Roon And The Genre Problem

I ran my own blog years ago which mainly consisted of album (as in LP) reviews. At some point I thought it would be a good idea to include genre tags for each review so I gave it a whirl. I think this lasted a few weeks, maybe longer, but I quickly realized my approach to the perfect genre identifier was to give every album its own genre. Since the other information already provided did a much better job of this (album title, band, year, album cover art, etc), I gave up the genre tag and lived happily ever after.

I've always found genres useless; they are either too broad or too narrow which is why I neglected to talk about the Genre feature in Roon. Yet some people use genres because they find them useful. So let's take a look.

Going to "Genres" then "Classical" and "Play Genre" in Roon should provide a simple way of playing a mix of your classical music. But it doesn't. The problem? The Genre attribute is littered with inconsistencies and outright errors so when you Play Genre Classical you are treated to some non-classical music. Ugh.

Roon also attaches the genre tag at the album level, not the track level, so something like a film soundtrack that contains some classical, some jazz, and some electronica will be tagged as classical in addition to the other genres. When you let Roon play music from your classical genre, one of those non-classical tracks from that soundtrack could very well pop up between Bach and Beethoven. I also encountered an odd one when exploring this issue where Billy Joel showed up in classical under the subgenre "piano". While Billy Joel most certainly is a piano man, cough, he does not play what I consider to be classical piano (why the hell is Billy Joel in my library to begin with?).

Clearly some of these people do not belong in the "Classical" picture; Mel Tormé, John McLaughlin, Marc Ribot, and John Coltrane have no business being here yet Roon's metadata told Roon they do. What's a genre-loving Roon user to do? Let Roon fix it is my answer.

I sent a query over to my contact at Roon about The Genre Problem and here's his response:

Genres are a tough issue -- When Roon matches an album to our database, we retrieve rich genre info that will be a huge improvement for most users and build it into a data structure that powers features like radio, focus, and discover.

At the same time though, some people have spent a good deal of time grooming the genre information in their files, or they're accustomed to browsing their collection using the embedded genre tags.

This is the kind of stuff that launches wars... unlike more straightforward fields like release dates or credits, genres can be pretty subjective and personal.

We knew it was a big deal even before we launched, but we knew it was something we needed to understand in the real world before we started cooking up solutions.

So we had to ask ourselves some questions and work with users to find answers...

"How do we integrate user data with the data we locate after identifying your files?"

"How do we present this in the interface and how does it work with all our data-driven features?"

"How do we make a sane interface for managing this data and manipulating it?"

Over the two months since we launched, we've listened to a lot of user feedback. The first round of solutions will come with our 1.1 release in the coming weeks, and over the coming months, you will see a lot of steady evolution in terms of what and how you can manage data in Roon.

The first step is that genres will become a lot more flexible in Roon. We've always looked at the information embedded in the your files, but in our previous releases this information was mostly used to aid in album identification.

In Roon 1.1, you can tell Roon what to display: you can choose from the extended genres retrieved from Roon's database, or the genres in your file tags (as well as track titles, album titles, and a number of other fields). Genres will be fully editable for albums and tracks, and there will be some powerful options for integrating your own genres into Roon, or bypassing Roon's "default" genres altogether.

We've also done some work on our Genre pages to make the highlighted artists significantly more relevant. For the moment, our metadata providers will continue to categorize artists based on the totality of their careers, but our 1.1 release should give users significantly more flexibility to use Roon's genres as a starting point, which can then be easily tailored to the user's personal taste.

While waiting on release 1.1 which should hit soon, here's one tip for improving your experience with Roon Radio. Roon Radio takes over playing your music based on the music you select as a starting point. For me this works extremely well 99% of the time but once in a while I'd like to nix the current Roon selection.

One example being Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown's Christmas. This selection has popped up during my "classical" Roon Radio playing and I'd rather it not. Unless it's Christmas. If I want to tell Roon to quit playing Charlie Brown during my classical music spree, I can just go to the album's page and click on the blue heart under the album title next to the "Play" button until it turns into the "no" symbol. Problem solved.

Of course any manual fix will become too labor intensive if the problem is prevalent in a large music library.

My recommendation for anyone suffering with The Genre Problem is to let Roon fix it. Their track record for delivering solutions to problems leads me to believe it's only a matter of time until Roon betters every other solution out there.

miguelito's picture

Roon's response is dead-on. This is why I am a Roon lifetime member!

JCG's picture

Hi. I enjoy your commentary, and I love what Roon is trying to do. I expect your Roon connection is stronger than mine. Maybe you could reach out and see if they could add Genre functionality in their Tidal implementation.

Right now, if I want to see what's new in Classical, for instance, I have to leave Roon, fire up Tidal, browse for album, and then search for the results in Roon/Tidal. Awkward!


Michael Lavorgna's picture
It can't hurt to ask. I'd also recommend posting this on the Roon forum. Roon seems very attentive to what goes on there.