How should we handle doujin music?

There’s an area of the Japanese music industry that I’m just starting to wade into. It’s known as doujin (or dōjin) music and there’s a Wikipedia article about it here. Basically, they are amateur individuals or groups self-producing music that are often “tributes” or “inspired by” official franchises (kinda like fan art, but for music). But there is also a lot of original music created by these doujin artists. You may have heard of vocaloid, or the character Hatsune Miku that features a lot in doujin music. This music is often self-published and sold as CDs at conventions, or online.

There are already a few releases in the DB, and plenty of online resources filled with data about this rather big industry. But we don’t seem to have any guidelines about how to handle this in MB. I’d like to knock something up before I make too many edits that will end up needing correcting.

The main point of trickiness for me is the concept of “circles” (basically: a group) and how to handle them. The circle members aren’t necessarily the same people that produced the music. But these circles may have published the CD and sold them at their booth at conventions. They may have acted as the project manager, of sorts. They may have just picked a theme for a CD and invited artists to submit something for the compilation.

So, how can we identify these circles in MB? Should they be listed as “group” artists? “Other” artists? Labels? (I don’t think so, personally). Should the circle be listed as the artist for a release? Or should the release be “Various Artists” and the circle linked in some other way? (Maybe the “published” relationship?)

I should point out now that I only have a little knowledge about the doujin music world. Is there anyone else here with more knowledge than me and have an opinion to share?


There’s a somewhat small, but still quite active community of editors who deal with doujin music here on MusicBrainz. I’m one of them - I mostly work with stuff from the Touhou community, which has some particularly interesting things to deal with…

In general, Circles seem to fit best as Group artists in MusicBrainz. A few examples that we already have in the DB: On the Touhou side: ZYTOKINE, a solo circle by 隣人; Alstroemeria Records (famous for their take on Bad Apple!!), which is Masayoshi Minoshima’s circle, but also has several other members. For original works, Primary, which is yuiko’s circle, but has some recurring composers, and binaria which behaves more like a traditional band, with several constant members and fewer guests. On the side of something more like a project manager, Diverse System puts out a large number of albums featuring a variety of individual artists, following a theme.

In all of the cases I’ve mentioned, the Group artist is the main way that we handle the circle. But, as the Circles are also self-publishing, they sort of act like a label at the same time. As for the label, there’s basically two competing way to handle it:

  1. Use the special-purpose label [no label], which is the standard way to handle self-published releases.
  2. Create a Label for the circle, in addition to the Artist. E.g. Someone’s made one for EastNewSound, who are also the artist EastNewSound. This has generally been very inconsistently applied. Every circle is an artist, but only some have labels.

As for the artist credits on the release, that’s also something that’s hit a bit of contention now and then!

We almost universally use the circle artist as the Release (and Release Group) artist. But there’s no agreed-upon standard for what to use for Track and Recording artists. I generally use individual artists if they’re clearly listed as single artists in the track list. For Touhou arranges, where the arranger & vocalist have similar importance, I usually fall back to the circle name. In some cases, I see track lists that have “Some Song feat. An Artist” but no main track artists - in that case, I usually do “Some Song” by “Circle Name feat. An Artist” in MusicBrainz. Other editors may vary in the style they use.


I want to make a separate thing to deal with Vocaloid music, because that’s a bit of a different case. With some exceptions (e.g. supercell), Vocaloid music tends not to be done by doujin circles as much, but rather by individual artists (usually using an online handle as a performance name).

Aside: the ‘-P’ suffix you see on many vocaloid song producer names actually stands for “Producer.” It’s sort of a mark of honor, typically given to artists by fans as an acknowledgement for producing and releasing a Vocaloid song - but this practice varies between communities and is sometimes a source of controversy.

Vocaloid music tends to be primarily - often exclusively - released on the video-sharing site niconico, which has a special vocaloid subpage featuring rankings and new releases. That said, artists outside of Japan tend to use YouTube and Soundcloud more often, and Japanese artists are starting to use YouTube as well to reduce the number of unauthorized reuploads (“reprints”) of their works onto the more accessible site.

But an interesting side effect of this is that many vocaloid songs are primarily available as videos, rather than just audio. Often varying from a simple static image or slideshow, up to fully animated PVs.

