To merge (recordings)... or not to merge?

When should recordings be merged, and when shouldn’t they?

A couple of examples:

  1. Where something was recorded in the studio, unless it is specifically known that a release contains a different recording than the original album / single release, surely that’s enough “evidence” they are the same recording? Yes there are often multiple takes, but except in exceptional circumstances aren’t all releases taken from the same final take / mix?
  2. When something is recorded at a live event, shouldn’t all releases of a track from that event be considered the same. Sometimes the length may vary due to a decision by the mastering engineer where to trim the recording for start and end, but surely all releases of the same track from an event should be considered the same recording?

More specific examples: in Janis Joplin there are 11 recordings listed of “A Woman Left Lonely” with track lengths between 3:29 and 3:31. In addition there is a recording which is labeled “alternative vocal” and another labelled “mono single”. The latter two are unambiguously alternative recording so shouldn’t be merged; but the 11 others (and of those 11, 10 are linked each to an individual (or in one case two) release all of which appears to be compilations. The 1st is linked (correctly?) to multiple releases. So should the others be merged even though I have no “evidence” that they are identical, just no evidence suggesting they are NOT identical.

Second example - if you look at Woodstock Music & Art Fair you’ll find in several cases that multiple recordings of the same track are listed as being recorded at the event. Surely each artist / song combination is the same recording?

As a final comment: it appear to me the idea of the recording (as opposed to track) relationship is that you can look up (say) I Can’t Turn You Loose by Janice Joplin and find all the releases that recording has been released on; this cannot happen if we are afraid to merge recordings because its not certain that they are the same. Surely a balance of probability approach is what’s needed?

  1. Probably, but without context, can’t say for sure.

  2. Not necessarily -

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I think you’ve slightly missed the main point of the question: we there can be different recordings of the same actual performance, if there s no indication they are different (e.g. a a different recording engineer / mixing engineer or an official release vs bootleg) is that sufficient to assume they are the same and merge them.

In other words what level of burden of proof is required: is more than likely the same, or do you have to have actual evidence they ARE the same?

Merging recordings is not an exact science. There are some that are clearly the same; there are some that are clearly different – but there are a lot of corner cases without clear definition. For example, a recent one of mine was voted down:

The only difference in the recordings was a few more seconds of crowd noise and a few seconds of end-of-track silence, but this was enough for some editors to feel that it merited its own recording.

If you think two tracks are the same recording, go ahead and put in a merge – but be mindful if some do not agree.

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I would agree with you those two are identical recordings, the difference in crowd noise doesn’t (IMO) make two recordings different.

As you say the performance is identical, the mixing identical and it’s just a different decision in the mastering when to cut.

To quote from the style guide (my emphasis) “Variations in the length of silence at either end of tracks is not a reason to keep recordings separate, since no changes have been made to the audio itself. Similarly, different volume fades at either end of multiple tracks are not reasons to maintain separate recordings - they are considered mastering differences unless they cause the structure of the song to change. The same is true for variations in playback speed between recordings.”

Taking the example of A Woman Left Lonely - it’s probably a safe bet that the recordings appearing on legitimate “greatest hits” compilations, or reissues containing full albums (like the “123 CD Box Set”) are the same as the album version. Several of the recordings appear on bootlegs, though, and I would not make any assumptions about those without hearing them.

“Janis Joplin im Soundcheck” suggests that this is a live recording, and it’s only a couple of seconds shorter than the album version.

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