STYLE-2563: Should VA albums of new music be compilations?

I remember some previous discussion of compilation as re-released tracks vs compilation as VA albums (maybe it was specifically re: Picard). For my own collection, I use the latter, the “iTunes Compilation” definition, because it’s useful for handling VA albums regardless of the origin of the music. But I’ve always understood that MusicBrainz compilations meant re-released, and haven’t had any trouble with cognitive dissonance over the distinction. :person_shrugging:t4:


I feel even just the word implies it’s not new material, you compile by selecting from a large amount of existing material to make a compilation. If the tracks were commissioned, then you’re not compiling anything; you’re just publishing commissioned tracks from different artists.

On the other hand… I would probably unthinkingly select compilation for various artists releases with new material because they look like compilations. Maybe I have and don’t even remember it.


Yeah, I’m usually looking for the earliest release of something and I have to make special note of when it’s a VA album. Otherwise I’m liable to go looking for a single or album again… and again and again. This certainly happens most with tribute albums and charity albums, but also sometimes the “true compilations” like soundtracks or “greatest hits,” when there might be a few new songs on the album.


I feel exactly the same. It feels very strange to me to mark VA-releases with only new material as compilations. That’s not what I ever understood this word to mean.


Thanks for that. In order to check my sanity, I looked up a charity album I recently added and indeed it gets referred to as a “compilation” on the associated Bandcamp page even though it only includes new tracks:

All proceeds from this compilation will support Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah's Children's fund.

If the sample of respondents in this thread is representative, then there appears to be majority that subscribes to the “collection of previously released tracks” interpretation. Still, I question whether its wise for a crowdsourced project like MB to adopt narrow definitions that may end up being contentious.

That seems a valid point to me. Interpreted as “VA albums” the release type flag “compilation” becomes largely redundant. In my collection, both digital and physical, the “old” and “new” compilations are grouped together. Can anyone share some thoughts to what use they would put that distinct “compilation of old tracks” flag?


I’m not sure to understand the question.

For me compilation is for previously released material, for which I may be interested to have a look at the original albums rather than buying that compilation.

But if a VA album is not a compilation, it’s original recordings, then I’m more interested.


Well you did, since you answered it :wink:

ETA: For clarity, I asked the question since I couldn’t figure out what use anyone would get out of the distinction.

So you don’t buy any compilations of previously released material at all, since you prefer the original material? Fair enough.

Sometimes I do, when I am almost certain that I will not buy this artist albums in the future.
Of, for VA compilations, when it would mean to buy too many stuff that I would not want to buy individually.

But as I don’t like having many redundant tracks (overlap), when I think I might buy this artist albums, little by little, or when I already have many tracks of that compilation, I refrain from buying the compilation.

I think it has been quite the normal way of thinking about buying or not buying compilations.


true, but we’ve done similar with remix, and I haven’t seen any major issues with that. I think as long as it’s well-defined and easy to find, I think it should be fine

I would actually agree with this one - a sampler of new music about to be released, but which just collects stuff from albums, is probably still a compilation IMO even if it comes out a month before the actual albums.

This though I would not call a compilation, in the same way we don’t call a split release between four artists a compilation.


Sometimes it can be hard to tell what you have in hands. Example here:

This is clearly a mixture of old and new. Some tracks are old and released many times, but others seem to have been produced for this album. Or plain hard to find the source of the originals.

I naturally called this a “compilation” as it is a mix of sources “compiled” for the cause.

What kind of percentage new vs old would you need to not call this a compilation? 60/40? 70/30?


This is highly confusing for me. When you were talking about “existing music” in the OP and “pre-released music” (bolding in the original) in your comment to me, I naively thought you were referring to previously released music. If you introduce exceptions like this I feel you are overcomplicating the guidelines.
May I implore the community that whatever definition they agree upon, it be a simple one? “A compilation is a collection of previously released recordings” is a clear description that is easy to verify for an editor. Please do not add all kinds of exceptions: this will only invite confusion and endless discussions. Have mercy!

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Technically, a compilation is a release which brings together music from various sources. These sources are usually other (previously released) releases.
But there are cases where other sources are “brought together” (aka compiled), although this is less common. But I think it should be possible to take these into account as “exceptions on the general rule”.

Probably such exceptions should be explained in the edit notes, unless self-explanatory in nature (such as the Alienation “International Compilation CDr” series I mentioned above: The label owner asked various artist over the world to create a track especially for a compilation album. But due to the title, this exception is self-explanatory.

