Proposed (unofficial) digital media guidelines

TL;DR The proposed changes were integrated into the Style/Release guidelines on 2023-05-04 as tracked in STYLE-2244. Thanks, everyone!

I haven’t found much official documentation about how online (“digital media”) releases should be entered into MusicBrainz, but there do seem to be some mostly-accepted practices. I’d like to propose adding a page containing online-specific guidance to the style guidelines, possibly living under, so that all of this is written down in one place.

I’m aware that this is a contentious area, and I’ve tried to limit the scope to what seem like the two main topics (in terms of time spent discussing them in edits and the forum): when to create multiple releases, and how to assign release countries. Comments welcome, especially from people who do a lot of editing of digital-media releases. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to reach consensus here, but I figured I’d give it a shot. :slight_smile:

(I’m happy to create a Jira ticket as well, but I figured I should post here first to see if this is even feasible.)

Edit: See also the alternate proposal to edit the Style/Release page.

Online (“Digital Media”) Releases

The only requirement for releasing music online is a computer with access to the Internet, and unlike physical media, online releases can be easily modified after they are first made available. As a result, the same release is often available from many different sources with minor variations, and typos and other errors are common.

Multiple Releases

Only add multiple digital media releases to MusicBrainz when there was clear intent by the artist or label to create multiple releases. This requirement can be satisfied by the following:

  • Different recordings in the tracklist. For example, separate releases should be created for the clean and explicit versions of an album.
  • Different song ordering, or songs being included or excluded. For example, a deluxe edition containing bonus tracks should be represented by a separate release. If additional tracks are added to an already-released album, a new release should be created with the new tracklist.
  • Differing barcodes. Not all services list releases’ barcodes, however.
  • Differing labels responsible for the release. Note that online services are often inconsistent or unreliable in how they credit labels.
  • Different cover art. Any differences beyond size/quality changes and minor color differences justify multiple releases.

If none of the above apply, we usually do not create additional digital media releases on the basis of:

  • Different streaming services or digital storefronts. The services offering a release should instead be linked via URL relationships.
  • Differences in available regions that are not due to artist or label intent. Different services operate in different countries, and availability is often further limited due to geopolitics or legal requirements. Release countries are discussed in more detail below.
  • Minor differences in artist name, release title, or track titles. Most services impose their own metadata rules, and minor differences are rarely due to artist intent. Typographical errors are frequently introduced during data entry, and extra title information may be displayed in different ways. Artist intent, the official style guidelines, and the way that the release is presented on other platforms should all be considered when determining what to enter into MusicBrainz.
  • Different audio formats (e.g. MP3, FLAC, AAC, ALAC) or bitrates or “hi-res” releases. Digital media can easily be converted from one format to another, and lossless formats like FLAC and ALAC are sometimes used to re-encode files that were previously encoded in lossy formats like MP3 and AAC.
  • Service-specific mastering, e.g. Apple Digital Masters or Tidal Masters.

Minor differences between services, typo correction, and other interesting details can be documented in the release’s annotation field.

Release Countries

If the artist or label’s intent was to make the release available “everywhere”, then the XW “[Worldwide]” release country should be used in the release event.

If some countries are explicitly separated (e.g. a release in one region and a separate rest-of-world release), then the countries should be explicitly listed.

If the artist or label’s intent was not clear, leave the release country unset.

The countries where an online release is currently available are sometimes documented via annotations. This information can quickly become outdated, so it is advisable to include an “as of” date in the annotation.

Release Dates

The release date is the day when the release was first made available on a digital platform.

Note that platforms often do not display release dates, or will display the release date from an earlier physical release instead (which may be earlier than when the platform itself was launched). In cases where you are not certain that a release date is correct, it’s better to not enter a date at all.


