Skip to content

Musical Genres & iPod – Harness The Wisdom Of Crowds

It is in the music industry’s best interests to find a solution to the problem of classifying musical genres.

Inaccurate Musical Genres

When R.E.M. was climbing the charts, they were referred to as an band. Now they’re just a rock band. U2 first emerged during the era and their sound fit in that category but now they’re just a rock band. Progressive music used to refer to seventies bands like Yes and Emerson Lake & Palmer, now you’ve got and , and , and even . Alternative has splintered into Alternative Punk and , and and Synth.

The Problem Of Multiple Musical Genres

Then there’s the problem of musicians/composers/bands whose music falls into multiple genres. Jimi Hendrix‘s music is , , and Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath were both Blues, Hard Rock, and Heavy Metal bands. The aforementioned Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s progressive rock sound included elements of and .

Meaningless Musical Genres

Finally, the current practice of labeling some genres of music with time-specific appellations such as neo and post; Post-Punk, for example. That type of labeling quickly becomes meaningless or unpractical when a following musical movement reacts to the current one. Does the following Punk movement, then, become the Post-Post-Punk genre? Clearly, that doesn’t work.

The Benefit Of A Workable Musical Classification System

A better musical genre classification system would help sell more music because it would make specific types of music easier to discover. It seems to me that technologies such as portable MP3 players like the iPod, music download stores like iTunes, music sharing and discovery services like Last.fm that can all be tied together with tagging and RSS, can offer at least part of the solution.

Current Technological Limitations

I’ve been thinking of this topic because of my frustration with creating accurate playlists in iTunes. Let’s say I want to create a playlist of my Blues songs but all my Jimi Hendrix songs are classified as within the Psychedelic Rock genre. Because of this, I will not have Hendrix’s version of Red House, one of my favorite versions of one of my favorite blues tunes.

How about podcasts? Why can’t I label my podcasts as not only podcasts but also new and video or Internet marketing? That way, I could have a playlist of only my news podcasts that are in video format or a playlist of only my Internet marketing podcasts. That would be extremely handy for those of us who subscribe to a lot of podcasts.

Part of the problem is the inflexibility of the current technology. Why can’t I apply multiple genres to an MP3 file in either iTunes or to the metadata of the file itself?

A More Accurate Genre Classification System

The other, more difficult part of the problem is in the method by which we classify musical genres, which, I suspect, has more to do with musical media than anything else. Perhaps the mess that has become of categories of music is a result of the disintegration and dispersion of media. When traditional radio stations and mainstream musical media go online and you throw in online only musical publications, web radio, and MP3 blogs, you no longer have just a handful of sources from which to learn about musical genres.

So how do we arrive at a consensus on whose music belongs to what genre?

I don’t know that it is the answer but it may very well be a big part of the answer: Why not harness the wisdom of crowds?

Apple’s iPod/iTunes Tag Cloud

Apple iPod photo
  iPod, do you?
Originally uploaded by Carlos Noboro

As the overwhelming online music market leader with it’s iPod player and iTunes online music store, Apple is in a better position than anyone to revamp the genre classification system. I’d like to see smart developers world wide use the iTunes API to create some tag cloud functionality (for which Apple might need to expand the API).

Specifically, I’d like to see a public tag cloud(s) that display tags for the songs, albums, bands, and genres of the aggregate iTunes userbase that you could filter by year, user rating, play count over a given time period, and last played.

I’d also like to see my own iPod/iTunes tag cloud that I could chose whether or not to share.

With such a system, crowdsourcing will most likely arrive at, if not the most accurate, then the most popular genres applied to a given band and/or song.

It would be nice to have the option of applying the public tag cloud to my music library, if I want.

Music Relationship Engine

If you combined this tag cloud data to the iTunes relationship engine and put it out on the web, Apple could monetizing the tag cloud by offering iTune links to specific bands and musicians and albums and songs.

The user rating, play count and last played data could be the foundation of a popularity engine, which would also serve as a music discovery engine.

Such a system would vastly improve the functionality of the iPod while also helping drive sales.

Similar Posts:

About David Erickson

David Erickson is principal of e-Strategy Media, a digital marketing consultancy based in Minnesota. David has extensive experience in digital marketing and is often used as an expert source by media and asked to speak on the topic before organizations and to sit on panel discussions.

