"Track" came from serial media like LPs, 8-Tracks or the soundtrack of a motion picture film, or a Compact Disc. But an MP3 "file" in a player doesn't exist on a revolving disc (disk) or tape. What is a more universal term for a segment of music stored in an electronic format?

Bonus points if it can apply to something besides music, like a part of an audio book. Or to things not audio in nature... Because there are lots of kinds of "tracks" that can be taken from a CD and stored in other ways.

  • I suppose "multimedia file" would work if you wanted a very broad term.
    – Othya
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:12
  • 1
    So we need a diminutive form of "opus". Maybe Penguin is a good choice.
    – user126158
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:20
  • 3
    Track is fine for MP3s and the like.
    – user28567
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:27
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    That's okay, though. Terms don't have to mean what they used to mean. They mean whatever we use them to mean. See etymological fallacy on Wikipedia.
    – user28567
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:41
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    Song? For example, the most popular music app Spotify uses the title "song" for every piece of music.
    – ermanen
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 5:01

4 Answers 4


When was the last time you actually dialed a phone number? Or cranked the engine? Rolled down a car window, or taped a show? Sometimes technology moves forward, but language stays fossilized. Then a word like track takes on a non-literal meaning, although the same usage was literal in the past.

Track is not going away any time soon, especially since CDs and LPs are still not totally dead. You don't need to seek a replacement.

  • I would like to replace it before it is totally dead. Why wait for the ax to fall?
    – user126158
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:44
  • The point is, as with the other examples I've given, the word is likely not to die, even if the technology changes. Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:45
  • The point is, we will only sound silly or perhaps create a scandal, when our language is coloured awkwardly.
    – user126158
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:51
  • +1. We still rewind that track even though there's no rewinding to be had. We still hang up the phone. We still take the phone off hook even though there's no hook. The language is sticky enough that these verbs and expressions will stay around for a long time.
    – rajah9
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 17:02
  • @rajah9 Do we still rewind? or do we now just go back?
    – Unrelated
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 17:52

What about a tune? Or a piece?

  • I guess we are down to "piece" as the only appropriate word. I wonder what one part of an album is called? "Album" just means a collection, such as a photo collection, so a collection of music pieces is still an "album". What is one of the parts generically named?
    – user126158
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:22
  • Classical pieces have opuses that you can use to refer to a set of pieces, but I'm not aware of anything for modern day use :-/
    – Michael Wu
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:24
  • What about them? Please explain your answer in full. Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 10:30

Digital data are made by a series of marks being made on digital media. The fact that a series of songs (e.g. an album) is not recorded in a linear, serial fashion in no way alters the fact that the recording process involves a device making conjoined marks on digital media. Since a 'track' is defined as a mark, or series of marks, left by the passage of anything (OED) a digital recording can, without any need for romantic or luddite stubborness, be accurately described as a 'track'. Which is nice, because that's what people are already used to doing.

A good word for 'a piece of sound' - including music, speech and 'wild sound' is audio.

  • And some day, people will say that they can't understand the relationship to footprints. Why isn't there a simple, generic term? Telephone is still a valid term after 150 years. Video is still valid after 2000 years. Are we not as smart as those people?
    – user126158
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 13:10
  • @nocomprende - Please see reworked answer.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 13:48
  • If it is not digitally recorded, what do we call it? If it is not a sequence of musical pieces or audiobook chapters (a Single, for example) then what is it? Strange that there is no word for one piece of music, like chapter of a book. Maybe the idea of a Single is too new. I like the Zen saying, "The tracks of a bird in the sky." Or, "written on water." I wonder what the OED says about that...
    – user126158
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 22:41
  • @nocomprende - there are lots of (generic) words for 'a piece of music'. Your question has become less clear with each comment you make. As it stands currently 'audio' seems like the best fit.
    – Dan
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 23:14
  • OK. If you post it I will choose it. Whew! Finally an answer. (Now we just need to get the rest of the world to agree.) Extra points for your word also suiting audiobook chapters! Yay!
    – user126158
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 23:16

Following a comment by Dan to his answer, the best word is Audio, similar to Video for something visual. (I asked him to post that answer, but he could not or did not.)

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