To quote an old teacher I had: “The exceptions define the rule.”
They shouldn’t confuse anyone, as long as they are called exceptions. They form the outside boundaries of the term “compilation”.


They should. But I cannot recall a single time that an editor justified setting the “compilation” flag on a release in the edit notes. In my experience, the enforcing of such exceptions requires constant policing. Best to have clear and unambiguous guidelines.

And I get to quote myself: “No they don’t. The exceptions disprove the rule” :wink:

If compilations do not exclusively consist of collections of previously released recordings, then there is no rational ground for excluding other VA collections and it becomes more parsimonious to simply allow all.

Whenever exceptions are ruled out and guidelines are applied in a rigid way: you get problems and common sense is ruled out. That’s a recurring problem in any organisation. You will create knots, because people issuing music don’t follow rules, there’s always a grey area.

The definition should be clear and unambiguous, but if there is good reason to apply it in a different way, reason should overrule the general rule.

The statement that exceptions would undermine a rational ground for excluding other VA collections, is not correct. That’s extrapolation, a common problem with over-rationalisation of concepts. (Also a common problem about anywhere you go;)

An exceptions can only be an exception if it’s an uncommon case. It doesn’t undermine any rational ground. Especially because having to provide a good explanation for an exception, which will not be automatically accepted, is on it’s own an inhibitor to apply them wildly.

Reality is that people, their actions and their creations, cannot be limited to the purely rational. That in itself would be the most irrational approach of reality possible. A form of wishful thinking that actually rapes reality in the most ugly way possible.

We should not fear the exceptions becoming general, because that would destroy their exceptional nature. in place we should fear rigid sets of rules that cause errors, because a rule that would be able to catch the reality, would be so complex, it becomes impossible to understand.

Especially in the subject of music, one of the most lyrical and irrational forms of art, one should never forget to add some feel to the application of the ratio. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right, regardless of the rational behind it.

But apart from this, I think it’s right to define a compilation as a release gathering recordings sourced from different other sources (in general, other releases, but for instance archived, but unreleased recordings from different resources, are also compiled.)
This is unrelated to VA or not (a compilation can as well consist of material from one single artist, and a VA release is for sure not by definition a compilation, there are also different concepts, such as a “collaboration”). Exceptions should be possible, but we can’t define them in a rule, as this would disprove their exceptional nature.

We should also bear in mind, while most compilations consist of previously released recordings, we should not turn it around to limit to term to this. To compile means “bringing together elements of different sources to create one new element”. This means a compilation of different unreleased recordings could also be considered a compilation. The term used in the database should reflect how it is used by various people releasing music. I think it would be a very rational approach to take in account all those different people over a course of ca. 120 years of recording, might not apply the term in the exact same way. To be correct in cataloguing their work, we should always try to respect their intent to the extend this is possible.

(Sorry, long text, nuance is always hard to catch in two words :wink:


Compilations put tracks from different sources together. These sources are usually the ‘main release’, as opposed to the compilation which one could consider a secondary release. “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles is a song on the album “Revolver”, that’s the release where it primarily belongs to. It also appears on a lot of compilations, but if you’d ask someone to which release does the song belong, everyone would answer to ‘Revolver’. If it were so that such a compilation was released before the actual album was released, then it would still be the case that the album is the main release of the song, wouldn’t it? Chronologically not the first, but still the main release.

If such releases were not considered compilations, I think that would make things very counter-intuitive. Of course there will be grey areas, no matter what guideline we make, but as a general rule I don’t think this is overly complicated.


I have a question about this: according to Release Group / Type - MusicBrainz a split release is not considered a compilation *only if it contains new music, but if a single is a split of music previously released then the compilation type should be added or not?
For example Release group “Body Rockin’ / Heatseeker” by Errol Brown / AC/DC - MusicBrainz is just a single or a single + compilation?

As is often the case, this is a bit of an edge case. It is a compilation of two unrelated works by two different artists, made for use in a jukebox. So it could be a compilation.

But both tracks on this single were fairly new ¹ at the time (1988), therefore I would not make it a compilation. According to MB’s definition, this is a split release.

EDIT: ¹) I think both tracks were new enough to be purchasable as independent singles :slight_smile:

I’ve been thinking about compilation singles for about a year, wondering if one exists, as a complete sidenote, lol


I already have seen some compilation single and compilation EP.