top of page

Altering Metadata  (October 2017)


Music CDs

In my earlier article Labeling Music CDs:  CD-Text, I mentioned that album information retrieved by a CD player or player software from a look-up service or stand-alone database may not always match what’s on your CD.  While ripping my CDs to create back-up copies, I’ve found that anomalies are prevalent, particularly with classical music.

  • The Album Title may show the CD’s title, a list of pieces, or some descriptive text.

  • Track Titles might fully specify piece and movement titles, just the movement titles (which is problematic when there’s more than one piece on the album), movement numbers (like 1, 2, 3 and 4), or some combination of these; they may also appear in a non-Latin font.

  • The composer’s name might appear as part of the Album Title, in each of the Track Titles, in the Artist Name field in lieu of the artist’s name, or not at all.

  • The Genre may be appropriate, but it can also be blank or might reflect something totally inappropriate (e.g., labeling a Beethoven symphony as “Rhythm & Blues”).


The upshot is that there’s nothing sacred about the metadata coming from a CD look-up database.  Since I really want my CD player to inform me of what I’m listening to, I routinely edit the album’s metadata—anywhere from tweaking the information and correcting misspelled words to completely reworking the metadata.  (For the purposes of this article, I’ve capitalized metadata field names to differentiate the fields from the information in them.)


This propensity for modification carries over into how I approach specifying metadata when converting a customer’s record into a music CD.  Whatever alterations I make are coordinated in advance with the customer and reflect the customer’s preferences.  Regardless of what I do to the metadata, the full album, track, artist, and composer information will appear in the original, unabbreviated form on the track list or CD case insert.


The information for most albums is straightforward, consisting of pieces within an album, e.g., Time Out, Dave Brubeck Quartet, “Take Five.”  Classical albums, however, can have movements within pieces within composers within an album, and these extra hierarchical levels present a challenge in how to present the information.  Since knowing the composer’s name is generally more salient for classical music than for other genres, and since CD players frequently don’t display composer information, I will usually add the composer’s name to the Album Title field (e.g., Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition) or Artist Name field (e.g., Mussorgsky; Philadelphia Orchestra), depending on where it fits best.


Track naming for classical music depends on what’s on the album.  The simplest case is where there’s a single piece with multiple movements.  With Pictures at an Exhibition, for example, there would be 14 tracks bearing the movement names (“Prominade” through “The Great Gate at Kiev”), none of which need contain the name of the piece since that would be redundant with the Album Title.  When multiple pieces by the same composer appear on the album, both the piece and movement names need to be reflected in the Track Titles, as in “Caucasian Sketches, Suite No. 1, Op. 10 – In a Mountain Pass.”  And when there are multiple pieces by different composers, the composer names should also appear in the Track Title:  “Cimarosa: Concerto for Oboe and Strings – Introduzione.”  See Figure 1 for another example.  The same situation arises in compilations, by the way, regardless of the genre.

Figure 1.  Metadata for a classical music CD:  “Various Artists” in Artist Name, composer inserted into

the Track Title, both the piece and movement titles in the Track Title, album name in Album Title.


I also try to be sensitive to limitations that the customer’s CD player might have (this applies to MP3 players as well).  Unless it can display or scroll through the entire length of a long track name, I’ll employ abbreviations or otherwise exclude text from the Track Titles, again with the customer’s consent.  The Track Title for the Caucasian Sketches piece mentioned above might be “Sketch #1-In a Mountain Pass” (“Caucasian” would be part of the Album Title); that for the Cimarosa piece might be “Cimarosa Concerto-Introduzione” (“Oboe” would similarly be contained within the Album Title).


Dealing with multiple artists is problematic for music CDs, irrespective of the genre.  Unfortunately, Artist Name information appearing in CD-text is treated the same way as the Album Title:  there can be only one.  Consequently, I can try squeezing two or three artist names into the Artist Name field, though they won’t have any association with which pieces they’re performing.  But for a compilation album with a dozen or so pieces, each performed by a different artist, the only alternative is to use the ubiquitous “Various Artists” (see again Figure 1).


Audio Files

Whereas a music CD is intended to contain an album, this structure does not apply to MP3 or WAV files containing single tracks.  Track files can be grouped into ad hoc directories or arranged within play lists in whatever way you wish.  For example, three symphonies taken from a single album can be moved around in a play list; you don’t have to listen to all three sequentially.


By removing the association with an album, the name of a classical piece can be used as the Album Title, and the Track Titles would then reflect just the names of the movements.  Similarly, grouping movements within pieces rather than pieces (and their movements) within an album permits associating artist names with the tracks on which they appear.  No more “Various Artists.”  In short, by ignoring the original album name, there’s more room to arrange pertinent performer, piece, and movement information among the Artist Name, Album Title, and Track Title fields, respectively (see Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Metadata for an audio file:  Composer inserted into Artist Name along with

the artist’s name, movement name in Track Title, piece name in Album Title.


In Figure 2, I added the composer’s name to the Artist Name field.  If the piece had been performed by “Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Neville Marriner, conductor,” I would likely move the composer’s name to the Album Title field instead, where it would appear along with the piece title. As with music CDs, whatever approach I take is coordinated in advance with the customer and reflects what the customer wants to do with the audio files.


Back to Paul's Blog & Contents

bottom of page