Musical tracks that are associated with an artist but have not been released on any album (or single, or compilation, etc.) are grouped together under the pseudo-album NonAlbumTracks.
While it's tempting for lazy users to use these as "a dumping ground for dodgy internet sourced mp3s," this tendency should be (and is) resisted; an AddTrackEdit for a non-album track without a good EditNote is very likely to be voted down. Although the StyleGuidelines don't spell this out explicitly (as they should) there are a few valid reasons for creating a NonAlbumTrack:
When to Use Non-Album Tracks
- Internet-only release
- Often, before an album is released, songs from the album may be available on an internet site for download, and may be entered as non-album tracks; however, once the album (or single) with such a track is entered into the database, the non-album track should be removed with RemoveTrackEdit. Less frequently, some such tracks are available for download, but are never included in any album or compilation.
- Captured from broadcast performance
- A song may be performed as part of a TV or radio show or other non-concert performance; tracks captured from these events may be entered as non-album tracks if they are not part of any live album or bootleg compilation.
- Pregap (track 0) tracks
- It is possible to have HiddenTracks that precede the beginning of track 1; since the MusicBrainz database has no way to store a PregapTrack (see ticket 811) these should be entered as non-album tracks, as recommended in one mailing list thread or another later one.
When not to Use Non-Album Tracks
Conversely, there are some cases that should not use non-album tracks, even though it might seem applicable:
- MP3 CD-ROM collections
- Sometimes an artist or label will release a number of songs as MP3 files on a CD-ROM rather than as an audio disc; these should be entered as normal albums (or compilations, etc. if that is more appropriate). If there is no explicit track order in the filenames, they should be listed in alphabetical order as that is how most MP3 CD-ROM capable players will play them.
- Tracks hidden in other tracks
- HiddenTracks are tracks where a single (very long) track has music, then a long silence (or noise), followed by one or more (different) pieces of music. Those are to be entered in the form "Song Title / [untitled]" according to UntitledTrackStyle and MultipleTitleStyle (or "Song Title / Other Song Title" if the song is known by a name otherwhere). Those tracks are not allowed as non-album tracks.
- Track "99"
- Another type of HiddenTracks are those that are separate tracks, but are preceded by dozens of short tracks of [silence]; since these can and should be listed as tracks of the album, they are not non-album tracks.
Finally, there are some other guidelines for use of non-album tracks:
- Use informative titles
- Since non-album tracks don't have album release dates or other information associated with them, adding information like "(live, 2002-05-13: Radio One)" is very helpful. Using titles like "[untitled]" or "[unknown]" is sure to get the track voted down or removed.
- Submit the PUIDs
- Non-album tracks with no associated PUIDs are fairly useless, since they cannot be matched by track number or disc id, and matching by track name is unlikely to tell you anything you didn't already know. If you add a non-album track, it's presumably because you have an MP3 or other sound file for it. Tagging your file with MusicBrainzIdentifiers is only half the work; you need to submit the PUID to the MusicBrainz database so that the entry is useful to others. If you don't, the entry is likely to be "garbage collected" for lack of PUIDs later on.
- Link to a download source
- Direct download links if available (like from artist websites) should be linked to the non-album track with an AdvancedRelationship. They are not only the best proof for the track's existence when adding it, but also the best documentation as to where it's from.
Summary of a long but productive IRC session after a particularly contentious edit (http://musicbrainz.org/show/edit/?editid=5467441):
NATs for releases preceding albums
- Adding NATs that we know are going to be removed in future, such as those for net released songs that precede an album, does not sit well with some people. There's an element of worry that nobody will remember to remove the NAT when the album is released, and there's a further element of worrying that it's the start of a slippery slope of allowing data in general that we know isn't entirely correct (or in this case, won't be for all time).
- The above conflicts with the idea that adding album tracklistings ahead of releases is a generally undesirable practice, since we can't guarantee that tracks added as NAT's will in fact, appear on an album, just because an artists website may suggest this.
- This suggests we need to revisit this guideline, one way or the other, and clarify in general if "Data we know will need to be removed in the future" should be avoided at all costs or is generally ok, so long as we actually do remember to remove it.
- Some of these tracks may in fact qualify as singles. In the edit that triggered this, the artist has gone to some trouble to "release" it. It has a website, art, and could arguably be a net-released single, if we chose to define it as such. This differentiates it from the usual "here's a bunch of mp3's" or myspace collections that are usually finding their way into NAT status. Certainly, we already define some of these release attributes such as "promo" and "compilation" subtly differently to the music industry at large. This could neatly sidestep most of the issues of adding data we're going to have to remove. Singles like this wouldn't need to be removed at all, they would simply be another entry. This also lead to the point that our release attributes may need some broadening, in this age of net releases and other confusing and ambiguous things.
NATs for broadcast material
We also went off on a small tangent here, and think this part of the guideline needs clarifying or restating
- There's a big difference between "broadcast material that is known to be accurate and useful" and generic rips from radio or net streams, which are not widely available and are neither accurate nor useful.
- Broadcasts like KEXP's song of the day (a podcast from a radio station which often includes live in studio performances of songs by popular bands), the SIXX MIXX mixes by the artist Party Ben, and the like, are ok as NATs. They originate from a single known, legitimate source.
- Ordinary end-user rips from radio that are not part of an entire, widely distributed performance, should probably be more explicitly discouraged.
Bug report 3505 suggests that non-album tracks be called something else, like:
- [individually released tracks]
- [individual releases]
- [one-off tracks]
- [non-release tracks] (would be in line with the album->release terminology change and also more clearly states that tracks from any kind of release (so also singles etc. and not just albums) are not allowed.)
- replace it with a general mechanism for non-album collections of tracks with no order