Choosing ALBUM ARTIST for soundtracks

An interesting question popped into the bliss mailbag a couple of weeks ago. This time from Sean Frisbey, on the subject of tagging artists in soundtracks:

I am torn as to what I should to do tag my music! [...] Take the Sound of Music. Who should the album artist be? Richard Rogers? Oscar Hammerstein II? Julie Andrews? The Sound Of Music Motion Picture Cast? [...] maybe it is just a matter of how I want to be able to find it.

The crux of it is that, as Sean identified, you are constrained by both the music players you use and how you use those players to browse your music. When you browse your "artist" list, who would you like to see?

There are two ways of deciding on the ALBUM ARTIST if it's not already obvious.

The first, and the one I use most often, is to let the Internet decide. MusicBrainz is generally very good with deciding on the canonical artists for releases. Here's the Sound of Music Soundtrack. Individual tracks would have the track artist as Julie Andrews, being the vocalist on many of the tracks, and Rogers and Hammerstein in the composer field (note the combination of those two could be considered a separate artist than the two individuals in the same way that a rock band is a separate artist to the individuals within).

The second is to defer to the release itself. "Album artist" should really be termed "release artist" and is intended to refer to the individual/collective responsible for the artistic content of the release. That's still fuzzy, but I think it helps with the Sound of Music example; it's well known as a Rogers and Hammerstein soundtrack (at least to me it is).

An example of how to defer to the release is given in response to Sean's later question:

Then we take something like a video game soundtrack, like Super Mario Galaxy...half of the soundtrack was performed by a life orchestra, the other half was computer generated, the whole thing was composed by four different people... that's a tagging nightmare. If I tag the album artist as Nintendo, that kinda works [...]. Do I put the composer who wrote the most songs? Do I put who is listed first in the credits of the game? Do I put Various Artists?

Yes, the Sound of Music soundtrack is just one scenario, and it gets more difficult than that. The Super Mario Galaxy soundtrack is a good example. I would review the cover art and see what is the main credited artist - there's normally one. If there isn't, or you're not happy with Nintendo, there is also "Various Artists" of course, which is perfectly reasonable if there is no one artistic lead.

I wouldn't use the composer who wrote the most songs unless it was clear they were the overall artist as identified on/in the release.

Nobody said metadata was easy!

Thanks to FutUndBeidl for the image above.
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Dan Gravell

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