Music Publishing and Licensing Blog

Organizing your production music catalog – by Andrew Aversa

The article below was contributed to our LicenseQuote blog by Andrew Aversa, founder/owner at | ZirconTrax is a boutique, cutting-edge music library which also provides custom, exclusive and/or buyout music, as well as mixing/mastering services, music editing and sound design.

* * * * * * * * * *
Thanks to iTunes and services like Gracenote CDDB, organizing your virtual CD collection has never been easier. However, if you’re a producer or user of production music, your average media player or MP3 tags won’t get the job done. By setting up a proper organization system early, you can save yourself headaches down the road and make it a breeze to browse your collection.

The most important tool for sorting out your production music is a spreadsheet editor like Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice or even the web-based Google Docs. The latter two options are free, so don’t worry if you don’t have the Microsoft Office suite. Once you have a blank spreadsheet open, it’s time to get started.

To start with, you’ll want consistent file names and formats. There is no “right” naming convention, but consistency is paramount. A common, widely-accepted convention is Composer_Name_Song_Name, excluding any other punctuation. Using underscores instead of spaces is generally better if you are linking someone to your file; a file name with spaces can sometimes be broken up when the link is copied and pasted around. As for file format, WAV or AIF are your two primary options. Try to pick one and stick with it.

Example: “Andrew_Aversa_Clash_of_the_Titans.wav”

Remember: You can’t simply rename a .WAV file to .AIF (or vice-versa); you must actual use an audio editing application to convert from one to the other. Almost any free editor can do this – Goldwave and Audacity can do this, for example.  Just don’t convert the sample and bit rates while you’re at it.

Once you have fixed up your file names and formats, set up columns for your spreadsheet. Again, there aren’t any industry-wide standards, but you should definitely include the following information at a minimum:

  • Composer
  • Song Name
  • Copyright Year
  • Description
  • Genre
  • Tags

This information might seem self-explanatory, but you should think carefully about your song names, genres and tags. If your music catalog is already registered with a performing rights organization, you should not change any names, but if you are the one creating the music you should think about creating descriptive, evocative titles.

For example, “Sad Theme” is descriptive, but not particularly evocative. “A Rose for a Grave” is both descriptive and evocative, calling to mind images of sadness, loss and perhaps a glimmer of hope – all in the name alone! Also, don’t be afraid to name songs (with vocals) after a central hook or lyric.

Selecting a genre is another important creative decision, as you have to try to describe the overall style and instrumentation of the music without getting too specific. “Neo-Grunge Crabrock” might resonate with you, but most people won’t understand it. “Alt. Rock” is probably a better bet. Here are some genre classifications you might consider for your own library – keep in mind, this is by no means an  exhaustive list, but don’t go overboard creating so many genres that it will exclude a potentially useful song from a search.

  • Rock – Uses electric and possibly acoustic guitars, acoustic drums, bass, and a driving feel.
  • Metal – Similar instrumentation to rock, but ‘heavier’ with more distortion and faster tempos.
  • Pop – Shares similarities with modern pop songs in terms of composition and production.
  • 50s, 60s, 70s etc. – Calls to mind the popular music of specific eras.
  • Easy Listening – Light, feel-good and often acoustic; doesn’t distract.
  • World – Uses primarily non-Western instruments from around the world.
  • Dance – Ideal for clubs, uses steady beats, synthesizers and repetitive structures.
  • Techno – Relies on synthesized, aggressive sounds and big beats, eg. action movie scores.
  • Orchestral – Applies a palette of orchestral instruments, often sweeping and dramatic.
  • Underscore – Written with visuals in mind, typically creates a subtle ambiance. Non-melodic.
  • Hip-Hop – With or without rap vocals. Uses synthesizers, sampling and groovy beats.

Tags are a way of further describing music. Unlike genre classification, tags can potentially be more specific and obscure, as you generally have more of them (between 5-10 is a good number.) You can approach tagging in any of the following ways, or create your own combinations:

  • Mood – What sort of feeling does the music evoke? Eg. Nervous, confident, cool, scared, triumphant, angry, passionate, sensual…
  • Instrumentation – What are the primary instruments used? Eg. Electric guitar, violin, drum machines, saxophone, piano, female voice…
  • Composition – How would you describe the structure, density and overall composition of the music? Eg. Swelling, ambient, ballad, droning, light, heavy…
  • Technical – What are the more literal terms that describe the music? Eg. Triplet feel, syncopated, 5/4, uptempo, downtempo…
  • Usage – What are some obvious uses for the music? Eg. Love scene, action, betrayal, reveal, corporate, video game…
  • Feel – What are some other descriptive words to describe the nature of the music? Eg. Atmospheric, sneaky, abstract, filtered, pumping, mysterious…

When tagging your catalog, remember that you should not use too few or too many tags for any one song. “instrumental, angry” is not terribly descriptive, and may exclude a piece of music from a search for more specific terms. On the other hand, using 20 tags for every song might return too many irrelevant results during searches. You should also try to be as consistent as possible. Don’t use “angry” as a tag for one song and “mad” for another.

Your song descriptions essentially compliment both genre and tags, helping you (or an end-user) get an even better picture of a piece of music. It may also help ‘sell’ a track in ways that tags and genre simply can’t. For example, which creates a more vivid picture of a track named “Bringer of the Apocalypse”:

1. Orchestral: instrumental, dark, choir, strings, brass, epic, swelling.
2. A creature from beyond time and space appears, accompanied by massive, cinematic, trailer-style orchestra and choir!

Of course, the best way for you (or anyone else) to understand any piece of music is to simply listen to it, and to that end you should make sure you have previews of your entire catalog on hand. However, with carefully thought-out organization and consistent, creative descriptors, you can make it much easier for anyone to browse your collection and hone in on the perfect piece of music.

Contributed by Andrew Aversa, founder/owner at

* * * * * * * * * *

Add a Comment

Comments are closed.