The doujin community’s love of tributes and derivative works is alive and well in the Vocaloid community, too. From covers of existing pop songs using vocaloid artists, making MMD videos for existing songs (There’s a yearly competition for this on niconico!), or even doing live action dance videos, or covers with real singers - and many of these are also featured on niconico’s vocaloid page.

And I’ll leave you with PinocchioP’s current chart-topping song:


Thanks kepstin for the amazingly detailed response.

I agree that describing circles as Groups is probably best in MB. It gives the benefit of adding individuals as members. I don’t think circles should be labels, because their CDs really are self-released, and like you mentioned, that seems to be inconsistently applied by editors. [no label] seems best to me, even if the circle has assigned a catalogue number to their releases. We can always use the annotation to mention that it was a self-release.

There’s also a “published” relationship for artists to releases, which I think can always be used to link the circle to a release. And we can make things even more detailed with the "illustrated"relationship, as well as events like Comiket and M3.

I think your description of how to credit artists makes a lot of sense.

As for the Vocaloid stuff, I know even less about it than I do about doujin music, so I’m happy to treat it differently! It seems like both doujin music and Vocaloid could use a wiki page in Mb, perhaps with editing guidelines. I’m hapy to get started on a doujin wiki page, assuming no one else has started one.


I don’t like using [no label], many times the entity publishing it is both the artist and the label. For that situation I make sure there is a personal label relationship between the two.

One example: 羽っ鳥もさく共和国 has personal label 羽っ鳥もさく共和国.

A (western) example would be OverClocked ReMix has personal label OverClocked ReMix.

The format I tend to end up using is:

Release Artist: [Circle]
Title: [Title]
Label: [Circle]
Catalog number: [catno]
Medium: CD
Track (n) artist: [vocalist] | [arranger] | [performer] | [circle] (in order of preference)
Available at: [event]
External links: [vgmdb] (very rare not to have this), [homepage]


Vocaloid typically follows the format [producer] feat. [vocaloid] for all artist credits I’ve seen. I’ve filed STYLE-417 to add the VocaDB & UtaiteDB Vocaloid databases to the Other Database whitelist.

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The format I end up using for Vocaloid releases is:

Release Artist: [Producer] feat. [Vocaloid] | [Circle]
Title: [Title]
Label: [Circle] | [Label]
Catalog number: [catno]
Medium: CD
Track (n) artist: [Poducer] feat. [Vocaloid]
Available at: [Event] (most event-released albums are going to be at one of the VOC@LOID M@STER events)
External links: [VGMdb], [Homepage], [VocaDB], [UtaDB]

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I agree with the [Producer] feat. [Vocaloid] as an artist credit in general for vocaloid songs/albums in general, but there’s a few cases where that doesn’t fit. That format should be used only if the Vocaloid character is explicitly mentioned - e.g. in a video title, on a tracklist or album art.

Because of the licensing of the Vocaloid characters, to do a commercial release that includes the vocaloid character image or names you need to negotiate a separate commercial use license with the company that owns the characters (e.g. Crypton Future Media for Hatsune Miku). In some cases, the license isn’t obtained, so the vocaloid characters are explicitly not credited on the release, and we should not add them even if we know which Vocaloid bank was used.

An example of this is the EXIT TUNES PRESENTS Supernova series, which features a bunch of popular vocaloid producers and songs, but without the feat. [Vocaloid] credits.

Note that the Crypton Future Media character license and INTERNET Co. character license do allow free non-commercial use, which covers most of the songs published on e.g. nicovideo. Most other companies with character Vocaloids have similar license terms, I believe.

Does this apply only to artist credits, or also to relationships?

Licensing isn’t really our concern, just how the artist credits the song/release.

Hmm. That’s an interesting point. Remember that the Vocaloid characters are not vocalists - they are musical instruments. The correct relationship would be [Artist] performed [voice synthesizer] on X or [Artist] programmed [voice synthesizer] on X. But we do have the ability now to have alternate name credits for musical instruments, so you could have “voice synthesizer” credited as “Hatsune Miku” for example.

