Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tagging Indian Classical Music

The defacto standard in music tagging is ID3. In this post, I examine its suitability for tagging Indian classical music.

Be it Hindustani or Carnatic, the following meta data is important to an Indian classical music connoisseur:
  • For a composition, its:
  • For an "album," its:
    • Lead artists and their instruments (e.g., consider a jugalbandi)
    • Accompanying instruments and artists
    • Musician's gharana
    • Concert details (venue, occasion, etc. e.g., Madrasil Margazhi or Savai Gandharva)
ID3 has mainly the following limitations when it comes to tagging Indian classical music:
  • There are no genres corresponding to the carnatic and hindustani classical music forms.
  • There are no text information frames for raga or tala. A common workaround employed by music publishers is to concatenate the song title, raga, and tala all into the TIT2 frame.
  • There is no easy way to associate artists and the instruments they play.
So what can be done? Some possibilities are given below:
  • One mechanism is to use User defined text information frames a acceptable content syntax. However, there is no such common / acceptable syntax defined by anyone.
  • Another mechanism would be to embed an XML document within the tag as suggested in the ID3 FAQ. There is no schema defined by any publisher yet. Further, such a mechanism needs to be supported by software which reads and writes tags including those which run on electronic entertainment devices.
  • A third mechanism is to use standardized notation within existing frames. This is better than the former two.
Indian classical music publishers have to go a long way in this regard. The current situation is quite terrible:
  • Meta data is available only for a subset of CDs. In some cases, information is incomplete or incorrect.
  • Artists are not named consistently. For instance, there are "Mallikarjun Mansur," "Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur," and "Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur." The situation is worse for south Indian names with initials. Is it "M. S. Subbulakshmi," "MS Subbulakshmi," or "M S Subbulakshmi?"
  • Compositions, ragas, and talas are not named consistently because no standard transliteration schema is followed. One has raga kaapi as well as kapi. Raga hamsadhvani, hamsadhwani, and hans dhwani. Tala aadi and adi. Tala roopaka and rupaka.
One solution to the last problem is to avoid transliteration and use devanagari or any regional language characters. I have not seen any publisher doing that yet.

Till there is a common accepted mechanism individuals will continue to use their own notations and mechanisms to mange their Indian classical music collection.


  1. Sankara,

    Nice post.. I was always wondering about many of the points you have noted too.. Its about time something is done about it..

    Good information..


  2. wow , This is what I was looking for. I have 5000 + classical recordings and I am trying to orgnize them from last 5-6 years. Still it's only 30 -40 % done.

    For Me this is my own method

    Title -> Bandish words
    Artist, Album artist-> Artist name
    Genre-> Raga name
    Rest of info -> Tala etc .. goes in comments.