The "When is it a soundtrack / when is it classical?" question

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One of the issues that I’ve seen is for “Orchestra plays soundtrack score music”. In that case, some people want to use classical style (it’s an orchestra doing orchestral things!), some people want to use soundtrack style (it’s soundtrack music!) and a lot of people have no idea what to do.

Honestly, my solution to this one would be to make soundtrack scores equivalent to classical music, have separate guidelines for pop-song soundtracks if needed, but probably just mostly deprecate the soundtrack guideline and say “if it’s classical-ish in context, follow the classical guidelines, if it’s a more standard popular music soundtrack, use the standard guidelines instead”.

The “opera - operetta - musical theatre” continuum is IMO more complicated. I’d treat all of it as classical releases, but that’s probably because I’m used to classical releases and I find the guidelines result in fairly clean, useful data.

Is booklet a good source for Soundtrack track artist credits? [STYLE-1005]

More generally, “define classical” has always been a problem, and the approach has always been a “you’ll know it when you see it” kind of view. It’s very hard to put clear limits to it.

Is this classical?

  • A recording of some Mozart symphonies
  • A recording of Medieval music and plainchant
  • A recording of contemporary art music, like Glass or Reich
  • A recording of Keith Emerson’s Piano Concerto (originally released in an EL&P album)
  • A recording of Beatles arrangements by an orchestra
  • A recording of classical arrangements by a rock band

IMO the answer is yes to all but the last of them, but it’s hard to explain why. @CallerNo6 had worded this at some point as “it’s classical if it’s recorded or presented in a classical context”, which I generally agree with as an idea but it’s hard to explain properly to people.

What is classical?

In soundtracks where there are songs, I wish we keep having the singer(s) as track artist(s).

Is booklet a good source for Soundtrack track artist credits? [STYLE-1005]

If you mean “songs” as in pop songs (and not opera arias or something) then I’d say that’s a good approach, yes. Well, to credit whoever is credit, like we would in any other popular music album.

Is booklet a good source for Soundtrack track artist credits? [STYLE-1005]

Most of the confusion with soundtracks is caused by “This guideline covers release groups of type “Soundtrack”, and the releases, recordings, and works associated with them”. We don’t define when secondary type “Soundtrack” should be used. Some editors use it for music as featured in the soundtrack of a film/TV/game/play. Some editors believe it should be used for everything covering full soundtrack genre (but aren’t able to explain why would we support only one musical genre in MB).

If we believe guidelines apply only for “music as featured in the soundtrack of a film” many common releases aren’t soundtracks even though stated on their front cover. Most of the film score releases before early 80s are re-recordings. Basically most of the vinyl releases. For example first releases of Jaws, E.T., Fury and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are all re-recordings. With strict definition new Star Wars releases aren’t soundtracks because of so heavy editing, alternate takes and suite versions specially written for album.

We should either extend soundtrack guideline to cover full soundtrack genre or like @reosarevok already hinted we could count orchestral scores as part of the classical music. In MB we already have thousands of cross-over releases which include both classical and soundtrack music on the same release. On these it would feel logical to follow the same rules instead of guessing which guideline to choose. At least we should have a clear definition when to use “soundtrack” secondary release group type.


Classical Syndrome Checklist:
Black clothing covering over 80% of body (White shirts for men.)
Performers remain in a fixed position for each piece.
Improvisation not a feature.
Music played has an intellectual, theoretical ground.
Instruments primarily acoustic.
Electronic sound effects not a major component of produced sound.
Musicians expected to be sober, not on recreational drugs.
Performers evaluated, in theory at least, on the sound they produce, not their styling, dance moves or simulated sex routines.
Major focus on sound produced, not actions of audience members.
Audience listens to performance in silence.
Audience members still.
Audience sitting.
Audience expected to be sober, not on recreational drugs.

I started this is in humour but it seems that with a little more refinement and extension we could say something like, “If it’s got more than 6 of these symptoms then it’s classical music”.

Community Cleanup #1: Debussy

I’ve just read the style guideline for soundtracks and most of it looks superfluous. So simply scrapping the entire guideline could fix quite a few problems.

Of course a lot of soundtracks combine “classical” tracks with “pop” music. Most releases of that type just seem to use classical style for the classical tracks and normal guidelines for the rest, and I think that’s perfectly sensible.

By the way, mmirG’s check list is spot on. It’s probably possible to come up with an example where it doesn’t work, but I can’t think of any. :wink:


Most of it is – there are a couple of important bits and the rest is intended to make it basically match classical.