2 Comments

  1. Christoph Herd on September 30, 2007 at 11:19 00 pm CDT

    Excellent comment all. Unfortunately, Apple prides itself in not listening to any of its users. I would like to offer the following thoughts (without solutions):

    1. There are actually two problem clouds, I believe. Cloud 1: Me; Cloud 2: Them.

    2. Cloud 1: Me
    I think this problem cloud would be solved by giving me multiple, customizable genres. Genres, of course, are supposed to serve a purpose. In iTunes and the iPod, I can group my music by genre, then shuffle-play that genre only. It has to do with feelings. Sometimes I “feel” like listening to my Celtic only, sometimes I feel like listening to my German. A correctly genre-tagged music collection lets me do this. The issue here is that not only are my genre not your genre, so I need to be able to build and define my own genres and assign songs to them, but genre are not unique. As stated, songs can be, and very often are, in multiple genres, and genres enable “taste cloud” playing. What do you feel like hearing? Oh, my German Rock stuff. And that’s not even a recognized genre. This solution would fix the Me problem I’m having.

    2. Clound 2: Them
    We all like certain “kind” of music. That’s what we call a Genre. Thus, if I like Classical, I don’t want to see Hard Rock bands when I shop for more. It is a waste of time to make me look at it and makes me cranky. Eventually, it makes me not look at that music source anymore. So, how do I browse and find the music I want to buy more of? That’s the “Them” part. The stores, the music industry, the bands, and the music itself. All need to get to the right customer. That requires that music is more-or-less correctly tagged. That’s where a “social tag” discussed might help. Why would stores like iTunes spend effort on doing all this research? Because it results in a customer who can find what he wants to spend money on, rather than what’s this week’s special, or what’s new. That’s how commerce works: any product has to find the customer that’s looking for it, not the 500 customers who don’t want it. So far, neither Apple nor the music industry has understood that there is a glass wall out here between them and me, and my money does not pass through the glass wall. That wall is that it doesn’t matter what’s available, only what I can find and identify. For music, the link between the huge amount of songs available and what I like, is the Genre (I think). It allows me to browse the cloud of what I might be interested in and then pick. The result: I send money to someone and a sale is made.

    Bottom line: The music industry must master (or at least tame) the Genre problem. This will enable customers to find what they are looking for. THAT will increase sales and make me enjoy my music collection more.



  2. Christoph Herd on September 30, 2007 at 4:19 59 pm CDT

    Excellent comment all. Unfortunately, Apple prides itself in not listening to any of its users. I would like to offer the following thoughts (without solutions):

    1. There are actually two problem clouds, I believe. Cloud 1: Me; Cloud 2: Them.

    2. Cloud 1: Me
    I think this problem cloud would be solved by giving me multiple, customizable genres. Genres, of course, are supposed to serve a purpose. In iTunes and the iPod, I can group my music by genre, then shuffle-play that genre only. It has to do with feelings. Sometimes I “feel” like listening to my Celtic only, sometimes I feel like listening to my German. A correctly genre-tagged music collection lets me do this. The issue here is that not only are my genre not your genre, so I need to be able to build and define my own genres and assign songs to them, but genre are not unique. As stated, songs can be, and very often are, in multiple genres, and genres enable “taste cloud” playing. What do you feel like hearing? Oh, my German Rock stuff. And that’s not even a recognized genre. This solution would fix the Me problem I’m having.

    2. Clound 2: Them
    We all like certain “kind” of music. That’s what we call a Genre. Thus, if I like Classical, I don’t want to see Hard Rock bands when I shop for more. It is a waste of time to make me look at it and makes me cranky. Eventually, it makes me not look at that music source anymore. So, how do I browse and find the music I want to buy more of? That’s the “Them” part. The stores, the music industry, the bands, and the music itself. All need to get to the right customer. That requires that music is more-or-less correctly tagged. That’s where a “social tag” discussed might help. Why would stores like iTunes spend effort on doing all this research? Because it results in a customer who can find what he wants to spend money on, rather than what’s this week’s special, or what’s new. That’s how commerce works: any product has to find the customer that’s looking for it, not the 500 customers who don’t want it. So far, neither Apple nor the music industry has understood that there is a glass wall out here between them and me, and my money does not pass through the glass wall. That wall is that it doesn’t matter what’s available, only what I can find and identify. For music, the link between the huge amount of songs available and what I like, is the Genre (I think). It allows me to browse the cloud of what I might be interested in and then pick. The result: I send money to someone and a sale is made.

    Bottom line: The music industry must master (or at least tame) the Genre problem. This will enable customers to find what they are looking for. THAT will increase sales and make me enjoy my music collection more.



Scroll To Top