  • Added sentence to end of “Multiple Releases” suggesting that details be added to annotations as suggested by @IvanDobsky.
  • Documented that entirely different cover art justifies a new release while minor differences do not, as suggested by @elomatreb and @tigerman325.
  • Deleted Bandcamp-is-always-global guidance since @elomatreb and @tigerman325 both pointed out that uploaders are able to region-restrict releases.
  • Applied @aerozol’s suggested “If none of the above apply” wording.
  • Updated guidance about minor cover art differences to refer to “image quality/size” and removed mention of PDF booklets, as suggested by @aerozol.
  • Changed “entirely different cover art” to “different cover art” and added more detail, as suggested by @aerozol and @UltimateRiff.
  • Changed “please do not create” to “we usually do not create”, as suggested by @aerozol.
  • Added mention of ETI differences as suggested by @UltimateRiff.
  • Minor tweaks to cover art guidelines per discussion with @aerozol.
  • Removed “minor cover art differences” bullet point as suggested by @aerozol.
  • Made changes suggested by @reosarevok: added “Release Dates” section, updated “different song ordering” bullet point to mention “evolving releases”, updated “Release Countries” section to mention rest-of-world releases.
  • Removed “release countries” section since it doesn’t seem like we’re going to reach agreement here. Added link to alternate approach that modifies Style/Release.

The above is based on what I’ve seen stated in recent forum threads and in edit comments, but it’s possible that many editors who don’t participate in the forum are doing things differently.

Here are a few relevant comments from the forums:

@tigerman325 in Does inclusion of a digital booklet make a unique digital release? - #8 by tigerman325

We no longer separate hi-res releases from standard releases unless the timing on the tracks are different. It’s gotten a lot harder with the addition of Apple Music having hi-res as well as Deezer & Amazon. Also, it’s been proven that many times the “hi-res” releases are nothing more than standard that are blown up to hi-res or vice-versa. Much like different store mastering, i.e. Apple Digital Masters & Tidal Masters are no longer separate either."

@tigerman325 in Mastered for iTunes is now Apple Digital Masters - #4 by tigerman325

Apple doesn’t recognize an Apple Music release to be any different than an iTunes release. They give the same iTunes ID if there is no difference in barcode, label, etc. There are some instances in which the barcode for MFiT is shared with Spotify/Deezer, etc. that are the same as Apple Music as well.

@elomatreb in HD/Hi-Res/24-bit Music entries/Studio Quality Music - #2 by elomatreb

We generally do not track technical differences like sampling depth or even file type (lossless vs. lossy). … An additional concern is that it’s really hard to be sure that your high-resolution music is actually high-resolution, i.e. if it wasn’t just upsampled from a CD-quality recording (for the case of lossless music stores, it’s not that rare to get FLAC downloads where it’s immediately obvious from a spectrogram that they are just converted 128kbps MP3s).

@tigerman325 in HD/Hi-Res/24-bit Music entries/Studio Quality Music - #23 by tigerman325

We got rid of the mastered for iTunes being separate release a few years ago actually. I don’t think anyone is keeping those separate that I’ve seen. So, if you still run across them, merge them. I do. And haven’t been voted down on one in years. I still keep the hi-res separate, but I’d like to see attributes on links so we can stop keeping them separate, as stated before. Thanks for the comparison on the sample rates. I never knew that some “hi-res” releases are actually blown up from lower rates sometimes.

@zas in Conclusion of multiple digital media releases for 16 vs. 24-bit? - #9 by Zas

Hmmm, I wouldn’t go towards this direction [using file formats] to differentiate releases, simply because some stores provide hi-res FLAC or ALAC albums made from low quality (heavily compressed) MP3s, and some stores provide very high quality MP3s made from hires studio masters.

I’ll point out that I’ve seen forum comments as recent as mid-2022 that gave different advice, though.


I’d add a note to that pointing people to use the Annotation field if they have seen typos corrected or want to say something about a change to the release. It can be documented as interesting, but not interesting enough to need a new release. :slight_smile:


This should probably only be applied for minor differences in cover art (like that color matching thing we discussed in another thread), for “substantial” differences (e.g. a red and a blue cover) I would expect a separate release.

