How do we or should we define the term "work"?


In another forum thread, this one, we have a discussion going on, what “types” there should be available to add to a musical “work”.

In my country (Netherlands) the Buma/Stemra (my national organization to protect music author’s copyrights) defines a “work” as an original music composition and they are not the only one that do so, they are associated with many other countries’ national organizations (like ASCAP) that define music compositions the same way.

This original composition, is divided by the countries’ national organizations in two kinds:

  1. works with lyrics (they divide because composer of the music work can be somebody else than the lyricist of the work)
  2. works without lyrics (composer always is the only author of the work).
    They make this distinction, because for works with lyrics, there can be two authors that they have to protect: the author of the music and the author of the lyrics, while for “instrumental” works they only have to protect one author, the writer of the music.

For example: when you look up the song “All the things you are” you will see that they distinguish between composer of the song and lyricist.

Though the national organizations have another purpose with distinguishing between works without and with lyrics, I still think it a useful distinction, the more that already "song (music with lyrics) is a “type” in Music Brainz, so why not add the complement of “song”: i.e. “instrumental” (music without lyrics) as well?

But however, at Music Brainz there also seems to be a confusion about the meaning of the term “work”. When I look at my own “works”, there pops up “Have yourself a merry little Christmas”, while I did Not compose that work, and also certainly did Not add it to my original works, but it pops up because I am the artist in my performance and recording and production of that work, as well as you can see at the work “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” that many other artists like Franks Sinatra and Diana Krall also are mentioned in the list for that work! That is not right, we are performers of that work not composers!

However the fact that performers are mixed up with composers here on the Music Brainz, also leads to the confusion about “works” having or not having lyrics, because any “work” can have a recording (performer) otherwise: a work without lyrics can get lyrics, and a work with lyrics can be performed as instrumental.

So, that is why I suggest, shall we first try to reach consensus on how are we going to define the term “work”? Are we going with national organizations like Buma/Stemra and ASCAP and define it as “original music composition”, or are we going to give our own definition for a “work” and that in my opinion could lead to confusion especially for non native English speakers.

If we decide on going along with organizations like Buma and ASCAP by defining the term “work” in our database as an “original piece of music”, we then can also set the “types” for such a work by going along with them . If we however decide defining the term “work” in our database differently, we will face different “types” to add.

Please your input! Thank you so much! :slight_smile:

Please your input on how to set the type for an original instrumental work of modern music

In the documentation of music brainz WORK is defined as; ‘‘a work is a distinct intellectual or artistic creation, which can be expressed in the form of one or more audio recordings’’. In my opinion it should be a distinct intellectual or artistic COMPOSITION not creation. It COULD BE expressed in one or more audio recordings but the latter sentence creates confusion ( ‘‘can be expressed in the form of one or more audio recordings’’) because the latter relates to recordings or releases. A WORK is generally reserved for original compositions, not to their recordings. An artistic creation could be either a composition or a recording of a composition. So in the definition the phrase ‘‘which can be expressed in the form of one or more audio recordings’’ should be left out and ‘‘intellectual or artistic creation’’ should be ‘‘intellectual or artistic composition’’


I think you misinterpreted the first sentence of @CallerNo6’s answer about this.

See also the definition of Work entity in MusicBrainz documentation.

I disagree, this list of works represents your (recorded) repertoire. Moreover, it clearly distinguishes between writers (lyricists/composers) and other artists (performers), see the column “Writers”.


That is expressed very well, @Multi_Musician :slight_smile:

Can other members find themselves in this definition?


@Yvanz yes the covered “work” at my repertoire does indeed distinguish between composer and performer, but we are talking about the original work created by the composer not the production/recording by an artist! And we like to set a type for such an original work.

We are talking about: how to distinguish original compositions (that can be produced/performed in different ways), that organizations world wide already have distinguished in works with and works without lyrics, naming them “songs” and “instrumentals”, so that’s why I hope here at Music Brainz we also can name them that way, especially now that the type “song” already has been implemented.


Well; In the documentation of music brainz HOW TO USE WORKS; it states

MusicBrainz works (generally) represent specific compositions, or parts of them. For example, a specific song is a work: Hurt represents the composition by Trent Reznor, regardless of whether it is performed by Nine Inch Nails, Johnny Cash or any other artist.

Works allow us to group together all performances of the same composition, and to only enter composer/lyricist credits once. By linking recordings to works, you can also easily mark cover versions.

All the recordings of the same work should share the same relationships. That is, if your work has an extra lyricist who added more lyrics, an extra composer who added more music, or a translator, you’ll need to add a separate work (which you should then link to the original work with a version of relationship).



