What is a cover recording?

I hope you don’t mind that I as beginner keep asking questions here.

The recording relationship has the attribute “cover”, and the documentation says “Indicates that one entity is a cover of another entity”. But what is a cover in this context? There is no definition.

As I understand it, if a song is first published by an artist by making a recording of it, then all later recordings by other artists are cover recordings, while later recordings by the same artist are not. Is that correct?

But what about songs which where first published by the creator in books or other media, before any recordings was made? Are all recordings of these covers recording, or all but the first, or none?

If a songwriter writes a song to another artist who records it first, and the songwriter then later also records it, is that also a cover recording even though it is made by songwriter?


If the performer is either the original performer or a member of the original band or one of the writers, then it is not a cover.
For all edge cases, is a case by case discussion.

But as @fmera said in Edit #21155965 - MusicBrainz :

on a side note, i wish the editing system were set up so all you need to do is identify the original version and set that as ‘original’, since there could only be one original. then all the rest, less those specifically identified as ‘‘not’’ covers, would automatically be ‘covers’ w/o editors having to do anything. saves a ton of cleaning up/editing work. the present way is tedious.

It would be so very much better and sustainable.
It would be similar to the work relationship premiered at.


“Cover recording” is one of those concepts that sounds obvious on the face of it, but the deeper you dig the more corner cases you can find that render the whole thing incomprehensible. I tend to skip it when setting a recording attribute, but won’t remove one already there nor dispute another editor’s addition of the attribute.

The most common situation that is confusing to me is when an artist writes, records, and releases a song, and for whatever reason it doesn’t make a dent in the charts. Then another artist comes and does their own version of the song in a different style, and it becomes a huge hit. Subsequent artists “covering” the song do it in the style of the hit, and not the original recording. So who’s the original and who are covers?


:smile: as @jesus2099 said: the original is the first one, the hit is the first cover. But I know what you mean. They all attempt to cover the hit release, not its unsuccessful predecessor. But there’s no way to be sure of that.

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Here’s an example:

Written by John & Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, which also recorded the most popular version of the song – but not the first, which was recorded by Barry McGuire. So which is the original, and which is the cover?

Whichever is famous, the original is the original
It’s an easy case. :wink:
But the second one is not a cover, as it’s performed by the writers.

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I think @jesus2099’s reply just highlights the point that there is no consistent or objective definition of a cover.

For myself, I generally follow @bflaminio’s approach - I don’t add it, but I don’t remove it when others have added it. It does bother me, though, to see it used on standards. I don’t think that the notion of “covering” “I Got Rhythm” makes any sense at all.


Cover versus original recording, is interesting for pop albums where I want to see which tracks are from the artist’s own works and which are result of cultural exchange, cover, c(ross)over.

This dichotomy is less appropriate in domains where cover is the role, where every performers play the same works, like classic, jazz or even Vietnamese pops.


Good topic. So Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ is a cover, definitely. Harry Nilsson’s ‘Without You’ is a cover, check. But…what about Carole King’s ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman’ from the seventies, which she wrote in the sixties and was recorded by Aretha? Aretha’s was the first recording but Carole was the writer, mmm. IMHO, Aretha’s should be the original, but Carole’s should not be tagged as a cover. Is there a precedent?


It’s yet again the same here @Brown_Sound, for me, it’s a cover if among the new performers, there is no trace of any original performer (either as solo or as band member) and no trace of any writer.

It’s not so rare, some David Bowie (CHINA GIRL, ALL THE YOUNG DUDES) songs, 中島みゆき songs (しあわせ芝居), some Prince songs also probably, no need to be exhaustive as I think it’s not rare at all for singer-songwriters to give songs to others then self-covering them in some concert or retrospective albums. :wink:

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It would be so much easier if we didn’t have to mark all covers. :wink:


@jesus2099 You are so right. Why dont we have a space to put original in so we know the rest are covers. Then we dont have that problem anymore.

But that does not solve my problem at this moment whahahahahahahaha

So @jesus2099 if you have some time to spare can’t you make something
something beautiful to solve this problem for now :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


I think we are replying in the wrong post whahahahahaha

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There is an existing userscript, but I really would not advise using it.
I never understood how you could verify anything before mass applying many guesses to many recordings at once.

wich one? I can have a look…

I don’t remember its name but there is a userscripts homepage in MB wiki.

Yeah I have looked there, but I can’t find anything. Most of the user script, I don’t even know what they mean. (English not good enough)

Thanks very much to @outsidecontext who moved this off topic conversation out.
@Tiske_Tisja, we can further clean this up: if you remove your post where you noticed the off topic, then I’ll remove this post here, as well. :grin:

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In this case I don’t mark it as cover (Bowies’s China Girl, All the Young Dudes, etc.).
Same when band member(s) make solo versions (Led Zeppelin songs, etc.), I don’t call it a cover, either.

Update: But I know it is not this understanding for everyone.


The term “cover” comes from the early days of rock & roll, when one artist (typically black) had a hit song, a larger record company would release a recording by a different (typically white) artist to capitalize on the success and bury or “cover” the original. This practice led to such notorious examples as Pat Boone’s version of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame”.

To me, “cover” still implies this original meaning, of reference to a specific recording or version. So as I said upthread, the notion of a “cover” of a standard like “I Got Rhythm” seems absurd, as much as a “cover” of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony would be.