Over To You: How Do You Use The Genre Tag In iTunes?

Last updated 13 November, 2017

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Genre tagging
How important is it to tag your music by genre, and which genres should you choose?

Digital DJ Tips reader Dennis writes: “My iTunes database is a monster. I have many years’-worth of music in there and then some. I knew I needed to clean things up and so I’ve started to do just that. I’ve realised that trying to apply a ‘genre’ to songs is a futile act for me! Especially with EDM I find that there are so many little pigeonholes people want to stuff songs into that I am not sure about any of the genres I apply to music except when they are really, really, really broad.

“Classifying something as ‘rock’ or ‘Motown’ (two genres I grew up listening to!) I can do. Give me a track by a ‘metal’ band, though, and I have no idea what label to apply to it since there are about 950 million metal sub-genres. That same feeling of futility creeps in any time I look at things like techno or house. Is it deep house, tech house, just plain house, Chicago house, burn down the dang house? I just don’t know… So I would like some help via the Digital DJ Tips community. I would like know some best practices vis a vis genre tags. What does everyone else do?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

We’re actually right in the middle of an extensive series about music library management, so keep an eye on that, but this is a really big question and it certainly deserves its own thread.

I think the answer to this is two-fold. Firstly, forget any genres that your music comes tagged with when you buy it. They can be poor quality and not consistent across stores. Remember, at the best of times, genres are subjective (and also, the best music often seems to cross genres, and delight in doing so). Secondly, decide why you want your stuff genre tagged at all. This isn’t about other people’s genres, it’s about yours. That should help you work out what tags to use. For instance, I DJ a beach bar, some “clubby” sets, and the odd friend’s wedding (rarely). So my genre tags need to cover those essentials.

For the beach bar, I play a mix of ambient, chill out, hip-hop, reggae, funk, nu-disco, indie, deep house and so on. For weddings, it’s pop. And for clubby sets, it’s basically house. I also have a genre called “Balearic”, which is one lots of people don’t even recognise, but basically is a catch-all for often older, slightly cheesy, definitely laid-back non-club beach-style tunes that just sound good in a DJ set but were generally never intended to be used that way. I can play a whole beach set out of that “genre”, actually, but you’d probably recognise its contents as a weird mix of obscure latin rock, MOR pop and so on.

For me, the above genres are fine. I don’t need to sub-divide much further as they allow me to make sense of the music I play. But if all you play is house, obviously you may want lots of sub-divisions within house to make sense of the many styles you play. (At this stage, let me link to Ishkur’s Guide; good if you’ve got half a day to kill!) You see how there’s no right or wrong, and how it’s just determined by the types of gig you play, and what you want to see in front of you when you dial your tunes up at a booking?

Anyway, I’d absolutely love the readers to join in and help you with their methods and why they use them.

So, over to you. Can you help Dennis come up with a formula that works for him? Have you wrestled with this problem? What was your solution? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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