Music, Metadata, and the Cloud
We’ve had a bit of an underlying theme here at metamayhem. We love the ease and accessibility of digital formats but we are concerned about the fundamental loss of experience and sense of weight (both literal and figurative) that goes along with a physical format. For music, an inherently experiential format, many of the arguments are similar but shifted a bit.
Lately, there has been a lot of noise about the cloud and what it will do for acquiring and storing music. I can’t claim to be an expert on these services (Google, Apple, and Amazon come to mind), but I can say that I was very grateful for the ability to re-download few albums that I purchased from iTunes after my hard drive died. I choose to purchase the majority of my music in CD format for both practical and sentimental reasons. I like to have the lyrics and cover art at my fingertips. Even though I know that I can find these things with a few keystrokes online, I find that the experience for me is much more satisfying with a hard copy. The biggest reason I choose a hard copy is more than the visual experience. It’s the aural experience. I love the ease of having my entire CD collection on my computer, and you will often find me listening to music on my computer. I do not confuse this, however, with the sound of an impeccably engineered album coming from excellent speakers in a lossless format. (I also don’t confuse this experience with live music, but that’s another post.)
The other reason I prefer CDs has to do with metadata. The core problem with databases like iTunes and cloud-bases services is that it is a system tailored for pop music. The metadata classifications and designations are woefully inadequate for classical music. A recording of Beethoven symphonies by Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic poses a difficult question. Just who is the artist here? Beethoven? Bernstein? The Vienna Philharmonic? Add in compilation recordings or recordings that also have multiple soloists, and you have a hot mess of metadata fail. These designations don’t exist in iTunes because no one really cares who wrote Rihanna’s latest single. With a CD in hand, I have access to all the important metadata. It might take me a minute to track down the right album, but the relevant information isn’t buried or (more often than not) completely omitted from a database.
You can probably expect some more musings about the cloud, metadata, and music in the future. In the mean time, many people have argued the issues much better than I can. Further reading:
- Music Storage: Getting Lost in the Cloud?
- The Cloud that Ate Your Music
- Metadata and You
- What You Need to Know about Amazon’s New Music Service