popular music existing in the collections. It also includes situations where there are recordings that feature a performer performing a collection of classical and other pieces, recordings featuring highlighted works by a particular composer or “themed” classical-music albums with pieces based on a common theme like a “Most Favourite Selection”; music mood or composition era.
How will you be integrating classical music in to your digital music collection
You may buy the music as MP3 files from an online music download service like what is currently being offered by Deutsche Grammophon or may simply buy classical-music CDs and “rip” them to your computer’s hard disk. In some cases, you may copy music you have on legacy analogue media like LPs to your hard disk.
What standards to implement
Unlike most contemporary popular music, this kind of music demands high quality recording and playback and is more so if you take this genre more seriously. The preferred order for storing the music in your master collection when you “rip” from CD or record from analogue media would be:
- FLAC or similar lossless codec at best bitrate available
This may have compatibility problems with most of the portable media players on the market, because they don’t have native support for this codec. Some DLNA-based media-player components, usually those hifi components made by companies who make equipment for discerning listeners may support this codec natively. If you wish to work with this codec, make sure that the media server or “jukebox” program that you use can transcode from this format to LPCM for DLNA applications or MP3 at 320kbps, AAC at 200kbps or WMA at 192kbps for portable media player applications. Most such programs that rip to these codecs can support these transcoding requirements
- AAC at 200kbps or WMA at 192kbps
These offer a tradeoff between good quality sound and storage efficiency and most devices on the market do support either of these codecs natively. It may still be worth it to check if the media server or “jukebox” program can transcode as mentioned above.
- MP3 at 320kbps
This is the codec that is often used for digital media but the only problem with it is that it is not efficient. It is also the preferred codec that is used when you download music via an online store.
The metadata issue
How does a person refer to a particular piece of classical music?
|Instrumental and vocal works
||Opera, Ballet, Oratorios, Musical Theatre
|Movement (for multi-movement works such as symphonies, concerti, etc)
||Act or Part (works performed over multiple acts or parts)
|Some works, most notably Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, are primarily a group of multi-movement works that are intended to be thought of as a group, but each work or each movement can be considered as an item.
||Scene, Aria, Chorus, etc
The works can be further differentiated by the performers who had a part in performing the work, such as a solo performer, orchestra (with a particular conductor), opera company or theatre.
Organising the Metadata
This is made more difficult because most music metadata is organised based on most popular music where the concept of an album is a collection of songs by one or more artists.
You will have to organise the metadata manually whenever you add a recording of a complete work to the music collection. This is more so where you buy a recording with multiple multi-movement works like nearly all concerto and sonata CDs and an increasing number of symphony CDs. Some of these recordings may have a multi-movement work plus a few single-movement works rather than two or more multi-movement works. This may not be of issue when you have recordings which are a selection of single pieces and/or key movements, arias and choruses from larger works.
You could give each work its own “album” name and make sure each movement in the work is given a track number that is consecutive to how the movements are meant to be performed. Another good practice would be to change the movement’s or part’s “title” field to <<movement number>>-<<movement’s full name within work>>. There are some works that have a highlighted part within one of the movements, such as the 4th movement in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Here, the “Ode To Joy” chorus will typically be its own track and may be numbered “5” in the album track order, even though it is part of the 4th movement. You may still have to have this part being numbered as “5” in the album track order and the title’s movement number being “4a” so as to properly place it as part of its parent movement.
Also, if you are dealing with a suite of multi-movement works like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, you may have to have each work, such as the “Spring” concerto as its own album. Similarly, long-form musical-theatre works like operas and ballets that are performed over multiple acts may need to have each act as its own album.
As well, you will need access to the “Composer” field for modifying and searching so you can integrate the composer as a key domain. This should be kept consistent in respect to the name of the composer. Try to avoid using name variations across different works by the same composer; and especially avoid referring to a composer by surname only. This can be more of an issue with works by Johann Sebastian Bach who was a very prolific composer; as well as the works composed by his sons such as that popular “Musette” piano piece. As for genres, the music should be listed under the “Classical” genre or similar genres.
Searching for the music
You may have to search amongst the “Album” metadata in the “Classical” genre to find works. As well, you should have access to the “Composer” metadata field – Windows Media Connect, Twonkymedia, Asset UPnP and other good servers provide for this. Musical theatre works like opera could have each act as its own work e.g. “La Traviata Act 1”, “La Traviata Act 2”.
You may need to search based on composer then work methodology if you are after a particular work. If you want to run a sequence of works, you will need to add the works to a “now playing” queue in your DLNA media player or controller. A good idea is to use playlists for keeping suites of multi-movement works like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, or particular musical-theatre works together for sequential playback.
What needs to be done for music metadata management to cater for classical music
Data structures and fields in the databases need to exist to encompass the structure of classical music; primarily works, parts of long-form works (acts, etc) and suites of works. There also need to be data views that work commensurately with classical music’s structure i.e. to support “composer, works group, work, movement, performer(s)”. As well, music-management programs, including portable-media-player firmware and music metadata reference sites like Gracenote need to apply the different data structures and views when they are handling classical music. This can be made easier by detecting if a recording is identified as being part of the “classical music” super-genre; as well as providing a view structure for all classical-music recordings based on the “composer, works group, work, movement”; as well as the conventional “album-based” view for classical-music recordings so as to cater for “collection” recordings.
Once you can get your hands on the music metadata by editing it manually, you can safely integrate your classical music into your online music library while being sure you can locate that favourite work or movement.
Please feel free to leave any comments on how you had gone about integrating your classical music in to your online music library.