While the name "aliases" may be an example of Bad Terminology, and these could perhaps better be called "variant names" or "search hints", artist aliases are very useful. They are primarily used to guide selection of artists for releases and tracks, although ticket 820 suggests an enhancement for using aliases to support Internationalization of artist names.
MusicBrainz supports both explicit and implicit Artist Searches, which consider both Artist Names and artist aliases (but not Artist Sort Names). Explicit searches can be made through both the Quick Search and Advanced Search forms, but implicit ones are much more common. Any time that you specify an artist name, e.g. in an Add Release Edit, Move Release Edit, or Merge Artists Edit or similar Edit Types, the name you provide is used to retrieve a list of candidate (matching) artists; you can select one of these, retry the search with another name, or create a new artist.
Currently, aliases are required to be unique, i.e. a given alias can only be associated to one artist. Ticket 780 suggests allowing duplicate artist aliases, until then it can be worked around by adding (parenthetical) text to the alias.
When NOT to use aliases
You should not use aliases for Performance Names (where an individual or group have multiple "projects" under whose different names they release different musical works). Instead, these should be added as separate artists, and linked together using Performance Name Relationship Type. Note that this is not like what Discogs does!
When to use aliases
There are many other cases where use of aliases is appropriate:
- These are the most common, and function as a simplistic automatic spelling corrector, e.g. Led Zepplin = Led Zeppelin
- An artist may use several similar names interchangeably without making a distinction, from release to release, e.g. Hootie and the Blowfish = Hootie & the Blowfish; Monty Python's Flying Circus = Monty Python
- Even if the artist prefers spelled out or numerical form, they may or may not be spelled out by users, e.g. The 3 Tenors = The Three Tenors
- Stylized Names:
- Many artists feel a need to spell their names with strange spacing, odd characters and punctuation, etc., e.g. NSync = 'N Sync
- Missing Titles:
- Artists add or drop titles, monikers and/or articles from their names, e.g. The Sex Pistols = Sex Pistols; Tiësto = DJ Tiësto; Cheb Khaled = Khaled
- Artists with long and unwieldy names are often better known by their acronyms, and may use them on their release covers, e.g. B.D.P. = BDP = Boogie Down Productions
- Overlaps somewhat with acronyms, but there are sometimes middle initials not generally used in the artist's name, e.g. J.S. Bach = Johann Sebastian Bach
- Incomplete Names:
- When credited as "Strauss", it's usually Johan Strauss II and not Richard or one of the others that is intended, e.g. Strauss = Johan Strauss II
- Lead Performers:
- Sting is a member of The Police - it is not a collaboration, and the band does not officially include his name in theirs, however compilations often list featured members explicitly by name in this way, e.g. Sting & The Police = The Police
- Artist names entered in FreeDB using non-UTF-8 encodings; these are somewhat like typos, but in non-Unicode locales, these may in fact be more accurate than an automatic conversion from UTF-8, e.g. ©PªNÛ = Jay Chou (note hidden soft-hyphen after N in misencoding)
- While English-speakers are used to "Tchaikovsky", he is known elsewhere in the world by different spellings, e.g. Piotr Ilitch Tchaïkovski = Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- There are often several ways to transliterate non-Roman characters according to different standards, e.g. Jay Chow = Jay Chou
- "Translated" Names:
- Many Asian artists have "English" names in addition to their given "Chinese" or "Japanese" etc. names - in some cases, the artists prefer the English name even in non-English text, e.g. Chou Jie Lun = Jay Chou
- Legal Changes:
- Artists are often forced to change their names for legal reasons, sometimes only in part of the world, e.g. Yaz = Yazoo. See edit 1439666 for the best (worst?) example. Please consult Same Artist With Different Names for more information about how to handle such cases, both for individuals and for groups.