The Works section and the Release Group section are the parts that IMO need to be kept somewhere, even if that’s not in a soundtrack-specific style guide page. In retrospect I wish I had thought to treat “Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack” and such as ETI rather than a subtitle, so maybe that should be changed.


Yes we do:
"A soundtrack is the musical score to a movie, TV series, stage show, computer game etc."

(There is a little question as to whether this refers to the work or to the recordings, but other than that it’s reasonably clear.)


[quote=“Hawke, post:11, topic:212, full:true”]

[quote=“ListMyCDs, post:7, topic:212”]
We don’t define when secondary type “Soundtrack” should be used.
[/quote]“A soundtrack is the musical score to a movie, TV series, stage show, computer game etc.”[/quote]
I could have been more clear. I’m well aware of this guideline but for me it doesn’t clearly define when to use the type. This definition can be interpreted to mean either everything related to soundtrack genre or just the recordings as heard in a movie. For example “musical score to a movie” is still the same work even if it’s recorded again. Should we use the type for re-recordings? This guideline should be updated because it’s the main source for confusion.



The first thing one should probably ask: Can’t one get rid of genre specific rules at all?
Classifying music intro genres is highly subjective and in many cases their either is no answer at all or even multiple may apply.
Who’d give the definite answer? The majority of people? The artist? The music scientist who analysed a specific genre for 40 years?
In the case of MB it probably often ends up in depending on who’s actually around for voting making the whole thing extremely random and ambiguous.

The second question is probably: Is soundtrack a genre? Perhaps not “soundtrack” in the strictest definition, but I’d call “film music” a genre by it’s own.
The genre often depends less on the instruments used to play it but the style of the music and even though this is probably much broader in film music than any other genre, film music has still some general elements, that makes it IMHO distinct from other genres. E.g. the way emotions and story is transported, the association of persons/groups/etc. with specific themes and leitmotifs.

reosarevok said “A recording of classical arrangements by a rock band” above.
I think that’s a quite difficult questions… and I wouldn’t generally agree with that. “Classical arrangement” means in many cases "same music, played by an orchestra, or with typical classical music instruments, like violins, trumpets, etc."
If we’d go by that, we essentially left classification by genres and make classification by instruments, which is IMHO even more stupid than classification be genres.
Why should the same music played on a e-guitar result in different tagging rules than when played on a violin?
Also, there is no static and definite definition on which instruments relate to which genre or e.g. which instruments belong to orchestras.
Sure there are the typical suspects,… but I doubt one could call anything played on a saxophone Jazz… neither is everything played on a piano classical (or would you call Meat Loaf’s I’d do anything for love classical, because of the intro)?

Another problem is that the current definition of classical music is far to broad, allowing basically everything to be classical if one can just identify enough classical music instruments in it.
E.g. I’d never consider medieval music classical music… it’s completely different in it’s style.

So my preferred solution would be simply to do away with genre-based rules at all. The whole concept is IMHO nearly as stupid and problematic as our ever ongoing conflict between the de-facto use of release-countries and their de-jure semantics (and the whole concept of release events at all).

It would be IMHO better, if one would have e.g. special rules based on the “content” of music,… e.g. a rule that says: if you have a piece of music, that is a re-interpretation of some other work (but not so distinct to count as a new cover-version), you’re allowed to place in the (re-interpreting) performer as artist (in addition to e.g. the composer), because that one is probably the one/group who the people having this release are interested in.
I’d hope that such rules are more clear when to apply than e.g. the question soundtrack/classical.

If all that fails, I’d say the next best thing would be to define what should be done in case of a conflict.
E.g. when two parties make edits and assume a different genre, and if they cannot agree,… the normal non-genre-specific rules shall apply.
Of course that makes the whole thing again a matter of chance, as it depends who’s voting and whether the conflict pops even up or not.

