Talk:Cover Relationship Type

From MusicBrainz Wiki

Link to which version?

There were three suggestions for StyleGuidelines for this relationship. The first was to only ever link to the very first released version. This is the policy used by the CoversProject.

The second possibility was to link each cover to those versions that have most influenced it - so most artists were influenced by Marvin Gaye's version of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" rather than Gladys Knight's version, and so they should relate to the former not the latter.

(There was a third, somewhat radical proposal namely: covers that retain the same name as the original should be linked to the original artist e.g. Strawberry Fields by Candy Flip is a cover of a song by The Beatles)


Original suggestion:

"If you want to know who composed the track, you chase up the original version and find out who wrote that. It is generally inappropriate to give any kind of Composition Relationship Class credit except "arranged by" for a cover version. You certainly shouldn't give a "composed by" credit to the original composer, because that fact is already in the database, and duplication of data should be avoided if possible."

  • I do not necessarily agree with that last statement. IMO on the long run every track should have a composer credited. --DonRedman
    • Could you expand on that? Why do you think it's necessary to add so much information? Is it because there is information that can't be represented by my example, or is it for the extra convenience of being able to see who wrote a track without performing more lookups? Also, I'd make the point that in many cases, composers should be linked to albums, not tracks, to avoid unnecessary data duplication and make the database cleaner. --MatthewExon

Original Suggestion:

"When there are several different versions of the same song, every version should be linked only to the very first released version. It is true that some covers are actually covers of other covers, but this is a subjective thing, whereas deciding which is the first released version is much more clear cut, and easier to verify independently. For the same reason, we use the date of release, not the date when the song was first written or recorded. Again, release dates are far easier to objectively verify (they're generally printed on the album), as opposed to writing or recording dates."

  • Note that this uses the strict and objective definition of WhatIsACover by the CoversProject. I am not sure if there is already a consensus that this difinition should be that of MusicBrainz. --DonRedman
    • I tend to agree that what I originally suggested is overly strict. --MatthewExon
      • Example situation where this could be an issue: "Little Guitars: A Tribute to Van Halen" track 8 is "(Oh) Pretty Woman", originally done by Roy Orbison. Van Halen did a cover on their "Diver Down" album. And this track is intended to cover their version of it. The full album is marked as a VH tribute of course, but this particular track, would it be marked as a cover of Roy Orbison or Van Halen? Actually, got quite a few tracks like this (Ratt covers Aerosmith's version of "Walking the Dog", which was originally by Rufus Thomas. And so on). Just some examples to get an idea of problems to be faced before actually facing them --HairMetalAddict

What do we do when a famous band covers a traditional song? I'm thinking of Thin Lizzy's version of "Whiskey in the Jar" here. I'm sure that there are more traditionalist recordings floating around somewhere, but identifying which was the first released would be a real trial. This also wouldn't make much sense, since every version ever recorded is really a cover.


We should in any case distinguish between a cover version and a parody. For example, Enter Madman 1 & Enter Bluesman 2 (by Excrementory Grindfuckers) has exactly the same lyrics and almost the same meldoy as Enter Sandman by Metallica, but the way it is performed clearly makes it a parody. Therefore adding an AR saying it were a cover version would create a wrong impression of the song. --derGraph

  • It's based on someone else's song, melody and lyrics. How is that creating a wrong impression? --LarryGilbert

The CoversProject site seems a little moribund. I recently found Second Hand Songs who seem to have continued the idea. Although they only have indirect submissions through their forum. --Chiark


From Wikipedia: "In pop music a cover version is a new rendition of a previously recorded song".

In MusicBrainz covers are recorded with an AdvancedRelationship using the CoverRelationshipType. The question that this page deals with is how we should define a cover. There seem to be two possibilities:

  • "The Rules" from the CoversProject, which are objective and clear, but somehow technocratic: The simple rule is that the first person to release a song is considered the "original". (see below for more details)
  • Less restrictive rules that would really try to model what recording was the version that served as a model for a cover. This is initially subjective and might be unclear. However, if we state how common/official the opinion is that song A is a cover of song B, then we have again a neutral point of view.

The system for linking cover versions proposed on AdvancedRelationships seems to cover only a subset of use cases and calls for subjective decisions that complicate the moderation process. Some kind of wider, less specific and direction-less link between all versions of a song would seem more appropriate.

The two key problems are identifying the "original" track and the subtly different problem of deciding who covers who.

