Developing the Perfect Musical Taxonomy

Happy Cog’s Jessica Ivins finally organized her music collection, a months-long task that involved archiving songs she didn’t want anymore, fixing ID3 tags, and coming up with a musical taxonomy that worked for her needs.

We browse music by artist, album, or genre. I prefer artist and genre, while Matt prefers to browse by album, especially with the ability to view cover art. So we designed the classification system based on those needs. We rarely browse by other categories. For instance, browsing songs by year isn’t a use case that applies to us, so there was no need to use the year category. We also retained the categories’ track title and track number for obvious reasons, and we maintained cover art, since cover art gives a face to the music.

I’ve learned that the fewer the tags, the simpler the classification system, and the better the experience.


This entire process took me several months and many hours. You might be thinking: Why bother going to all this trouble, when all I care about is just listening to the music? That’s certainly a valid question. I think the answer lies in how you consume your music and what experience you’re striving for. I use iTunes on almost a daily basis, both at work and at home in my office. It’s a great piece of software, but it certainly has its drawbacks when it comes to tagging music. And browsing through iTunes is much different than browsing through Front Row or another home theater interface, where the lack of organization is glaringly apparent. But if you’re happy with what you have, then stick with it. If you’re moving to the cloud and listening to Rdio or Spotify these days, then perhaps the time investment won’t be worth your while.

This is something I’d love to do with both my digital and physical musical collections. Currently, the primary method of organizing my music revolves around my kids and their own, um, “organizational” skills.

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