Help Tonal
Collective Music Collection

Building the Largest Recorded
Music Collection in History

I wish my 7yo son could enjoy classical music —— just save Prokofiev’s 2nd piano concerto for his 30s. Never mind, even if he waited until 30 and listened to the exact recording before a Déjà vu sunset, he would never have had the same experience as I had.

Such a feeling of voidness doesn’t shake my belief: recorded classical music should and will be more accessible to all humankind.

When words like faith, truth, and freedom are silently losing their weight, such belief became my faith and my secret way to true freedom.

I’m Baoshan Sheng, the founder of the International Classical Music Database. Today is my sixteenth year practicing my faith: it is stronger, simpler, and more evident than it was sixteen years ago.

Before Tonal

In September 2006, I built my first site cataloging classical music metadata under In 2008, I redesigned the site as, referenced later by a university course on music information retrieval. The Internet Archive says had cataloged 16,229 composers, 13,229 artists, and 4,326 conductors before shutting down in 2012.

I kept working on the ontological relational database model with extra fine granularity behind It was not long before I realized it led to nowhere. With a sophisticated data type to model fuzzy historical dates and dozens of fields to model just a classical composition, it was simply beyond my capability to maintain the project’s complexity as it was.

My adventure was not starting well.

Tonal, Local First

In late 2015, I asked myself one question: is there some work (or even proofs-of-concept) that is simple, beautiful, and thus worth keeping? The answer was yes. There was an internal workflow that I designed for to compile classical music metadata, which proved to be quite efficient. The core is a domain-specific language that finally evolves into the Tonal metadata language.

With the Tonal metadata language, my first shot was still far off-target: I prototyped a music locker service in 2018 that streams self-uploaded lossless releases.

After receiving feedback from esteemed author Kirk McElhearn and alpha users, I reflected on it in 2019. Hosting music collections in the cloud is not the most responsible way. The zero data app and local-first software manifestos reaffirmed my decision: Tonal is going local-first.

Collective Collection Building

With Tonal, we are together building one distributed music collection —— all recorded music is consistently archived and indexed by one high-quality community-curated music metadata catalog. This distributed music collection forms the most extensive collection of recorded music in history.

The copyright of some audios may expire in dozens of years. With proper supporting technologies, we may be able to bring a large-scale music collection to the public domain when it is time, like Project Gutenberg.

Pass on the most precious things to the next generations. It is our duty.

I’m still busy making this happen when you’re reading this letter. I hope you have checked the intro and three technical briefs. Email me with questions or suggestions. I’d love to hear from you!

In the meanwhile, I am asking for your help.

Make a Donation

I’m trying my best to fund Tonal until the initial (or long-term support) release, but the process has been paused countless times because of funding challenges.

I can not guarantee there will not be another long and painful pause because the developer needs to subsist. I’d be grateful if you could donate to accelerate the development and design of Tonal.

Your donation will help me finish the initial release of Tonal. After that, I’ll put more effort into orchestrating the open collaboration on music metadata compilation.

Build Together

Let’s build Tonal together!

I seek a collaborator and partner who writes boring (simple, principled, and readable) but solid (well architected and tested) code. The process may take years: it will be a marathon, not a sprint.


Act 1 tells a story about a man who took sixteen years of his life only to know his limitations. In act 3, this man finally finds his peace and true freedom along with his limitations. You are watching act 2. Stay tuned.

Baoshan Sheng
International Classical Music Database

ICMD is not a 501c3 organization.
This letter is a WIP. Last updated on August 27, 2022.