Artist aliases in your music library


Imagine: you're queueing up a playlist and you want to listen to all of your music by a particular artist.

In most cases, this is simple enough. Browse to the artist in your music player and either click 'Play' or 'Add to playlist', whatever your music player supports.

But some artists make this difficult because they release music under different names. The sheer bloody mindedness of it, destroying your perfectly tended music library! Unfortunately, a subtle rule of music library management is working with the artists, not against them, so embracing musical psuedonyms, aliases and meta-artists is the only way to go.

Whaddya mean, 'meta artist'?

Who are some examples of artists that have used aliases or psuedonyms? We can start with some famous, one album examples. David Bowie introduced us to Ziggy Stardust in the 70s and more recently, Beyonce Knowles released her I Am... Sasha Fierce album, one half of which is pruported to be by her alta ego Sasha Fierce.

But those aren't necessarily the aliases we are most concerned with. In general, because such aliases are one-release-wonders, projects that just last one album, it's permissable to mark the artists of these albums as the human, real life artist. Indeed, canonically, the artist name, rather than the alias, often appears on the CD artwork, therefore it's this artist name that should be respected and the real-life artist that should be tagged and appear in your music library.

It gets more difficult when aliases are used through many different releases. An example is Aphex Twin, real name Richard James, who has released several works under different aliases such as Polygon Window and AFX.

In these cases, where the use of an alias is maintained for consecutive releases and there's some artistic reason for the use of the alias, music libraries should reflect the alias as the 'artist' of the album, as the actual artist intended. To this end, support for aliases is built into major, modern online databases such as MusicBrainz and Discogs.

That's great, but remember where we started: building a playlist for all music by a particular artist. This implies you record both the canonical artist and the actual real-life artist in your music library in some way. Using the latter you can then associate different releases from the same real-life individual, and build playlists and browse by that artist.

How to tag artist aliases

So once you've decided to use artist aliases, what's the best way of storing both the alias and the real life artist (let's call the real life artist the meta artist )? As ever, the answer lies in tagging.

The standard artist and semi-standard album artist frames should be used for the artist as credited to the release.

It's more difficult to find appropriate places for the meta-artist. ID3 offers a few possibilities:

  • ID3v2.4 offers TIPL for mapping involved people to functions. An example may be: TIPL=Richard James, alias
  • The TXXX frame can be used to associate arbitrary data, so add a TXXX frame with a Description of alias and a Value of Richard James

Other tagging formats such as Vorbis Comments have fewer predefined frames. Here, you should come up with your own name and use the same name throughout your library.

The weaknesses with these approaches is, of course, that your music player must be able to support these tags, and because they are custom approaches there will unlikely be good support for making use of the data in a meaningful way, e.g. an option to include 'alias' in artist lists.

That said, music players such as foobar2000 offer a wide range of view customisation options where you can alter which tags are viewable in your music collection. With this enabled, you should be able to sort and filter by alias values to get to the data you need.

Alternatives to tagging

An alternative to tagging is to rely on improving music players and evolving online databases. It is possible to tag the identification of a release in your music collection to the record of the release online.

An example is the MBID, the MusicBrainz Identifier, which identifies releases, artists and more on the MusicBrainz database. If your music includes this identifier, a music player can look up information about the given music online easily, thus avoiding the work of having to tag your music.

This concept is an interesting enough development in its own right, so I'll return to it in a future blog post.

Artist aliases exist and are a useful datapoint to browse your music collection by. Good luck in incorporating them into your music library! I'm hoping to add this to bliss at some point, in fact someone's already suggested merging artists based on aliases in file organisation patterns.

Thanks to s-a-m and for the image above.
tags: tagging artists
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The Music Library Management blog

Dan Gravell

I'm Dan, the founder and programmer of bliss. I write bliss to solve my own problems with my digital music collection.