MusicBrainz Phase 3: Adding Advanced Relationships


Jan 2 2007, 23h03

Past MB Journals here.

Holy Cow I took a long time getting this done. Of course if you're like me your library is growing so fast it's hard to keep up with "new acquisitions" so you're always entering new albums. If you're a real MB nerd now you may even be adding disc IDs for the CDs of your friends and family. But if you're getting CDs from the library and entering them you've got an addiction. That's ok though, it's perfectly healthy to enter every CD that passes through your hands, Disc IDs are a piece of cake and if a CD already exists it only takes a few minutes to update and check that everything mentioned in the last journal is in there. However if the disc isn't in there it does take some work to research and get all the proper info together to accurately add a full CD and associated info to the database (but we all appreciate it when you do it).

But let's say that theoretically you're done entering your library, all your tags are perfect. The thing is you still have a wealth of knowledge you need to express. You've read through the liner notes of all the albums, EPs, and singles of your favorite band. You even noticed that in tiny text at the bottom it mentions that the backing vocal to your favorite track was a famous opera singer you have in your library (I know you cried at the end of La traviata it's nothing to be ashamed of). How can you get this great wealth of knowledge into the world for all to see? Half of what you know isn't even in the wikipedia or band page if they even exist.

That's the subject of today's exploration into MusicBrainz, Advanced Relationships. Advanced Relationships (or ARs) are what separates MB from every other music database out there. There's an amazing number of relationships between people making music, so many songs by new artists are written, produced, or otherwise influenced by artists of yester-year. A perfect example of this happening now is Eminem who is transitioning from making music himself to producing music for a new crop of hip hop artists like Stat Quo, Ca$his, and Bobby Creekwater.

An AR is basically a link between two items; in Phase 2 we did some basic URL relationships linking albums to amazon or wiki. The regular AR is basically the same thing but you're linking one part of MB to another. The most basic example is connecting an artist to their band like Roger Daltry was a member of The Who. But if you explore the Advanced Relationships available you'll see there's a link for just about everything imaginable that is music related, all the way down to who designed the album art for an album cover.

I'm not going to go through every one and show you how to do them step by step but they all fit a very similar pattern, if you can do one you can do them all. Some have some advanced settings to worry about but it should all be documented in the wiki page for the associated AR. In use it's all actually very easy.

AR's With No Extra Attributes:

We'll start with a simple one, Performance Name. To set this up you just go goto one artist, click "Use this artist in a relationship", go to another artist, click "Create relationship with this artist" and you're in the AR page.
BTW if the second artist was already open in another window or tab you click on "Use this artist in a relationship", then both artists should be showing, now click "Create Relationship".

Start with the "Type" field and choose the relationship you want to setup, in this case "performs as". Now you can read a simple version of how the relationship will show up in one direction (the wording may be different in the other direction). If the direction is backwards use the change direction button to switch places. In some cases the two items you're linking may have the same name, just click on the top one and open it in a new window or tab to make sure it's the one you want on top.

The fields below allow you to make the information a bit more specific, usually begin and end dates and an "additional" field are in there. Many times they aren't applicable, in almost all cases they aren't required, they just allow some customization. As always, make sure you drop in some links to proof in the comments field or at least an explanation why you think the edit is needed. Even if it's seems like an open and shut case somebody a year down the line may wonder why in the heck the edit was made and track your explanation down.

Click "enter edit" and you're done; now the world will know that Derek Smalls' name in real life is Harry Shearer.

AR's With Additional Settings and Attributes:

Looking at the list of relationships no doubt you noticed some looked kind of garbled, is/was {an additional|a} member of, what the hell? So let's do that next.

As you can guess from "member of" this is the Member of band relationship type. 99.9% of the time this defines a person who is a member of a group; the garbled description is basically every option that can be used in the relationship shown at once.
But once you get the type set and the direction correct (30 Seconds to Mars is NOT a member of Jared Leto) the rest of the info is easy to figure out or read in the wiki. Most important in this case, when did the member join and when did they leave, or did they leave? Fill in anything you can or leave it blank so people know the general relationship and can add the details later. Once again "additional" is kind of the odd attribute, it's always something different and according to the wiki in this case is should be used to represent "members who did not play a major role in the band." I don't think I've ever seen anybody that didn't play a major role that couldn't better be added under other AR's.

