Genres and tags


Genres are a major feature to sort and classify music. And when it comes to managing ~40M-track catalogs, sorting and classifying become a major concern.

As Barry Shwartz states in his book The Paradox of Choice, too much choice does not make customers happy (that’s a very brief summary!). A good post relates the “tyranny of choice” on Spotify here: Spotify And (Fixing) The Tyranny Of Choice.

What music services do

Music services adopt different options as we can see:

deezer1 deezer2

Deezer provides a list and a sub-list of major genres in the Explore zone. You don’t need an additional click to get to albums, auto-refreshed.


Spoify has a nice big genre tiles in the browse section. It is interesting to see that genres and moods are set at the same level here. RnB, Country, Pop (genres) and Sport, Focus, Dinner can be read here.


MusicMe suggests a list of major genres, close to Deezer.


Qobuz displays a list as a header. The header is visible from the home page, as well as all genres at a glance. A mouse over gets to more sub-genres and qualities.


Pandora does not suggest a menu at all. The entry point are (radio) stations based on a typed entry (“Enter an artist, genre or composer. We’ll create a radio station featuring that music and more like it.“). We can see here a list of detailed – and somewhat funny – tags that we can guess some, and maybe all, of them are algorithm found. The Music Genome Project is the root of such an analysis. Below, we can read the mention: “These are just a few of the hundreds of attributes cataloged for this track by the Music Genome Project“.

(note the “emotional male lead vocal performance” and “a subtle use of vocal harmony“)

What DDEX says

Not much, really. The catalog management is supposed to be on music services side. It is possible to set one genre and one sub-genre (which is, in a way, quite limited). Their observations on this topic are quite interesting to read:

“DDEX does not standardise genres. Every so often a new proposal is made to attempt genre specification – and each time, DDEX experts have determined that this would be not a good idea. Some of the reasons are:

  • Genres differ from territory to territory (“World Music” in the US differs from “World Music” in Germany);
  • Genres differ from language to language (“Neue Deutsche Welle” is a genre unlikely to be used in non-German speaking countries);
  • Genres are of varying specificity (An on-line retailer focusing on rock music might have one genre for all classical music whereas a classical retailer would want to distinguish between different types of classical music).”

Can music really be “genred”?

I think genres are not satisfying in many points. The root cause is: music is not easy to genre. It’s an art, and as long as artist will be practising it, genres limitations will be very porous and will become at one point irrelevant. However, when it comes to sell and browse music catalogs, it’s hard to get over it.

Tags (or keywords) seems to me a much more flexible alternative. It englobes genres and can go a way further. They should not be limited at all (see Pandora’s example). Tags can be set by the provider, the users, curators/musicologists and algorithms.

Genres are useful for a main entry point, very high level. After all classical music is generally very different than soul music. And then, a cloud of tags for every single song (and why not albums, artists, labels, …).


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