Some odd cases:

  • A singer/songwriter releasing a version of their own tune made famous by someone else (either before or afterwards). Does Carole King singing The Locomotion really cover Little Eva? Does the reverse make any more sense? Does this disqualify it from being a cover?
  • Someone covering a cover, either when the way the song is played obviously refers to a specific version that is not "the original" as in the case of someone covering All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, or when someone covers a song ignorant of the fact that it, in turn was a cover. Are you covering both artists, or just one? If only one, then which?
  • Folk or blues standards may have an original that predates recording technology or whose original authors have been forgotten. Which version is the original is this case?
  • Artists releasing two versions of the same song. If they differ is one a cover of the other? What if they are nearly, but not quite, identical? What if the song has been covered in the meantime? What if the second version is done in the style popularized by the cover of the original?
  • Motown often had different artists try material, sometimes adding their own stamp, sometimes not. How many versions of Heard It Through the Grapevine are referencing the Gladys Knight version that preceded Marvin Gaye's into the charts?

Using the rules from the CoversProject cases like these can be decided objectively: Their simple rule is that the first person to release a song is considered the "original". Case in point: apparently Danzig wrote a song ("Thirteen") which Johnny Cash released in 1994. In 1999, Danzig also recorded the song, so technically (for the purpose of The CoversProject) they covered a Johnny Cash song that happened to have been written by themselves.

The problem with this (and a few of the other problem cases listed above) is, I think, that "to cover" a song means slightly more than do "a version of" or it does to me at least. I think it suggests some kind of link between the band and the named version, rather than song A is the first released version of song B. (Note that if the first version released is considered important, which I think that it is to a certain degree, then this can/should be calculated by the Database from release date info, rather than being redundantly stored as part of the relationship and creating possible data inconsistancies)


This discussion stems from before AdvancedRelationships were released

Reading the above, I would suggest instead distinguishing "recordings" from "compositions". All cover recordings of a work would then be related to the same composition, as would "the original." --JoeG

Thinking of Jazz, that seems very logical to me. In Jazz musicans don't do covers, they make versions of songs but they give credit to the original composer. So I would argue that the ComposerRelationshipType is factual, and that the CoverRelationshipType includes the opinion of the moderator, which song was the original for that specific recording. --DonRedman

  • This somewhat applies to the folk and traditional music scene as well, for the record. -- FrederikSOlesen 09:00, 10 May 2007 (UTC)


The question of parodies was raised on the UsersMailingList. These possibly count as covers too, although there's no consensus yet. --MatthewExon

  • I think this too could be solved by the idea mentioned above, decoupling compositions from recordings. While there may be debate over whether a song parody constitutes a cover of the original recording, it definitely uses the music or lyrics from it. --LarryGilbert


I think we also need to distinguish, based on the initial definition, that a cover is not an artist recording their own song again. "A new rendition of a previously recorded song" could be mis-interpreted that way. -- BrianFreud

There is also a difficulty determining what the "original" recording would be for interactions between classical and non-classical recordings. When a rock band covers a track from an opera, especially if that opera was composed prior to the age of music, there would be no target recording that could be pointed to under the current definition. -- BrianFreud

From Parody Relationship Type

The following was on Parody Relationship Attribute before I redirected it. I would have merged it into this relationship type's page, but it's rather long. --Nikki (talk) 10:59, 4 December 2012 (UTC)

summary: This indicates that an entity is not just being covered, but that it is being parodied.

description: A parody "involves changing or recycling existing (usually very well known) musical ideas or lyrics - or copying the peculiar style of a composer or artist, or even a general style of music."[1] In classical music, a 'parody' refers "to 15th- to 18th-century music, [involving] a reworking of one kind of composition into another". [2] MusicBrainz uses either of these two 'parody' concepts, and does not restrict the definition of 'parody' to the legal 'parody' concept defined in legal codes such as the United States Fair Use doctrines. [3]

  1. Wikipedia
  2. Wikipedia
  3. As described by a Beatallica representative, with regard to why they ceased all activity: "The legal notion of "parody" is different from the way you and I understand it. In order for a song to be a parody, it has to directly criticize or comment on the original artist or song. In other words, you can make a parody of a song by The Beatles that makes fun of The Beatles, and that's protected as "fair use"; the "2 Live Crew" case is an example of this. If you use someone's work to make fun of someone else, that's not always protected. It's considered "satire," not "parody." A good example of this is the "Cat NOT in the Hat" case. So what this seems to mean is that most of Weird Al Yankovic's songs are not technically parodies. He doesn't have to worry about litigation though; he always asks permission to release his satirical songs (because he can afford to). Notice that Weird Al has never released a Beatles parody. "Fair use" is a very fuzzy part of copyright law, decided on a case-by-case basis, so unfortunately the only way you can prove that what you're doing qualifies as fair use is to go to court." MusicBrainz uses the common parody concept, not the legal definition. A Beatallica or Weird Al Yankovic parody is perfectly fine for a cover parody Advanced Relationship.