That's the basics of how it works. The key is when you find something you think should have a relationship, find the applicable AR, and find it's wiki page. That's really the hardest part, after reading through the wiki you should have a good idea of what it represents. The wiki will describe what are the various attributes that can apply, how the relationship will look in both directions, and at the bottom it will have some examples so you can see what it looks like live in the database.

Things to keep in mind:
  • The first thing that seems to cause most questions with is the wording being slightly different on liner notes than the AR in MusicBrainz. In most cases it's just simple common sense that will see you though. For example if the liner notes say Lyrics: John Lennon, Music: Paul McCartney The MB ARs would be John Lennon "wrote the lyrics", Paul McCartney "Composed"
  • The Advanced Relationships are very fluid and in many cases up to interpretation. Some things may be very straightforward, but most may invite discussion because they're poorly documented in liner notes or MB, vaguely worded in liners or MB, rarely used, brand new, not understood by the public, or any combination of the above. So be ready to discuss the edit with others voting on it, or ask the question in the forums or mailing list. Be ready to make your case because in many instances you may be setting a precedent that may be used in hundreds of future edits. Plus companies use the info in MB database for their own purposes. Your AR may lead to a new relationship feature in
  • ARs are very informative and create bonds that can tie lots of interesting info into a web of musical relationships. But they also really clutter an artist page, know when an AR is needed and when the link is already assumed. If Ben Gibbard does vocals on Plans you don't need an AR in every track, apply one to the album and be done with it, EVEN IF a few of the tracks are instrumental and he doesn't sing. Or if the liner notes say that Sing Loud Sing Proud has "Music by Dropkick Murphys" You don't need to link that info to the album, the album is already attributed to the artist so that relationship is assumed.
  • Some relationships just plain aren't needed. Jack White and Meg White of White Stripes were once married (good opportunity for using begin and end dates too since they divorced), but both were musicians. It's not necessary to add the families for every person on MusicBrainz, it's a music database with music relationships. Keep the wife and kids in wikipedia unless they're musicians themselves ala Bob Dylan and Jakob Dylan.
  • If you can think of an Advanced Relationship that doesn't exist but needs to feel free to mention it in the forums but you'll be hard to find a valid relationship that doesn't already exist in some form already (except label relationships which are already in development).
  • Using a browser that supports tabs is a huge help. Doing alot of ARs to one album can be daunting let alone doing a whole discography. A good shortcut to link one item to many others is to open the first item (like a band), select "create relationship", then open the other items in new tabs (like the members of the band). Each new item will have the "create relationship with this artist" link waiting at the top of the page saving you from opening the item they all have in common multiple times.

    The next journal will be on editing and the MB style-council, it's not really something you can write a FAQ to and IMHO it needs to have some changes does to it so it may take me some time to write it.


  • Jeff

    Awesome. Now the already fantastic place is even better. I will definitely be making use of some of this to enter TOP SECRET INFO about some of the obscure stuff I listen to.

    Jan 3 2007, 19h40
  • Nasasie

    [quote]But if you're getting CDs from the library and entering them you've got an addiction.[/quote] -- been there, done that, wrote the book about it (but I didn't get the T-shirt :( Kerensky, you have a GREAT idea writing these journals here, do you mind if I fix it so you can associate them with the MusicBrainz they are a great personal take on moderating-questions and the ilk :)

    Jan 13 2007, 15h10
  • lukz

    [quote]...apply one to the album and be done with it, EVEN IF a few of the tracks are instrumental and he doesn't sing[/quote] No, please don't. Remember that MB is used also for tagging, and I think many people (including me) wouldn't want a vocalist tag on an instrumental song.

    Fev 9 2007, 0h40
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