A glimpse into the state of musical metadata (circa 2010)

Ok, so we’re having cool tools to handle our digital music collections, but here’s why we’re only scratching the surface. The id3tags we get are mainly about the physical media our music comes from: album, band, track, … We’re just starting to get more interesting stuff such as lyrics or classification by genre and tempo, but this is not enough if you’re interested in the music itself, where it comes from, and how it’s played.
I want musical metadata that helps me learn music, starting with the score of all the instruments that are being played and links to information about the instruments themselves (name, history, usage, set-up…). I want rhythm pattern recognition, so that I can navigate from a mid-90’s Drum & Bass loop to its original early-70’s “Funky Drummer” structure [*], to the first Jazz drummer who played poom tchak poom poom-tchak sometime in the late 50’s. Throw in melodic paternity as well, in order to track where samples, covers, derivation and imitation come from.
We’re starting to see pieces of that in various databases, but it’s not yet included in the music itself. We’ll need a format that is both structural (like MIDI) and more or less faithful to the original sound (like good mp3).


Microsoft released a CD-ROM named Musical Instruments back in 93 or so. Remember the early "multimedia CDs" with jerky Video for Windows and sound samples? I used to demo that when I was an intern, and I found it pretty cool (along with Encarta and Cinemania). That was a time where getting 650Mb of unconnected data on a PC was cutting-edge. A decade later, terabytes are about to become a consumer measure unit, and more PCs are getting connected to the datagrid every day. It’s time to merge musical education with the casual listening experience (think "smart Winamp plugins").
Unsolicited advice to the RIAA and its members: how about switching focus from records to music? It would fit nicely with PC-based home studios and virtual instruments that are getting more powerful every day. I think there’s a big untapped market for musical material that you could easily play with, not just play back. Music needs to expose its properties so that you can fiddle with them (aka. the Post vs. Get argument).
03/16/02 update: Where Music Will Be Coming From.
05/10/02 update: I got music, I got algorithm.
06/14/02 update: Emergent Music, Kuro5hin thread, founder’s blog.
[*] I hear Amen Brother, a 1969 B-side by the Winstons, is actually where that breakbeat is coming from.

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