I think we should follow existing typical usage, and use the name credit system only for particular named instruments that the artist mentions, for example on album art.


I’m a bit hesitant to use the circle name as the label, because MB already seems to have a hard time getting users to enter the correct label (eg: imprint vs record companies, etc). And given that most of these doujin releases are sold at conventions like M3 and Comiket, I really can’t see them as any other way than “self-released” which means [no label] should apply.

Then there are examples like the Tokyo Audio Waffle series I’ve been editing lately. They started out as self-releases at cons, but became so popular that they were remastered and sold commercially through an actual label called Rambling RECORDS. This probably isn’t that rare, and mixing “circle labels” with actual labels might get confusing.

Given that [no label] explicitly mentions self-releases, and there is also a published by relationship that can be used to link a circle with a release, AND given that we often use the circle name as the release artist, do we really need to shoehorn them into the label definition too?

Maybe I’d feel better if there was “circle” type property for label, but really, I think that self-released [no label] makes the most sense for the majority of doujin releases.

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We aren’t shoehorning anything, as the circle is doing that by both acting as the artist and the label.

Okay, maybe I’m misunderstanding something. Please feel free to explain like I’m stupid - how is the circle acting as a label?

I think it sounds good.
I mean it’s like when in demoscene, Funky Killer (tracker / musician / composer) has their music disc released by The Clowns (demo group).

Circle = demo group = looks good as release label IMO.
It’s like a branding / endorsement.
I don’t see how better it could be shown than as release label.

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The primary delineation between artist and label has to do with a traditionally corporation-ist viewpoint of the artist makes the music and the label promotes and sells it. But in the case of the dōjin circle/fan community the artists organize to create, promote, publish and distribute the music. Depending on the groups involved, you could argue that they are one organization in artist and label, or two organizations with the same name.

But what has to be done is trying to do right by each circle cataloged. Most will be published by themselves and should be properly annotated as such. A minority will be more traditionally published through established labels that only do publishing. I must re-itereate, this has to be examined on a case by case basis. The examples I put up there were for the most general cases, what you will see 90% of the time.

Thanks for listening to my rambling.


Thank you for rambling! It helped me understand your POV a bit more. And sorry for my late reply!

I agree with your definition of what labels do and why the circles are similar to them. But then, what do you think is the difference between a label release and a self-released release? Artists who self-release do all the label-type work too. They’re not a label though. So we use the [no label] entity for these self-released releases. I’m not sure why doujin circles should be treated differently. That’s why I can’t agree with the last line in that paragraph.

I absolutely agree. It’s super important that the circles be identified and linked to the releases somehow. These releases wouldn’t exist without the circle’s involvement.

Like I said in a previous comment though: the circle is often (though not always) identified as the release artist. We can use the published by relationship to link the circle to the release for probably every release (I think we can safely make that a blanket rule). We can make sure that they get linked to the release one way of another. So I don’t think we need to use the ‘label’ relationship to do that.

Especially when you consider the big discussion that happened on IRC about labels a while ago:

(to that point, I’d like to invite some of those IRC participants @reosarevok @Hawke @kepstin @CallerNo6 to chime in with their opinions here - do you think that doujin circles can be listed as the label for a release?)

Anyway, I’ll leave it here for now. Apologies again for my late reply. And regardless of whether we call them labels or not, we can all agree that the circles need to be linked somehow to their releases.


My opinion is leaning towards not having Doujin Circles represented as labels in the MusicBrainz database. They’re already linked to the release as the release artist, which gives us a good discography page.

They don’t perform one of the main functions of a traditional label - which is discovering and funding multiple individual artists. (Indeed, in many cases - particularly for stuff like Touhou, or derivatives of commercial works, most circles are basically aiming to make back their production costs, since actual commercial sales are iffy on the copyright front.)

Treating them similar to how other independent artist groups are in MusicBrainz, and simply using [no label], makes sense to me.


When entering song information relationships for Touhou and other arrange tracks, should we prefer “arrangement of”, or “based on”, for the relationship to the original composition?

Currently, both seem to be used in equal measure. I’ve started choosing “arrangement of” since it agrees nicely with the “arranger” selection, but want to make sure I’m not overlooking an important semantic difference.