I agree, the works tab on an artist page doesn’t display what I would expect it to display (which would be works written by that artist).

This has nothing to do (as far as I know) with an unclear definition of Work in MB. It’s merely a matter of how/where to display certain data.

I do have “rewrite parts of the ‘Work’ doc” on my list of things to do. Hopefully the explanations will be improved, but I don’t expect to change the core definition. If anybody has specific questions about the current doc, please ask. Questions are good. :slight_smile:


You might actually be interested in which basically proposes to filter Works tab’s content by relationship type, alike discography filters in Overview tab.


Dear @Yvanz, I think I finally understand my confusion! You say (am I right?) that the list of “works” when I click the tab works at my artist page, represents my repertoire (does not matter who is the composer of those works and anyway one can see the composer at attributes), while I expected when hitting the tab “works” at my artist page to see only my own original works (compositions), not repertoire of works covered by me! Am I finally understanding right now?

So then if I understand right, at Music Brainz we understand with “work”, a “work” that an artist has performed in his/her repertoire, and not the original composition itself? If so, it could solve a lot!


If my above reply to @Yvanz is right, then I think we do not need to set a “type” at all! Not for songs and also not for instrumentals! Why not?

Because in this option, the Music Brainz is not an Encyclopedia of compositions, but an Encyclopedia of artists performing certain compositions! To explain: you look up an artist and see which works/compositions the artist has in his/her repertoire, or you look up a work/composition and see which artists has that in their repertoire, and depending on the artist you can guess yourself if it will be an instrumental or a music piece with lyrics, because, if the main artist in question is a vocalist, you can expect lyrics or scat singing or spoken text (rap), while if the main artist is a saxophonist, you can expect a (mainly) instrumental version of the work. Am I right? If so, then @Freso 's statement in the other thread quoting “If you doubt, leave it out” not only is a nice statement, but also is a wise statement, because it does not really matter to set the type, when looking for artists and their “works” (works in the meaning of Music Brainz).

However, I still am in favor of being able to set a type, although I can go along with not setting a type :slight_smile:

If my above reply to @Yvanz is not correct, meaning I misunderstood what he said, then please say so!


Almost yes, but it is about both original works and covered works. That is, the Works tab for an artist actually list all works related to that artist.

  • In your case, the fact is that all of your original compositions are part of your recorded repertoire.
  • Here is another example : Joseph Colombo’s works contain his original compositions, although his recordings of these are not known.

Alas, this list can not be filtered at the moment, see the above improvement request I linked to.

Note that advanced query syntax already allows to search for your compositions.


I think it’s more accurate to say that

  • The MusicBrainz database is a database of interconnected facts about music.
  • The MusicBrainz website is one way to organize and view those facts, but it isn’t the only way.


I agree. What gets included in the Work tab seems to be a strange mix of anything that the where the artist has a “wrote”, “composer”, or “lyricist” credit, or is listed as Artist. That seems a little arbitrary to me. (I also noticed that the Work tab will display arrangers and orchestrators, but a work won’t appear in the artist’s Work tab if “arranger” or “orchestrator” is the only credit they have.

Isn’t that basically what the Relationship tab does?

I’d suggest changing the opening line, “a work is a distinct intellectual or artistic creation, which can be expressed in the form of one or more audio recording” to “a work is a distinct intellectual or artistic creation that can or has been realized in the form of one or more audio recordings”. The two halves of the definition are inseparable. Changing “which” to “that” makes it clear that the second half is a condition, not an option, and that the order of isn’t relevant: e.g. if an improvisation is recorded, the transcribed and titled later, the recording is still the expression of the work. “Realized” is just a more specific term for what’s intended by “expressed”.

I don’t like the term “composition” as a definition. The Work definition includes books, plays, etc., so it’s not just in music. Plus you just end up shifting the debate to the definition of the word “composition” (improvisation, aleatoric music, algorithmic or machine composition, found sound, environmental recordings, etc.).


@Samsom_Productions, in your works tab, if you click one of your covered work, you will see that it is the original work that is mentioned over there.


Yes, but Works tab additionally features artists credits and only focuses on Works.


I meant the same thing, in the “works” tab show up both covered works as well as own original works. So that issue now has been solved :slight_smile: : “Works” on Music Brainz in the “works” tab are defined as "performed works" (repertoire) and that can be own compositions or covered compositions.

Thank you all so much for your valuable input! I hope the info about what shows up in the “works” tab will be implemented in the documentation, so there won’t be confusion about it anymore, when people like me want to list music at Music Brainz.

Please your input on how to set the type for an original instrumental work of modern music