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Multiple values for artist tags unsupported in itunes m4a?
post Jan 19 2009, 21:34
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I'm considering how to set up tagging for building a music library. Apparently, unlike wma and flac or even mp3 (id3v2), the itunes m4a or apple lossless format does not support multiple values for artists. At least it ignores it in practice, e.g:
Whereas in WMP & the ID3 spec. you would use a semi-colon to separate items you will find that iTunes & the Music store use a slash instead. However ... iTunes takes the information and construes a new artist entity rather than two artists connected to the same track.

As I understand it, the issue is that iTunes (including version 8) does NOT read separate artists, it reads one hybrid artist (so the "/" is meaningless). Unless I overlooked something, one cannot browse by the artists separately, but only by a new joint "artist" ("A/B"), different from the true artists ("A" or "B"). (In wmp by contrast, a wma file that has multiple artist values can be browsed under A and B separately).

Too much music is sold in m4a to always stick with mp3, wma, and flac. I guess it's better to not rely on multiple values, even though it's a much (much) cleaner solution to be able to use multiple artist values, especially for classical music. But then apple does not have a conductor tag either. Or is there a fix for the iTunes behavior (some hidden option or feature?). Or perhaps a correction in a new iTunes release? I haven't heard of any. Thanks.

--p.s. here's another account of the multiple artist value problem in apple m4a format (vs wma format in media monkey or wmp):
And a good guide to the issues with m4a tagging (iTunes/ipod) classical music:

This post has been edited by TechVsLife: Jan 19 2009, 23:03
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post Jan 20 2009, 08:07
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Correct. iTunes' M4A/AAC tagging pseudo-standard has no official provision for discrete multiple entries for any metadata. Since iTunes has no concept of multiple values for any metadata, I wouldn't have expected it to. Heck, we're even lucky Apple added a half-baked implementation of Album Artist instead of ignoring that... (Well, I guess Cover Flow forced that.)

Some applications that have multiple entry logic copy the MP3 ID3v2.3 'standard', and store the names with "/" between them in the M4A/AAC atom... (The advantage being it's compatible, since applications will just see the names with slashes between them if it has no logic to split them up.)

Regrettably, the concept of multiple discrete names hasn't really become mainstream... mostly because iTunes and iPod don't support it. blink.gif
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post Jan 20 2009, 15:39
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Thanks for confirming that, now I see why some programs claim there is a "/" standard in m4a for multiple values, but Apple doesn't show any awareness of it. Unfortunately, given the astronomical sales, whatever apple decides *IS* the standard. Too bad they don't care as much about classical music, which doesn't sell like metallica or god knows what (not that any of the standards were designed with classical music in mind). I guess I have to resort to some ugly ways of storing classical music metadata, or perhaps have one method for flac and wma, and another for m4a/aac.

I doubt this is of compelling interest to anyone, but after spending more hours on this than I should, I'll inflict it on you anyway:
For m4a, I'll put the composer as the sole artist value (and also as the composer value), since the composer is of course the principal artist. I'll have to store the other artists (performers) in a custom field, and hope that in some enlightened future age, Apple might deign to support multiple values under artist. --I assume custom fields are allowed in m4a.

In contrast, for wma/flac (or mp3), all the principal performers (conductor, soloist, orchestra, singer etc.) AND the composer can all be listed as Artists (multiple values). The composer obviously also gets separately listed as Composer, and the rest can be listed separately under custom fields (Orchestra, Soloist) if desired, but probably not worth the work. Flac (xiph) recommends a Performer field, but I haven't seen it gain traction.
Possibly I might change my mind on this in order to have one perfectly consistent method with m4a, and list only the composer as Artist. Then I'd always store the multiple values for performers in custom tag(s).

I always leave "album artist" blank, since the way I arrange classical music is that the *work* is the album, not the cd title, so no track has different artist credits from the album as a whole. Or it might be "safer" to always make sure artist and album artist have the same value.
ALBUM= "Beethoven Sym #6 (Karajan)" [=relatively full name that makes work unique in collection]
SONG/TITLE/TRACK="Bee Sym #6 - 1"
(the last number is the movement number, padded with left zero or space for sorting if will go beyond 9; could add movement name if an aria, but usually don't care about adding tempo. Have to add composer and work name again, for display and sorting purposes--a movement "name" isn't the same as a rock song, not usually worth sorting by or displaying on its own.)

filename: album - MovementNumber.flac [must be unique]:
Beethoven Sym #6 (Karajan) - 1.flac
[so not dependent on folder structure if I don't want to be]

Might have a custom field called OpusCode, for the catalog number of the work ("BVW 1060", etc.). Might put the abbreviated opus name used in the song title ("Bee Sym #6"), i.e. without the performers, under a custom field called Opus.

This post has been edited by TechVsLife: Jan 20 2009, 16:01
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Edu Camargo
post Jul 20 2010, 03:24
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QUOTE (grommet @ Jan 20 2009, 04:07) *
Regrettably, the concept of multiple discrete names hasn't really become mainstream... mostly because iTunes and iPod don't support it. blink.gif

Although this thread was opened more than an year ago, it is still something to feel sorry about. And, as the world traces lines, new softwares come up, some old ones receive new features, but this trend of clean organization seems too far from reality, with Windows Media Player being the only one on the mainstream showing support. I've used WMP for some time just to have some experiments, and I don't like it as a player, but in case of data organization it really beats iTunes. Not even Songbird looks at multiple values. There has been a request for supporting Multiple discrete Values in Winamp since 2002 or 2003 in their forum, but it haven't seen a light of day til now, and if I can presume somethin', it won't. There are more interesting things to look at, that seem to sound more atractive than all this organization stuff. And iTunes has set some sort of defaults on metadata (it seems), so, let it flow. Around the internet you see a lot of tracks with the artist tag written in many diferent ways: artist, artist and artist, artist (feat. another artist), sometimes the guest artist appears in the title field, and the examples go on and on. Not even some Linux Players support all the Vorbis specs! So, again, let it flow.

Peace/Edu Camargo.
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