Style/Artist/With multiple names

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Artists performing under different names

Some musicians perform using an "alias" which is different from their "real-life" name. The reasons for that vary - usually marketing, or to hide their actual identity (as to workaround legal issues when they signed exclusive contracts), etc...

In MusicBrainz, we refer to such monikers as PerformanceNames, as opposed to LegalNames. Note that neither PerformanceNames nor LegalNames apply to groups (but see below for information about groups changing their name).

Attention.png Please also pay attention to the fact that "ArtistAlias" in MusicBrainz has a different meaning! (unlike what is done, for example, in Discogs).

Style for persons

So, what name should I use for a musician: performance or legal name?

The simple answer is: PerformanceName - when entering a new release into the database, you should just use whatever name is credited as the PrimaryArtist.

In some cases obviously (if the artist is also performing under other PerformanceNames which already exist in the database), that indeed means creating a new distinct artist entry for the same person.

I just added a new (PerformanceName) artist to the database. Should I go ahead and create another entry for the LegalName as well?

Usually, no - you may just add that information to the ArtistAnnotation.

What to do if a musician uses multiple different PerformanceNames on various different releases?

You should create one artist entry for each different PerformanceName - though, please read the section below about cases when it doesn't make sense to create such new entries.

Should I also create artist entries for "other" nicknames?

MusicBrainz focuses mainly on documenting releases: if the nickname in question is not used on any release (but only by the artist relatives for example), then this is not relevant and you shouldn't create an artist entry for it (though you may add the detail to the ArtistAnnotation).

If a musician has multiple different performance names, how will these multiple entries be related?

Various different PerformanceNames for a given artist may be related using a PerformanceNameRelationshipType. As to avoid making circular relations and other linking nightmare (see DontMakeRelationshipClusters), we relate all PerformanceNames to the artist LegalName, instead of linking each PerformanceName to each other.

Specifically, this is where LegalNames are useful, and you may now create a new artist entry using the artist LegalName as a name, then relate all the artist's PerformanceNames to this new entry.

But, what to do if the musician had multiple different LegalNames?

The concept of LegalName itself is a quite debated one, and this was the subject of many discussions and various suggestions. Our policy at that time is simple: use only one LegalName for the artist (pick the birth name, usually found on birth certificates). If no one knows for sure, just pick the most probable one, and write an annotation mentioning all that.

But still, what if a musician changes their LegalName, and performs under that new name?

This new name by all means is also a PerformanceName, and should be related like a PerformanceName to the artist LegalName already holding the other PerformanceNameRelationshipTypes (eg: the birth name in most cases).

Remember that MusicBrainz doesn't try to qualify, or pass judgment, on the (possibly political, or very personal) reasons that may lead a person to change their name. We are focused on recording accurately the artist names as advertised on musical releases (eg: PerformanceNames), and the introduction of a LegalName is only a convenient way to describe relations between the various monikers an artist may use during his life (whatever the reason).

Does it always make sense to create distinct entries?

No. In a lot of cases, the name variation (either between different PerformanceNames, or between the LegalName and a given PerformanceName) is minor enough to make the splitting not worth the effort. In such cases, you should not create distinct entries (you may still use the ArtistAnnotation to provide additional details, and possibly use ArtistAliases to enhance search results).

A few examples of when there is little benefit in creating distinct artist entries:

  • common use abbreviations for first names (Robert Marley vs Bob Marley)
  • first names shortened to initials (Katie Tunstall vs K.T. Tunstall)
  • middle names added/omitted (Elvin Ray Jones vs Elvin Jones)
  • additional nicknames just used once or twice ("Baron" Charles Mingus vs Charles Mingus)
  • nicknames used most of the time (Johnny Watson vs Johnny "Guitar" Watson)

Remember, though, that ArtistIntent may come into play - and some artists may put a lot of meaning into a minor name variation. Ultimately, reasonable judgment, common sense and knowledge about the artist production should prevail in choosing which name differences are significant or not.

Should I duplicate the artist birth and death dates between the Legal and Performance names?

Yes, you may add birth and death dates to both the Legal and Performance names.

What about personal relationships? Should I duplicate them as well?

No, personal relationships should not be duplicated, and you should favor using the LegalName to hold them.

Examples

Style for groups

Groups don't have neither LegalNames nor PerformanceNames.

If a group changes its name on its own, it's considered to be a new group, and the relationship between them is indicated by their common membership (MemberOfBandRelationshipType) - you may obviously add any relevant details to the ArtistAnnotation for that group.

Groups changing their name due to legal issues

On the other hand, a group that is forced to change its name for legal reasons (trademark issues, in most cases) usually is not duplicated: their name should be changed into the new one and the old one should be added as an ArtistAlias.

Examples:

  • superzwei - they had to change their name from nimmzwei to superzwei in 2003
  • Karat - they had to call itself K...! for nearly one year between 2006 and 2007

Advanced information

Groups changing their name is not an easy topic. Mainly, this falls into the following categories:

  • a given group goes by different names at the same time, to cover very different projects: you should use different entries in the database
  • a given group goes by different names at the same time, using the names in an interchangeable manner: if the names are really different, you should create different entries. On the other hand, if the names are reasonably similar (omitted/added definite article, slight spelling alterations, random additions to the main name), it's quite tolerable to just use one artist entry for it. Remember that, just like for persons, it's mainly a matter of finding the right balance between accuracy and not making the database unusable due to counter-productive splitting. Be wise! :-)
  • a given group changes its name at some point in time: just as above, this depends mainly on the extent of the change. When the group La Ruda Salska changed its name to simply La Ruda, the artist subscribers deemed that such a change didn't deserve the creation of a new artist entry. Hence they renamed the artist entry, created an ArtistAlias, and wrote an annotation about that. Again, ArtistIntent is important - and good knowledge about the artist will help you in making the right decision.

History, advanced readings

There were for a long time a number of issues surrounding these problems. If you're interested in the various discussions and solutions that were raised, you may take a look at DateOfBirthStyle, LinkingDifferentArtistNames and the old PerformanceNameStyle.

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