This is usually true, but Bandcamp does support region restrictions if the uploader wants them (not sure if it’s available for all accounts or just selected/partner ones).


I don’t agree with the last part about cover art. If the difference is just resolution, color compression, or the addition of a .pdf booklet, yes, still same. But if it’s an entirely different cover art, I’d have them as a separate release. Exceptions could be when a different cover art was used during the pre-release phase of a release. Other than that, looks good. Also, Bandcamp introduced country restrictions several years ago, so they are not all automatically worldwide. They typically are on independent releases though (which is most of them). But be careful.


These all need asterisks:
1: Different barcodes (artist/label intent) are sometimes used when track titles are translated and the digital music platform doesn’t support multiple titles on a track. It depends on each label’s practices.
2/3/4: Different barcodes (artist/label intent) are sometimes used. It depends on each label’s practices.


Great suggestion – thanks! I’ve added this.

Makes sense, thanks. I’ve updated the guidelines to list completely different cover art as justifying a new release.

I didn’t know this! I’ve deleted the Bandcamp guidance for now, but I’m happy to add it back if there’s an easy way for editors to tell whether a given album on Bandcamp is region-restricted or not.

All of these cases involve different barcodes, right? The guidelines mention barcode differences as justifying multiple releases; my intent was just to say that text/format/etc. changes by themselves don’t justify additional releases. Would something like this be clearer?

Do not create additional digital media releases on the basis of any of the following (i.e. without more-substantial differences from the above list also being present):

That feels a bit wordy, so please let me know if you have other suggestions.

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Great work :scream:

Related: Since we’ve had a big push with writing guidelines lately, so I’ll share this nerdy MeB detail:
We have a writing styleguide!
So if anyone is ever wondering whether to use US or UK English, whether to use colons or semi-colons, how to format lists, and so on, check it out. (these guidelines are not for MB data, artist, annotations, but for MeB docs/documentation or website text)
We don’t require wiki pages to follow any of this, so no stress, but some may prefer guidance on these matters : )


If none of the above apply, we usually do not create additional digital media releases on the basis of:

The cover art section also stood out to me. I would change the emphasis to be towards creating new releases for different cover art. So ‘Entirely different cover art’ becomes ‘Different cover art’. And its counterpart becomes 'Minor differences in cover art. Differences in image quality/size, format and color correction may not justify a new release."

Because merging is easier than splitting. Something like color correction could certainly be egregious enough for someone to want to split it. I’ve replaced ‘resolution’ with ‘quality/size’ because resolution could be interpreted as, for instance, square vs non square images being the same release, which probably should be separated? Or is that another forum thread/discussion to be had…

I don’t know about saying that PDF booklets (which I would define here as ‘digital extras’) automatically don’t count. There’s been a bit of feedback on that forum thread, but no consensus that I can see. Since people tend to grab the guidelines and sprint with them I would be cautious and leave it out for now - otherwise a lot of releases are going to get merged and people are going to get upset (not everyone reads the forums).


Thanks, this sounds good to me. I changed “we usually do not” to “please do not”. :slight_smile:

I like the “image quality/size” suggestion, but I worry that including “different cover art” in the “things that justify multiple releases” list could be confusing, since readers won’t know that it excludes “minor” differences until they read further down the doc. Maybe there’s something else that could be used in place of “completely different” that’s clearer. I’d rather not have to include the inverse of the description in the next list, e.g. “Differences in cover art larger in scope than quality/size changes or color correction”, although I guess that that’s an option.

Sure, I’ve deleted this. I don’t think it will come up often enough to need to be mentioned in the style guide, and I think arguments could be (and have been) made either way.

It might be, but ‘entirely different cover art’ isn’t correct either. A cover can have slight changes, for instance a logo, and we would still make a new release.

