Clarifying "Release" in a streaming world

Tags: #<Tag:0x00007f0509b0f3f0>


MusicBrainz aims “to collect as much information about music as we can”, which surely includes music released on streaming media like YouTube. I’m a fan of a couple of groups like Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and Pomplamoose. They became famous by releasing videos of music performances on Youtube. Releases on physical media like CDs followed after.

So, a streaming audio recording or a Youtube video should constitute a Release in MusicBrainz, right?

The ‘‘Release’’ documentation doesn’t mention release as streaming digital data (or as a downloadable file, for that matter). It talks about physical media: “If you walk into a store and purchase an album or single, they’re each represented in MusicBrainz as one release.” I don’t see the words “stream” or “download” or “file” anywhere on that page. I don’t see how to describe a Release Event for a streamed or downloaded release.

That page says, “Each release … contains at least one medium (commonly referred to as a disc when talking about a CD release).” That seems to argue that “streamed content” and “electronically distributed file” should be possible values for “medium”. But the ‘‘Medium’’ documentation mentions “digital media”, but not “streams”.

It is possible to relate a Release as being “streamed for free”. This is a URL relation, which recognises Youtube URLs.

See for example, Release ‘‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’’. It is a Release with Digital Media medium, links to Amazon and iTunes store and Youtube for various kinds of delivery. Is that how free-streaming releases should be listed in MusicBrainz? Or is another form better?

I would like to understand the consensus on how streamed and digitally delivered Releases should be correctly represented in MB.

Then, I would like to know how to go about proposing improvements to the ‘‘Release’’ documentation to make this correct representation clearer.


Single tracks digital pre-releases from forthcoming albums
Digital releases
Release or Recording

So, the ways I’ve mostly seen this done before:

  • One YouTube video: standalone recording
  • A YouTube playlist, specifically styled to be release-like (including title, a cover, etc): release
  • A streaming-only release on Bandcamp: release
  • A SoundCloud set: release, at least unless it’s very un-release-like (“some mixes” with no attempt to make them a unified thing).
  • A SoundCloud track: standalone recording, unless there seems to be some intent to make it single-ish (actual designed cover, assigned catalog number, something like that)
  • A streaming-only Spotify/Tidal/Whatever release: release

I’m not saying this is how it necessarily should be done (although at least for normal official music videos I’d not want them entered as releases until we have a better way to show them in the artist discographies). But might be useful as a starting point for discussion.

Live Bootlegs

In this specific case, since Amazon sell audio and YouTube has video, they should be separate recordings (and the YT link should be on the video recording, which should be set with the video flag). We separate audio and video in the same way we separate mono and stereo :slight_smile:


This is a bad idea. Music videos are releases just like a single in any other format. They’re marketed like other releases, they have release-like properties like a label and a release date, you can buy them on iTunes…


If that’s the case for the video, fine. But often a Youtube video is just that, a video available on Youtube. It’s not much different then a download only MP3 put up somewhere on the artists homepage.


But if we want to have the release date information we can create a release.
It’s not the only option, we can also (I even prefer) set the starting date on the youtube stream/download URL relationship.


If you can buy the video on iTunes, it’s no longer “One YouTube video” but a proper iTunes release.


I agree, to a degree at least - it’d be useful to be able to e.g. store a video’s release date. That said, I don’t really agree they’re equivalent to singles - I’ve seen multiple artists that make a video of every track in an album and I doubt they’d expect to see every track in the album listed as a single for example…


It seems to me that this approach:

is not consistent with this approach:

I would treat both the first two items as Releases, not standalone recordings — especially for those artists who are using digital media free distribution as their most significant distribution channel (even if they also have physical CDs).

This in turn makes me wonder what entries would clearly qualify as “standalone recording” and not Release.

Suppose an Artist made a CD with one track, but no sleeve or artwork, and left a stack of them at a train station for the public to take at will. And 1,000,000 copies were taken. Would that be a Release, or a “standalone recording”? If a Release, why would a recording on digital media be different?


It isn’t consistent, because those portals are different things, and nothing says they have to be treated the same.

Youtube videos and Soundcloud stand-alone tracks are usually (in my experience) not intended by an artist as an official ‘release’. If they are considered a ‘proper’ release by the artist, then it usually is in conjunction with a more ‘official’ channel to stream the release (usually with cover art + a label etc etc).

