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 https://musicbrainz.org/doc/Style/Release, 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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.