Should disambiguation for artists be mandatory?

I know this is going to be decisive, but I’m curious to see what people think. Sorry, if this has been discussed already:

Should an artist disambiguation be required for all new artists?

Why? I’ve been using heavily the last year to see what things they do better, worse or just different. RYM require a disambiguation for all new artists, which actually makes sense for a few reasons:

  1. We never have to worry about updating the existing disambiguation of the “old” artist in the future when a duplicate is added.
  2. It makes for a richer search experience as it’s obvious if that’s the artist you’re looking for (or not looking for) even if only one artist exists for that name.
  3. It makes for an easier and less error prone editing experience. If I’m adding a new album in the Trance genre and I only see one artist for John Askew, I’m going to assume that’s the right one. Actually there are three John Askew’s. Yes, they all have disambiguation now, but there must have been a time where there was only one…

What are some arguments against this? Other than being slightly more work to enter.


I like it being optional, but I have no big opinion…

Many artists are added for one relationship, when sometimes we only know the artist name from the booklet, and nothing else.
The disambiguation in this case would be quite dull.

One other known little problem is that this disambiguation comment is not multilingual / localisable (but there are “other - features” that have kilotons more importance for me).


I can definitely see the appeal of mandatory disambiguations, but I suspect it’s not really realistic for most artists.

The disambiguation comments we already have are often just reiterations of the data entered in structured form already. A hypothetical artist disambiguation like “Pop-rock band from New York, active 2000-2008” only contains information we already store (or could store) elsewhere.


Thanks for starting this discussion. Instead of a long reply mulling the arguments for and against it (which I was about to draft, I’ll admit), I want to throw out there a quick compromise proposal: how about mandatory disambiguations for artists with names containing fewer than (2 or 3) words / shorter than X characters?

For longer names, I still think editors ought to use their brainz™ to understand if they are adding a name that is closer to, say, John Smith vs to Guybrush Threepwood in terms of commonness.

I don’t really see how that is an issue at all when you consider the scores of 5-artists-in-1 entries we have around the database. Disambiguations are there for humans to choose the right entry!


Putting a minimum length might still be too arbitrary, I don’t really see the downside in making it mandatory for all artists.

Although, to the point of “dull” or uninformative. The disambiguating is not supposed to clarify or distill who the artist is, it’s most important to clarify who the artist is NOT.

For example, if I see “Country band” or “Songer-songwriter from Kentucky” it’s clear these are not Trance artists.

I have seen a bunch of artists with just “Trance”. This is better than nothing when making sure we don’t use the wrong artist for this context.


For many of the artists I have added, it would have been:

wrote “This That” song

First of all it is in English.

But maybe it was not the most famous work or the most distinctive info, so it would have to be fixed when we know more.

Until then it does not help very much when adding another relationship.

And we can already see this in the Works tab.

But, on the other hand, each time I add a musician with a common name, I add their instrument in the comment.

But for the writers of only one work, when they are added, making the disambiguation mandatory seems too much to me, it would contain country? Work title? Gender?

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honestly, no - it’ll just make things look a lot more messy in my opinion - certainly when you’re on the release view as it will always be [artist] (disambig)

It is effectively mandatory for bands/artists with the same name - you can’t just go ahead and create an artist for a band called say Oblivion and not provide some kind of hint as to who they are.


This sounds like busywork for the sake of work. The result would also be messy and untranslatable. So please don’t.

Only add a disambiguation if there is a possible confusion already or if you really anticipate confusion. If you do add a disambiguation, be as concise as possible.

I’d rather see MusicBrainz offering more context in searches based on information MusicBrainz has on that entity. Like interesting relationships (member of group, most-credited instrument). That would be automated (less work for editors, don’t forget that MB has more than 2 million artists alone, never mind other entity types) and translatable.


This would hands down be the best approach if we were in a position to rely on our existing data at face value. But, sadly, I think the data quality is just not sufficient to do that reliably.

As things stand, a disambiguation tells me “a human checked this and the chances that this entry is a complete mess are slightly lower”.


If the data is not correct it should be fixed, anyway.
Fixing data plus updating comment is more work than just fixing data. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


RYM takes it even further to encourage the full profile to be filled out (the Profile is what they call all the information for an artist). That is, not just the disambiguation, but the locations, dates, members, AKAs and when reviewed it’s common for voters to find even more information to be added before the artist it’s landed.

This is far too involved for MusicBrainz and adds a huge editing turn around time, but the artists are highly accurate and detailed in turn.

Jesus, on the flip side I would argue that if the only information you know about an artist is “They were famous for That Song” then you haven’t done enough research to add this artist reliably and accurately. This can lead to more editing where we have lots of low quality artists that need to be merged and fixed up over time. Maybe it was an alias? Maybe if you looked at one more source you would have seen that the artist intent spelling was different, etc.