If I’d be asked for a definition of soundtrack/film music/scores I’d probably say the following:

  1. original music of a film, series or any other moving picture as well as of (e.g. computer) games, if:
    [original in the sense of either used “as is” in the film/series/etc. or officially released by the filmmakers for that piece; this would e.g. also mean that a song like Starman as used in the movie The Martian, would still allow for a soundtrack, if it’s part of the movie soundtrack album, but just the song alone or on any album without any further relation to the film, would not qualify it for soundtrack]
  • the moving picture is not a (e.g. live) recording of a normal (i.e. not intended for film only) production of a musical, theatre, opera or any similar play
  1. music directly made for such film, even if not used in it
    [which would allow for any bonus tracks, rejected soundtracks, unused cues, album versions of film music, etc. to count as such]
  2. Music based on film music, if it’s either directly based (e.g. re-interpretations) or if still a majority(!) of the work can be directly(!) related to the film music.
    [that would IMHO mean, that re-interpretations like the ones from The City of Prague Orchestra are still film music,… also if John William plays Star Wars with any other orchestra, it would be still film music… but e.g. Adele’s Sykfall wouldn’t bet film music, just because the first few seconds contain parts of the Jame Bond theme,… neither would e.g. such music that everyone more or less remembers to a very famous piece of film music, but which was changed enough in order not having to pay license fees count as film music… take e.g. the first 10 seconds of … it remembers to Star Wars, but it’s not really the music, and shouldn’t count as film music IMHO).



I know it’s not the MB way, but I also think that making the guidelines more concise, as opposed to simply writing more caveats etc, could actually make things easier.
Especially when you can write pages and pages of guidelines, but there’s still always going to be that annoying fringe case that is going to be up for discussion. I mean, I don’t think the OP’s question will ever be answered in a way that’s able to 100% delineate between all cases, and maybe we should accept that, and communicate it to users as well.


Maybe this doesn’t apply very well, but how would you edit these Video Games Live releases?

They’re clearly not a soundtrack in a strict way but they are recorded in a orchestral (read: classical) context.

Should the track titles be changed to a classical style or stay as they’re listed on the track listing? Maybe the ARs are good enough?


Those would be the same thing mostly: “Titles on classical releases should mostly follow the printed information, with any changes required by the language-specific classical guidelines.”

Are there any examples of where they might differ?


To me, style/specific_types_of_releases (S/STR) is about the nature of the releases, not about musical genre. The way I understand these guidelines is that they recognize the different traditions around various “areas” of music.

What do I consider “classical”?

“Classical” (basically, something you’d expect to find in the “classical” section of a music store) is a release that comes out of a particular tradition of performance and presentation. It will tend to be:

  • composer-centric
  • quite formally presented
  • quite faithful to scores

Okay, but why does that require special guidelines?

The point of the CSG is to

  1. reflect the composer-centric nature of the tradition at the release- and track-level credits
  2. impose some amount of consistency on
    • titles of untitled works
    • titles of untitled releases
    • artist credits on recordings (which can include ensembles, soloists and conductors)

So, again, it’s not about treating a genre differently. It’s about recognizing the differences in how this area of music has traditionally been presented.

So, why do we have a Soundtrack style?

The one thing I can see that is unique is that it has special handling for score-based music. It recognizes that score-based music is also composer-centric, but doesn’t override the release- and track-level credits on the cover.

Maybe that’s a good thing? I dunno.

edit: fixed a couple typos


But how is a soundtrack album with mixed pop and classical (or as you say, composer-centric) tracks different from a random album with both types? In either case I would use the regular style for the pop tracks and classical style for the classical tracks. For the release you can use whatever is on the cover and/or spine (like you would anyway). This all sounds very natural and common-sense-y to me so I still don’t see the need for a style guide for soundtracks.


To answer the following questions:

  • “How shall we display the name of the show that the work comes from?”
  • “What do I do with ‘Original Motion Picture Score’ and the like?”
  • “What artist should I put as the release artist, if no artist is clearly presented as such?”
  • “What artist should put as the track artist when none are presented as such?” (especially when the release artist is complex or ambiguous or also undefined)


I think we should make note of the important bits and just direct people to the classical style guide for composer/orchestral based music


[quote=“Hawke, post:19, topic:212”]
“How shall we display the name of the show that the work comes from?”[/quote]
An extra line in title style would suffice. It’s just extra title information.

As in a release title? That goes in the same place.

The bit about the release artist in the current soundtrack style guide reads like a copy-paste of the style for classical releases. Except that that would only apply to classical soundtracks. Would anyone credit anyone but Vangelis for a soundtrack by Vangelis?

Another case which could just as well happen on a non-soundtrack release. If a guideline is needed for this, wouldn’t it be more fitting in a general guideline instead of one specific for soundtracks?

Also, what @221bBS says.


You’re right that it doesn’t strictly need to be in a dedicated soundtrack style, but regardless: those are the questions answered by the soundtrack style guide.

If you think that, you might want to re-read the works section of Soundtrack Style.