A Digital Symphony

A classical music lover’s guide to enjoying your collection on a computer.

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Tagging - tag descriptions

The main tags for any classical music track are:

  1. The album name
  2. The title of the track
  3. The “artists” – there are many roles, but arguably six principal ones. The term “role” will be used henceforth to avoid confusion. (LMS uses the equivalent term “contributor”). The main roles are:
    1. Album Artist
    2. Artist
    3. Band / Ensemble
    4. Composer (including arrangers)
    5. Conductor
    6. Performer
  4. The genre
  5. The work(s) of which the track is a recording

These tags are generally required in all files. In addition, there are a variety of tags which can provide additional information, but which may not always be present.

An overview is given of each tag. Don't worry too much about how to get the data into these tags - this is all described later and should be pretty automatic if you follow the process described. Muso imports file tags into database “fields” and permits a variety of methods to map file tags into these fields. The simplest scheme is to use tags and fields with the same names as far as possible, in which case little or no “custom import” action is required. However, if you want to optimise the display then some customisation may be necessary.


This is usually the name of the CD etc. from which the music is sourced (also “release” in MusicBrainz terminolgy). 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. Note that MusicBrainz does NOT prefix the album with the composer name, but if you my Classical Extras plugin for Picard it will do so (unless disabled).

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. Alternatively you can group them into a folder for each pseudo-album. Tagging these in Picard can be a bit awkward, however. Fundamentally, both Muso and MusicBrainz are album-oriented, so if you just have a load of tracks, this approach is not for you.

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 “Romeo and Juliet, op. 64:: Act I: Scene I. No. 1. Introduction” 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:

Romeo and Juliet, op. 64
Act I
Scene I. No. 1. Introduction

This approach is consistent with the MusicBrainz style guideline as regards the colon separation between work and movement, but the double colon is Muso-specific.

Using the "Classical Extras" plugin in Picard makes this all a lot simpler as you can source the work structure from the hierarchy in MusicBrainz and not have to worry about whether the title is in the right format.

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 leave the Album Artist tag to that given by MusicBrainz, but blank it on importing to Muso unless there is a good reason otherwise - e.g. if Muso can’t discern a Titled Artist and I think there should be one (i.e. not a compilation album).


What you put in this tag is largely a question of personal preference. "Classical Extras" provides a wide variety of choices. Typically, I tend to put any soloist here and only add other performers if there are no soloists.

Note that MusicBrainz classical style guidelines say to put the composer name in the artist tag, not the main performing artist(s). This probably dates from when most players could not display the Composer tag. So keep the MusicBrainz database in accordance with the MB style, but use the Artist tag on the file as you wish.

Also note that there is an "Artists" (plural) tag. This is often has the same data, but as multiple tags rather than a single tag. However, again, you can fill it according to your preference.

As a further complication, MusicBrainz has “recording artist” as well as the “track artist” referred to above. This is normally set to the performing artists (whether or not the music is classical).


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. MusicBrainz will typically provide "performer:orchestra" and "performer:choir" tags which could be used instead of the "band" tag (but not LMS compatible). Do not include the conductor here (as there is a separate tag for conductors).


In the simplest case this is just the composer’s name in “FirstName(s) 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, or change it if you wish to use a different name - e.g. to be consistent with MusicBrainz); the roster also gives a “sort name” for each composer, e.g. “Bach JS”. Classical Extras can be set to use the Muso composers database to help in setting genres and periods, so there is merit in keeping it consistent with MusicBrainz.

Some works may have more than one composer or (more frequently in classical music) a composer plus an arranger. I suggest you annotate the arranger's name, e.g. “Johann Sebastian Bach; (arr.) John Ireland”. If you use the Classical Extras Picard plugin then this can all be done automatically for you (and you can also use a specific "arranger" tag). If you place the "arr." annotation in brackets then Muso should get the sort order right.


The conductor’s name in “FirstName SecondName” format. More than one name can be included, separated by semi-colons or in separate FLAC tags. The specific role can be made clearer by putting additional attributes in brackets, e.g. “Anne Manson; David Jones (chorusmaster)” - again the Classical Extras plugin will do this for you.


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 or as separate FLAC tags, e.g. “Christopher Hughes (organ); Kim Porter (mezzo-soprano vocals); Neil MacKenzie (tenor vocals); Stephen Charlesworth (baritone vocals)”. Muso will ignore the brackets when performing last.fm look-ups. This is achieved automatically by Picard if the MusicBrainz database has the instrument associated with the performer.

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 – but note that Picard writes out instrument details to tags in round brackets, so specify those in Muso.


Just using the tag “Classical” is not very helpful. I prefer more specific genres such as Ballet, Opera, Orchestral, Concerto, Choral, Instrumental, Vocal, Chamber. An alternative approach is to prefix all classical genres with “Classical –“, e.g. “Classical – Concerto” or use multiple genres. You can also put instruments in here, if you wish.

The Picard "Classical Extras" plugin will (optionally) derive the genre from a variety of sources (MusicBrainz does not store Genre per se) and will also add "Classical". It also allows for sub-genres. 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).


This can mean a multitude of things. In MusicBrainz, each track can be a “recording of” one or more works. The description of these works includes all the information relevant to the track - i.e. including the movement. Each such work can be a “part of” a higher-level work, which can also be a part of something else, etc. So there can be multiple levels of works. These works are (or should be) only defined once in MusicBrainz and so will be the same regardless of the recorded album. Thus I will refer to these as the “canonical works”. The text description of these works may or may not bear a resemblance to the description on the CD cover, which will usually be the “Track Title”. As mentioned earlier, the MusicBrainz style guide is to write Title in the form “Work: Movement”. The work in the title may well differ from the canonical works (especially, but not solely, owing to language differences).

What the user wishes to display as “work“ is therefore a matter of taste and practicality. The Classical Extras Picard plugin provides an extensive range of options, but always writes a “top work” tag in canonical form.

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. Lyrics text can be displayed in Album Notes and Track Notes tags. You can also add tags such as Period, Key and Instrument - Classical Extras will supply these as far as possible, if required. Muso also has a Period search capability based on the composer.