I’m one of the people that voted for updating these releases to reflect the artist’s name. And I’m not a new editor—a lapsed editor is a much more accurate description.
I recall a time when I was absolutely convinced that MusicBrainz’ job was to clean up the messiness of the world of tagging, including the weird capitalizations and typographical tricks that you’d find all over track listings on the backs of my CDs. And to be clear, I think that’s still absolutely perfectly valid when we’re talking about someone who thinks their entire music catalog should be in all lowercase (or perhaps just doesn’t know how to capitalize letters) and submits all that to Gracenote.
But I gradually came to strongly believe in the importance of artist intent, “messiness” being a valid form of self-expression. Those tracks were named that way intentionally unless I knew otherwise.
I keep thinking about Wendy Carlos, and how she had the power to take all her releases from an era when Switched-On Bach was really popular and make them reflect reality. That’s a power that, thanks to the fact that so much is released digitally these days, many more people have.
There is a lot of valid frustration circling in the world about how the digital reality means books can be changed, works of art we enjoy removed from accessibility, and the like. I get and empathize strongly with that. I have taken steps to make sure works that I care about are preserved, taken out of reach of powers that might decide they should be removed from the world.
But I simply cannot fathom the line of thinking that lays claim to the idea that someone other than the artist can decide that artist’s very identity. That’s an exercise of power that reaches beyond the bounds of the listener’s experience and tries to lay claim to the artist themselves.
I do not think highly at all of the argument that I, as a listener, should be able to decide what to call an artist when they’ve made it clear that’s not their identity, and have made the effort to correct past releases that do not reflect their reality today.
Now—I can support the idea that, if I had music that was tagged with an obsolete name, this database was a way to update that tag—so it would likely need to carry a name no longer used somewhere, though I would argue that it shouldn’t be surfaced during a search for the artist’s current name. A great analogy would be an HTTP 301 redirect—you request for the old name, you get the current; you request the current, you only get the current.
I also don’t think that we need to change artist names for old releases when an artist isn’t also doing so themselves (although, the reality is, that might be out of their hands—so expressing the desire to do so should be complete justification.)
But if an artist is correcting their identity, then that’s on us to respect.