But I think the main reason for this delineation is that when I’m browsing an artist page, I don’t want to see 100 videos and soundcloud tracks taking up the page, and I doubt other people do either. Or every fan uploaded video on the internet counting as a single + live + bootleg. For some reason if it’s been ‘released’ onto Bandcamp, probably with cover art etc, it seems like a more specific release/ the artist intent is stronger.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. No doubt if a single or a video doesn’t fit into what I’ve surmised, it should be added differently. I don’t think reosarevok is arguing that everything should be treated the same either.
But I honestly haven’t seen this come up as an issue while editing and voting… I would love to see an example/s if we’re going to discuss this at length, to be honest.

It would be a release.
But if he’s just playing a song to people passing by (which I think is a more accurate metaphor for what we’re talking about), it definitely wouldn’t be… a stand-alone work perhaps :wink:

edit: if he’s curated a special space that you walk into specifically to listen to that one song, and that’s the only place you can listen to it, the maybe a release hehe


Here are a couple of examples of streaming-first releases, and streaming-based music careers:

  1. Pomplamoose has been releasing “videosongs” on Youtube since 2008. Hail Mary - Pomplamoose VideoSong seems to have been their first release to exceed 1 million views. It is likely similar to Recording ‘‘Hail Mary’’, which is part of a Release ‘‘VideoSongs’’ dated March 2009, and an album Pomplamoose VideoSongs sold on iTunes since March 2009. Importantly, the YouTube release came first, generated interest, then came more YouTube releases, then an album of the YouTube releases.

  2. PostModern Jukebox, a series of music videos created by Scott Bradlee and a constellation of regular and guest musicians, featuring modern pop tunes in older stylings. Bradlee released a number of solo music videos in 2011 and earlier. The first video I can find which has the PMJ style is A Motown Tribute to Nickelback, uploaded to YouTube on 11. November 2011. This work later appeared on an album A Motown Tribute To Nickelback on Bandcamp on 12 December 2012, not yet with the PMJ name. A better early example is Thrift Shop (Vintage “Grandpa Style” Macklemore Cover), uploaded to Youtube on 11 Feb 2013, later apparently released as track 2 of Release Introducing Postmodern Jukebox, dated 23. April 2013.

Both Pomplamoose and PostModern Jukebox have dozens of videos released first on Youtube, then later assembled into CDs. After the video releases became popular, they started touring, selling merchandise, etc. If we can agree on how MusicBrainz should correctly represent these releases, I think that will answer my original question.

Digital releases


At first I was going to suggest that this desire to separate audio and video should argue for changing our Release Format “Digital media” to “Digital Audio Media”, and add “Digital Video Media”.

But then I looked at that list of formats, and at Recording. It seems that, even though we think mono vs stereo is important for deciding whether two recorded audio signals should be represented by the same or different Recording entries, we don’t actually store the fact that a Recording is stereo, or monoaural, or surround sound.

So, if we don’t have a way to store whether a recorded audio signal is mono or stereo, it’s not much different to have no way to store whether the signal has accompanying video.

It’s interesting that we don’t have a way to store it, however.


Examples of artists who got popular via streaming services/ have popular videos on Youtube isn’t really the kind of example I was looking for… I’m well aware of that :stuck_out_tongue:

In your examples I still don’t really see the problem with entering them into MB as stand-alone recordings. What’s the practical use in making every video that Pomplamoose puts up as a ‘single’ release in MB?
Especially if the recording appears on albums later (and we can still link the recording/ work to its original Youtube source for anyone who is interested in that data).

But anyway, my point is that for all the artists that I have edited, I wouldn’t want all their videos put in as ‘single’ releases. If you do have reason to for artists/ edits that you are doing the work on, by all means go for it, if you have reason to!
But I would say the general MB approach would be what reosarevok has said, in a generalized practical sort of way :slightly_smiling:


That’s a great question. Since a stand-alone recordings are “are recordings which are not linked to a release”, then it boils down to: what value does the Release structure do for describing the music of artists who got popular by streaming services?

The Release structure provides a way to group a bunch of Recordings together in a sequence. For single-track streamed releases, this doesn’t matter.

The Release structure provides a way for a performance to be listed in an Artist’s MusicBrainz entry, under “Discography”. This matters a lot me. I don’t think MusicBrainz can tell the story of Pomplamoose or PostModern Jukebox without a list of their early digitally-distributed hits.

