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About “Personnel Variance” in J-DISC

I’m posting this thread to address issues around what is called “Personnel Variance” in J-DISC (often referred to as “personnel exceptions” in many discographic works). The challenge is to handle changes in personnel and their instruments from track to track within a given session, in a systematic, clear way.  J-DISC does this differently than other print or digital discographies. At the very least, I will need to get users up to speed on how to use it. But I want to take this opportunity to make sure everyone understands why we have gone in this direction. Feel free to express your thoughts in a reply.

Our goal is that the exact personnel are specified for every single recorded track we enter in the system in J-DISC. (For now, a recorded performance and its appearance on a commercial or public release are both called “tracks.”) That gives users the ability to import tracks from sessions to issues and still carry specific personnel with it. That in turn stems from a major commitment we made in designing J-DISC:  to fully account for the wealth of information that may be available about a given issue, and to structure it in a consistent, organized way. The present way of handling personnel variance is my and my tech peoples’ solution to this challenge, and to this extent it appears to be successful. All personnel entered in a session track will automatically be imported when the user chooses it in creating an issue.

Objections have been raised that this feature differs from standard discographic practice; that it will require a learning curve for the person entering the data to get used to it; and that it may lead to mistakes or ambiguities. It is true that traditional discographies, both print and digital, generally show all of the personnel playing on a given session, no matter how much or little they actually perform, either above or below the list of session tracks and corresponding master numbers, timings, issues, etc.  (That is, as far as I can make out after looking at many otherwise widely varying sources.) These discographies then indicate any personnel or skill changes within that text (using reference numbers and abbreviations in parentheses).

In J-DISC, the basic rule is the opposite. The personnel and skills listed under “Session Personnel” are only those that apply to all tracks, or the majority of tracks. The variations on that main list are specified exactly in the row for each track.  The headings, are accordingly “Main Session Personnel” and “Variance from  Main Session Personnel”.  

Our rationale is, first, that we need to be able to import the exact personnel for a given track into an a corresponding issue record. That track may often be combined with others from other sessions with their own distinct track information. Another virtue, we believe, is that this arrangement shows at a glance who is playing on what track, rather than having to refer back and forth to figures and abbreviations as is necessary in other discographic work. There are intellectual property advantages here, too: while the data in itself not copyrightable, we shield ourselves against possible claims by structuring the data in original ways, for original and novel purposes, and in many cases enhancing it (such as checking, citing, and augmenting personnel data). Though it’s still in the future, J-DISC’s personnel variance may help its interoperability with other systems. We are facing a world of digital downloads where “albums” may disappear altogether, and it seems helpful that discrete recorded tracks can be readily and easily identified by their specific personnel. [Cont’d: see part II of this discussion].

--Tad Shull

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