@reosarevok might want to weigh in on this, but you’ll notice a lot of ‘may’ and ‘usually’ and so on in the guidelines. That’s because they are guidelines and there are always edge cases

For instance, if a label/artist made a big hullaballoo about sourcing long-lost original high-res files, and they uploaded that to a platform as a separate release (perhaps for more $ too), I think that may qualify for a new release. A firm “do not make a new release for different formats” will be interpreted as permission to erase all edge cases tbh :S

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looks pretty good to me~ my only comment is I don’t quite like the wording here:

I don’t know how exactly I might word this, but I feel that a new release should probably be created in a case like The Living Tombstone’s Five Nights at Freddy’s. the original Bandcamp release had text which was later removed (seen in the bottom right). since it’s on an artist-run Bandcamp, that feels as artist intent-y as it gets. (that said, the text wasn’t removed from the Bandcamp description… lol)

I don’t know if an example is wanted for the section on Minor differences in artist name, release title, or track titles, but you could mention likely the most common case many editors will come across: how Spotify changes (parenthetical ETI) into - hyphenated ETI. that could possibly make that section too long and unwieldy tho, so I could take it or leave it… :wink:


Thanks for the explanation! I switched this to “Different cover art” and added more detail: “This includes substantial color changes or the addition or removal of text or logos, but not differences in image quality/size or in color correction.” That hopefully also covers the FNaF example that @UltimateRiff provided.

Thanks, I added a bit about how ETI may be presented differently across platforms.

The top post rules look great and reasonable.

Personally I’m struggling with the release date. Idagio for example does not have release date, instead its using original album release date which does not work for older recordings. So I leave it blank.

This does not show well on page, does not sort well.

If I remember well, Spotify and Apple can also be unreliable in this respect.

What could be a reasonable accepted rule ?

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Yeah, I think it’s tough to come up with good guidance here. Many (most?) of the services seem to just display the original release date instead of the date when the album was published on their platform. I’ll probably try to tackle this in a followup change if the base guidelines are accepted.

I am also struggling with this. The release date listed is very often just when it was released first (cd ect).
Using that may be wrong, but it is the only date we have presented, and it it presented as release of this release (even if it is not / false-information).

The digital-release date it not easy to find, internet-time-back-machine and services like that might be able to help in research but it is not sustainable in the long term as a standard way to find date when submitting releases.
Also, if we don’t separate releases from different “stores” (which I am not sure if I agree with) we have to find every source on the internet where this specific release is sold/has been sold and in some way find the earliest one.

I mostly download my music from Qobuz and submit here, mostly there is no identifier at all. I don’t realy know if it is the same as tidal, spotify ect. So I normaly has up until now made a new Qobuz or Qobuz Hi-Res release.

There are 2 types of digital releases that I can see. Ahead of physical, if any, or after physical.

If we use current date of entry, wouldn’t that work ?

Added to old group with physical release, digital will list with the original group, for new release, it will start a new group .

If you don’t mind, I’d like to hold off on discussion of release dates (or move the discussion to a different thread) until the original proposal is ratified – I’m worried that things will get confusing otherwise. :slight_smile:

@reosarevok, do you have any thoughts about the proposal in the original post in its current form? Should I move it into a wiki page?

Getting there, perhaps:

Different cover art. Discounting minor differences, such as image quality/size or unintentional color changes.

And then remove the counterpart paragraph from the ‘if none of the above apply…’ section.

I’d prefer to explicitly state that text or logo changes justify multiple releases, as I think that a reader could reasonably assume that those are “minor differences” otherwise.

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It has to be said in a way that makes it clear that ‘resolution and minor color changes’ are the exception. Any other changes to cover art = new release.

Otherwise we leave it but need to expand the examples substantially to include any imaginable cases of moving text or logos slightly, different cropping, different font weights, etc

Image quality/size or unintentional color variation does not apply.