The list of fields in Release makes for interesting reading. Some are irrelevant to these self-distributed artists (label, catalogue number, barcode). Some are quite relevant (Date, MBID).

I agree that it’s not helpful to have links to every unsanctioned upload of a release on Youtube. But there are official, earliest releases on Youtube also.

What I’m hoping for is a consensus about good MB style for such Artistis and releases, so that I can help draft changes to docs and style guidelines to put it in writing. @reosarevok gave a starting point for discussion. I’m looking forward to a conclusion. (When has a MB style discussion ever failed to arrive at a conclusion? :wink: )


imo having image or not is very different than what format is the audio or video.[quote="Jim_DeLaHunt, post:12, topic:1311]
So, if we don’t have a way to store whether a recorded audio signal is mono or stereo, it’s not much different to have no way to store whether the signal has accompanying video.

It’s interesting that we don’t have a way to store it, however.
Having image or not is more crucial information and Boolean.
Format of sound or video (4:3, PAL, etc.) can be dozens of possibilities and is OK in the comment, tags, annotations.


[quote=“Jim_DeLaHunt, post:14, topic:1311”]
I don’t think MusicBrainz can tell the story of Pomplamoose or PostModern Jukebox without a list of their early digitally-distributed hits.[/quote]No worries, if it’s that important to you/ in an artists case, put in those edits!
Other editors who know and care about the specific artists that you’re referring to can then vote on them, and they will know better than someone like me (or anyone else who isn’t a fan). Personally I would say that story can probably be told via the works/ recordings tab, a Wikipedia link or a annotation, but it’s not my place to say what’s best in this case.
But I would vote “no” to a guideline that says to put all youtube videos as a release, because I don’t think that’s a good idea across the board (eg in the case of any of the many artists I’ve edited).

If you are looking for consensus, then that’s it, because you’ve probably noticed that editors don’t add youtube videos as releases.
But of course you could always try to ‘officially’ change that approach, but it might be tricky! I could maybe be convinced :wink: edit: not that my opinion matters > <
Heck, maybe MB needs some extra functionality to deal with this kind of thing (eg an extra option to display youtube releases, just like we do with bootlegs, so as not to clutter the pages), especially if the line becomes more and more blurred (which it will), but I’ll leave that up to you to noodle out!


Doesn’t this suggest that we should think about how SARs are displayed in a discography?

I would expect this approach to become more popular (release material incrementally and then bundle into “releases”).


This is something that no doubt will become more popular and always tricky.

Here is another real world example.
I was been toying with/procrastinating adding some soundcloud releases/recordings for Aphex Twin’s ( (widely presumed) soundcloud personas user48736353001 and user18081971

hundreds of them from years of back catalog.

All released with a short time frame (over days) last year on soundcloud
Pausing because of the sheer amount of work and/or the “correct way” to do it but someone has added some/most of them now as some member of the public posted a zip file of all/some/most of them as demo and bootleg.
Maybe not exactly how i would add them (artist credit, maybe separate artist)

But without this zip file (probably one of the most unofficial releases out there) I imagine we are saying they should have all been standalone recordings?
I wondered about grouping as releases before all as one or as what was release on each date, etc.


Great question! I think @reosarevok’s points work well for most cases. In my opinion. it all boils down to: Is it released as a release? To answer this question you could compile a couple of loose criteria, like “It has its own cover art”, “It has its own release page (on an official website or Spotify, Bandcamp, etc.)” and most importantly “The artist calls it a release (or more likely, a single)”.

Even if the last criteria is filled, I might personally be reluctant to add it as a release. For example, a “single” might in some cases be literally a link to a track on an album. Something I like about recordings is that they are never wrong to add instead of a release, because if the recording should actually have been considered a release by some measure, the release can just use the previously stand-alone recording. So I usually take that route when I’m uncertain.

I really think that neither this reasoning nor the reasoning that music videos as releases would clutter the artist page should affect the way the data is stored, although this might be a bit too idealistic. I also don’t think any of your examples should be entered as releases for this reason only. If anything, the overview page should be modified to show these recordings where needed.

If the only reason to use releases is to have dates, it might be a reason to add the date of first release to recordings instead. There’s probably a reason why it’s not already there, though.


I do not know the policy about bumping threads, but since this is still highly relevant, I shall proceed.

I think the reason for this is because, as described in the Recording Documentation, the recording is more part of production, and a date associated with it would represent when it was created, not anything relating to when it was released.