You do make a solid point about the disambiguation being in English. That is a problem that needs a solution regardless of if the disambiguation was mandatory.

In almost all cases you should be able to produce something that describes enough of the artist that is very unlikely to be wrong in the future. For example, a “Rap-metal band from California” might do other rock but it’s close enough that an editor (who can only see the artist name when filling in artist credits) knows for sure that it’s not “German Techno duo”.

My main concern here is for adding artists credits. When I add a release, I only get to see the artist name and disambiguation. So if I see an artist with the same name, I’m going to blindly pick it. I’m (and I think this extents to many editors) are not be able to check if it’s correct without double checking them in the final stage which is just cumbersome and error prone - in my opinion.

On the other hand, we could improve the editing experience to show more detailed artist information when making the selection. Perhaps on a mouse over when selecting the artist? That will show information that we see on the right side of the artist page, including tags (which often indicate genres).


I agree that automating some of this stuff (for instance, showing artist country and date range of activity) would be best.

Failing that, I wouldn’t make it mandatory, but I do think we could encourage, in the guidelines at least, the addition of disambiguations even when there are no duplicates.

Partly for consistency, partly because when I am adding 100 artist compilation it’s a real time waster to have to click through to every single one to double check I shouldn’t be making a new artist. And I’m sure a lot of people don’t check…

But I’d still avoid compulsory fields, unless it’s an omission causing a very big problem.


I don’t believe artist disambiguations should be mandatory, but definitely highly encouraged.

whenever I’m adding an artists credit somewhere and it pulls one result with no disambiguation, often I’ll click into the artist to see if they’ve got similar credits already, i.e. they also play guitar on other recordings, they appeared on other Brony compilations, or they produced for other Tooth & Nail signed artists.

the main issue I can see with applying the RateYourMusic approach here on MusicBrainz is I don’t think RYM lets you add as detailed credits, i.e. producer, guitarist, engineer, etc. (I may be wrong, but I also haven’t seen them as of yet). because of that, we’d have more artists who might be harder to find, as there’s no releases for them.

I second this idea, including showing artist type (group, person, orchestra, etc.), area, and begin/end dates in the inline search results.


In my numerous added artists, many are not only not famous for the relationship I’m adding, but are not famous, even.

I just came across these artists in my booklet and searched the web for the most info I could get.
But often I don’t get more than just the name and the relationship from the booklet.

If they play an instrument, I would usually say so in the comment, but if they are credited on works out on producing or something, I would likely wrote a restrictive comment if I mentioned it.

My best disambiguation comment ever: not the pop singer :rofl:

Nah but it’s rare that I end up using such a lame comment!
I had to, because there was a homonym, and I knew nothing else than he’s a singer of a certain singing style that I don’t know the name for sure.

So I’m happy the comment is not mandatory for cases like this when there is no homonyms.


Since we’re discussing what a disambiguation should be, it’s subjective:

It’s not something that can be machine-generated from structured data stored elsewhere in MusicBrainz.


It’s not an issue per se, but making me type this sort of thing out everywhere would be.

Just a few words from my editing practice if someone is interested.

I am mostly working with PRO data so, when working with artists (mostly when i have to select an artist while filling a tracklist) a typical existing artist disambiguation comment is mostly useless for me since i am operating a bit different data originally. Personally for me it would much better if MB could dispaly some disamb. “tooltip” with info like:

  • IPI
  • Full real name
    Ideally as options in editor profile what fields to display in such disamb. tooltip.
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I sympathise with the impulse to make a disambiguation string required for all new Artist entries. My own policy is always to enter a disambiguation string when I add an Artist entry.

However, my argument against making just this be the policy is that it is a puny and insufficient response to a much deeper problem. The deeper problem is a combination of:

  • Editors create Artist entries with insufficient research and detail
  • The ambiguity does not exist when the first Artist with a common name is entered; it begins when the second Artist with a similar name is entered. The Editor entering the first Artist does not know that disambiguation will be required later.
  • The MusicBrainz web app UI does not display enough of the Artist information in search result lists to effectively distinguish between potential Artist matches; it shows Name and Disambiguation but not any other Artist data
  • Adding an Artist entry with good research and detail is made more difficult by clumsiness of the MusicBrainz web app UI — I have detailed comments on the Create Artist page design
  • If we require disambiguation strings, we need to have style guidelines for what to put in them, and what abbreviations to use. My own template is “<area> <role> <time>”, e.g. “Canadian trumpeter and composer, fl early 21c.” This at the very least distinguishes that Artist from the 1950’s UK recording engineer of the same name.

You have put your finger on a difficult tradeoff. Higher quality data vs lower effort to add. In my opinion, we should be talking about this tradeoff in the context of Artist data quality and overally MusicBrainz editor interaction. Framing it as just a question of disambiguation strings is too limited.