Can an instrumental song have lyrics?

Tags: #<Tag:0x00007f75680fedc8> #<Tag:0x00007f75680fed00>

Sounds like a stupid question, I know. I guess it really comes down to these three questions:

  • when is a song considered an instrumental?
  • what counts as lyrics?
  • is it possible for the lines drawn in the first two questions to diverge?

Some examples in hip hop music:

  • an instrumental version of a hip hop song that usually has rap verses, but where the chorus vocals remain (this would not be it’s own work, so the question whether it’s an instrumental work is void). (streaming example)
  • an “instrumental hip hop” (the genre) song where a vocalist is featured providing mostly non-word-vocals and maybe one or two words or phrases in the chorus. (streaming example)
  • another “instrumental hip hop” song that samples more than just the usual one-line vocal pieces from another song. (streaming example)
  • a hip hop song without any newly recorded vocals, but where lots of samples from other songs are scratched together to form new lyrics. (streaming example)

What do you think?

In MB I don’t think we have the instrumental work type so the problem is not in terms of vocal work versus non‐vocal work.

Does the work contain any language?

  • Yes, set the language
  • No, set zxx no language
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Yeah you’re right, it’s not called an instrumental work, but a work “with no lyrical content” in MB, so that that rules out the existence of two lines.
Still I’d like to know how you (or anybody) would handle these fringe cases.

E.g. is it technically correct to link the recording in the first example to the work with the “instrumental” attribute if not all vocals/lyrcis are removed?
In the second example, if a featured vocalist sings a few words and they are not credited as lyricists, would you still say the work has lyrical content?
Or in the last example: Would you consider the DJ to be the lyricist of the work?

Hello Paulakreuzer: I flag myself as ‘anybody’ and reply then.
I have run into exactly that case here, where traditional singers use only a few words and for the rest of the song just go ‘ahh-hmm-ooh’ for example.
It’s still labeled as ‘lyrics’ when registered the work filed to the national registry for copyright protection.
Even without words such a person still get full credit as singer on the track.

Your last example where they stitch together songs, voices and material to make a new track is a copyright nightmare though, so I understand you have to ask.
Now ‘hip-hop’ people often borrow from each other with permission, then it’s up to them to give proper cred.
Without permission, I can only say with a reservation for an IMO in this case, I do believe it still should count as lyrics.

I do have a specific case of the reverse situation, where a person have done a cover, and I know this cover will be used on yet another track - now with new song.
According to what I know about copyright, the new track should give credit to the original artist, wheres the person who play on the cover version with new lyrics should get a nod as a participating musician instead. It will be interesting to see how MusicBrainz handle this special case. :slight_smile:

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In the Mood
sing sing sing

they all have lyrics, but have become more well known for their big band/orchestral versions. No different than any “muzak” version where the lead instrument performs the melody of the vocals.