Definition of "cover" recording of work

Saw a previous topic on this from last year, but didn’t seem definitive. What I am asking is when “cover” should be used as an attribute in a recording - work relationship. Wikipedia entry gives some historical insight but seems lacking.

There seems to be assumption that “cover” mainly refers to artists that mimic or in some cases parody works that are “commonly” associated with a specific sound recording – often the performing artist of the “original” is also the songwriter/composer of the work.

But as the wiki article discusses, works created in earlier periods (before around 1970) often were recorded by numerous performing artists. So are all of these considered “covers”, or none?

Then there are works that have come to be regarded as “standards” in a genre, and have been recorded many, many times. Are these “covers”?

I guess it comes down to, does MB consider “cover” in an expansive sense or in a limited sense, and if the later what are the cases in which “cover” should be assigned in the recording/work relationship?


I know I’m reviving an older topic here, but I have the same question.

To me, a cover implies a version of a work that’s strongly identified with one particular artist (as performed by someone other than that artist). That would exclude, for instance, jazz standards.

I don’t think “cover” has to be limited to artists that are primarily cover or tribute acts. Bruce Springsteen performing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” fits my notion of a cover.

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And recordings of classical works. And traditional, folk, ethnic, world recordings.

I think “cover” is best confined to “popular music”.

I don’t know if that would be just “Western popular music” or also include K-pop, Japanese pop, Thai pop, Indian pop etc.

Intuitively that seems correct to me, but what about, for instance, the Kronos Quartet playing Purple Haze?

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That should read, " “cover” is best confined to recordings of “popular music” works".

So Purple Haze by The Berlin Philharmonic is a cover.
And Led Zep playing either Danny Boy or Beethoven’s 5th isn’t.

(I’m not trying to argue by proclamation - rather making definite statements that others will point out the flaws in.)
For reasoned argument: “Cover” is an existing term in music recordings. It seems only to have value here on MB in as much as it follows the common usage - otherwise we could better call the field “work has been performed by by more than one artist/artists/groups/groupings” and extend it to include classical, tradition jazz etc etc. But would such a field capture anything of value? I spose we’d be able to see unpopular works?


I agree with this also. (My example wasn’t intending to argue, but more to test by example.)

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With all this agreement we could probably put in a ticket for the Documentation for Cover to be adjusted to make clearer the limits of “Cover”.

Though currently the relevant documentation appears absent from the first 10 pages of search results.

Can anyone find it?

@reosarevok, as we don’t have any definition of cover recording attribute yet, I think it is being mis‐used from time to time.

Could we make a quick simple first step by taking Wikipedia’s definition and use it in our recording relationship help page?

  • Wikipedia: « In popular music, a cover version, cover song, or simply cover, is a new performance or recording by someone other than the original artist or composer of a previously recorded, commercially released song. »
  • MusicBrainz: « Indicates that one entity is a cover of another entity »

I liked the montage from your (mis-used) link. :exploding_head: Your suggestion to add the Wikipedia definition is to the point and I would agree it is superior to what MB shows now. (IMHO) I would remove the first 3 words. I don’t really see where it is necessary to say “In Popular Music” as that could spark another debate as to what “Popular Music” would mean.:roll_eyes:

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Problem is, in classical music there’s no such thing as a cover: someone playing someone else’s piece is the intended use. Also for folk, often, and sometimes jazz, the idea of a “cover” is a bit alien.


I stand corrected on my thoughts to leave out “In Popular Music”. Yet,does that not lead to the assumption that everyone understands the usage of “IPM”? Maybe it would be helpful for the words “IPM” to be in italics and linked to the Wikipedia definition of “Popular Music”. Anyhow, I still like @jesus2099 recommendation. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback @reosarevok !!

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Ok for the last few days me and Jesus have been arguing about if a self cover is considered a cover if it has a diffrent arrangement and with MB cover has been somewhat divisive so Freso asked if I could bring it up here about if we should consider Self covers covers eispecially if it has a new arrangement

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What is a “self cover”? A cover is someone playing someone else’s music, isn’t someone playing their own music just… the standard?


A self cover is when a artist sings there own song but has a completly new arrangement from the original and usually has a diffrent arranger

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For example this this is a cover for the robonation albums cause they cannot use the original recording in there compilation so they had mizuki re-record the song with there own arrangement here is the original it shows that Michiaki Watanabe is the arranger while the other recording I shared has the arrangers Shiro Sasaki and Hideaki Nakaji and I can confirm that these have both diffrent sound boards

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I was thinking we could also possibly have a self cover attribute that says if this is the original artist you put it under this attribute

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How could you, or who could decide which one is ‘the original’, and thus labeling all other performances from the same artist as a cover?
Suppose, an artist plays his song on his guitar and records it on some simple home tape recorder strictly for personal use.
The first official release is a month later on a CD that was recorded in a nice studio.
And that recording also happens to become ‘the famous one’.
But the day before the song was released on CD, he also played it on a live radio show.

Which one is the original, making all the others ‘covers’?
Good luck deciding.

You decided?
Ok, 10 years later, the original home recording tape was found, and was released as part of a compilation box.
Now what?

In my opinion a cover is always one artist performing a song from (paying tribute to) another artist.

If you like to think creatively and push boundaries for the fun of it, you might perhaps consider if something like the artist Mick Hucknall singing a song from the artist Simply Red could be called a cover.


I agree that self-cover concept is used in Japan.

I agree it could be nice to have a specific relationship and I also understand @Freso who says we can just use the existing cover relationship for those self-covers. Maybe it will be more pragmatic than creating a relationship for a few occurrences only.

As/But IMO we should label recordings, or albums, as self-covers only when they are explicitly presented as such by artist or label (cf. packagings, official sites).

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But what happens if the packaging does not state it but instead it just plays it as there own version cause in Japan due to how rights to songs are handles they would often times hire the same artist to record there version of the song with new arrangement so that they can sell there own version and not the original where they would not get as much money if they used the original recording

It is very common eispecially for anime and children music reocrds to have the same artist record a self cover version for there record company to sell in there own compilation