Method in the madness: bringing order to music

Philippe Watel launched MusiCHI to bring some order to the chaos of personal music collections. But the digital platform has caught the eye of industry players

IT specialist Philippe Watel is a long-term lover of classical music. ‘When I was a child, my uncle introduced me to The Nutcracker and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, which triggered my everlasting passion for the genre,’ he says. ‘I’m a mathematician and economist by training, which I think also developed my interest in progressions and the richness that classical music has to offer.’

But when he attempted to organise his vast collection and make the switch from CD to digital, Watel was left dissatisfied by the limitations of existing catalogue programmes. Being the methodical type, he decided to take matters into his own hands by creating a new app-lication to bring order to the chaotic world of classical data: MusiCHI.

‘I’ve realised my dream to perfectly organise a demanding music collection and create a programme that stands out in the international arena,’ says Watel. ‘Most programmes are made by younger people who may know a lot about modern technology, but when it comes to the classical genre, they lack the knowledge. I am lucky to know about both programming and classical music. Because MusiCHI can handle classical so perfectly, it can also deal with other demanding genres, such as jazz.’

It’s the sheer number of data fields involved in genres like classical and jazz which make them difficult to organise. Watel wanted to go beyond the basics of cataloguing according to album title and composer. So he built a platform where each audio file carries detailed information on instruments, period, performers and movements.

‘Using the platform, one can easily search for, say, chamber music for clarinet from the Romantic period, and instantly find what’s available in his or her collection. Or to find which chamber music composers’ work was recorded by Sviatoslav Richter, for example. A recording is not only the music inside the tracks, and I think MusiCHI can help enrich people’s appreciation of classical and other genres.’

MusiCHI has proved successful, and has filled a gap in the market. The platform has received positive reviews from both users (including musicologists and software designers) and specialist press. Clients are mostly from the US, the UK and France, but the brand has also broken into the wider European markets.

‘I would love to translate the data into Chinese and Japanese, since there are so many classical music fans there who don’t necessarily read or write in English,’ says Watel.

MusiCHI began as an application for home users, but the growing sophistication of tools and reference data has caught the eye of professional clients. ‘It’s been particularly useful for record labels and music sellers,’ says Watel. ‘The quality of metadata offered by the industry when one purchases a digital download is poor most of the time. Whilst the industry complains that sales are declining, they make no effort to improve their service. Given that downloads are now of a similar cost to CDs to the consumer, there is no excuse. No one would sell a CD without the case and the track information. Why anybody should spend 20 minutes tagging the same music from a digital download?’

Watel wants to work closer with the industry in future, whether it’s with labels, distributors, music retailers or streaming services. ‘I want to help improve their metadata so their products are better value for money, which will hopefully in turn boost their sales. ‘A lot of albums are now recorded during live concerts because there isn’t enough money to do proper studio albums – I wish I could do something about that.’

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