How should the music industry engage with Wikipedia?

Field Day 2017 in London – image by John Lubbock CC BY-SA 2.0

By John Lubbock, Communications Coordinator

If I was a music industry promoter, I would make sure the artists I worked with had accurate Wikipedia pages, because those pages will come at the top of the Google rankings when you search for the artist’s name. In practice, this doesn’t happen, largely because they don’t understand how Wikipedia works or what its rules are.

A lot of people do not understand Wikipedia’s notability guidelines. These guidelines specify different notability standards for different professions. Here are the notability guidelines for musicians to have a Wikipedia page:

Musicians or ensembles (this category includes bands, singers, rappers, orchestras, DJs, musical theatre groups, instrumentalists, etc.) may be notable if they meet at least one of the following criteria.

1) Has been the subject of multiple, non-trivial, published works appearing in sources that are reliable, not self-published, and are independent of the musician or ensemble itself.

  • This criterion includes published works in all forms, such as newspaper articles, books, magazine articles, online versions of print media, and television documentaries except for the following:
  • Any reprints of press releases, other publications where the musician or ensemble talks about themselves, and all advertising that mentions the musician or ensemble, including manufacturers’ advertising.
  • Works consisting merely of trivial coverage, such as articles that simply report performance dates, release information or track listings, or the publications of contact and booking details in directories.
  • Articles in a school or university newspaper (or similar), in most cases.

2) Has had a single or album on any country’s national music chart.

3) Has had a record certified gold or higher in at least one country.

4) Has received non-trivial coverage in independent reliable sources of an international concert tour, or a national concert tour in at least one sovereign country.

5) Has released two or more albums on a major record label or on one of the more important indie labels (i.e., an independent label with a history of more than a few years, and with a roster of performers, many of whom are independently notable).

6) Is an ensemble that contains two or more independently notable musicians, or is a musician who has been a reasonably prominent member of two or more independently notable ensembles. This should be adapted appropriately for musical genre; for example, having performed two lead roles at major opera houses. Note that this criterion needs to be interpreted with caution, as there have been instances where this criterion was cited in a WP:CIRCULAR manner to create a self-fulfilling notability loop (e.g. musicians who were “notable” only for having been in two bands, of which one or both were “notable” only because those musicians had been in them.)

7) Has become one of the most prominent representatives of a notable style or the most prominent of the local scene of a city; note that the subject must still meet all ordinary Wikipedia standards, including verifiability.

8) Has won or been nominated for a major music award, such as a Grammy, Juno, Mercury, Choice or Grammis award.

9) Has won first, second or third place in a major music competition.

10) Has performed music for a work of media that is notable, e.g., a theme for a network television show, performance in a television show or notable film, inclusion on a notable compilation album, etc. (But if this is the only claim, it is probably more appropriate to have a mention in the main article and redirect to that article. Read WP:BLP1E and WP:BIO1E for further clarifications)

11) Has been placed in rotation nationally by a major radio or music television network.

12) Has been a featured subject of a substantial broadcast segment across a national radio or TV network.

One of the most important rules of Wikipedia is that Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia, and so there are guidelines about whether any subject is notable enough to merit inclusion in an encyclopaedia.

An artist who may not have met the criteria for inclusion years ago may have since passed the threshold. The rapper Frisco, a member of the important UK Grime label BBK, had his article repeatedly deleted between 2008-2010 because editors did not feel that he met the above criteria. His page was then locked from being re-created. Since then, UK Grime and the label he is on have become much more culturally important, and he has also released a number of albums, meaning he now meets the notability criteria. However, I had to enlist the help of a Wikipedia administrator to allow for his page to be created.

Fiona Apps, the longtime admin I asked for help, told me she previously advised music labels who didn’t understand how to engage with Wikipedia.

“They don’t understand what makes a musician ‘notable’ under Wikipedia’s standards but more importantly there’s a complete misunderstanding of both what neutrality is on Wikipedia and WHY neutrality is on Wikipedia”, she said.

“Things that are very much important in a musician’s career simply aren’t appropriate for Wikipedia and success is measured in reports from reliable secondary sources that are chosen by precise criteria that are separate from the music business. Wikipedia is written in language that is just foreign to the industry.”

Apps also said that she would like artists not to send their fans to their Wikipedia page to ‘fix it’, as that would likely make the problem worse, and result in the page being locked. Instead, she advised music companies to ask Wikimedia UK for training.

One example I saw recently of an artist making all these mistakes provides a useful case study. Complaining on Twitter that @Wikipedia should allow his edits to his own page, the artist clearly did not understand how Wikipedia works. Sure enough, his page was a total mess of terrible PR speak. I have attempted to anonymise it as far as possible because this type of thing is not uncommon and he does not deserve to be singled out for ridicule.

Obviously, the copy in this article is a huge violation of rules against non-Neutral Point of View (NPoV). This is why Wikipedia’s rules discourage people from editing articles about themselves or their employer. Editing pages of artists you promote and getting caught doing it is likely to get the page locked or the edits removed.

Instead, what Wikimedia UK would recommend is working with our editor community and collaborating to achieve consensus based on concrete facts with good references. You can also ask us to organise training sessions that fans could come to, to learn how to make sure the pages of artists they like are as good as possible. We are here to support Wikipedia and work with the community of volunteers, so please work with us!

For the past two years, I’ve tried to engage the MOBO awards on Twitter to encourage them to take an interest in the fact that many of the artists they nominate for awards have no Wikipedia articles, and when they do, they are often quite bad, many without photos of the artists. I talked to a couple of smaller music labels last year about the problem of artist photos, and the problem seems to be that labels have photographers who allow them to use their photos, but the label itself doesn’t own the photos, and a photographer is unlikely to want to publish a photo they can sell on an Open License.

However, we have had some success in working with the Welsh recording label Sain, who released samples of their published music as well as album covers on Open, Creative Commons licenses, meaning they can be used across Wikipedia as well as for free by anybody. They have massively improved Wikipedia’s coverage of Welsh music, and we would love to do the same with other labels to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of their artists.

We desperately need more content by and about non-white people on Wikipedia. If you’re not of European descent, you’re much less likely to be adequately represented on Wikipedia. This is partly because the editors themselves are not particularly diverse. So the issue we have is how to engage new audiences to become Wikipedia editors?

One way to do this could be through music. Wikimedia UK can ask for press passes to musical events so that photographers can go to events for free in exchange for Open Licensed photos of artists who are performing there. If you’re a photographer, get in touch and tell us what event you’d like to go to and we can try to help. As Fiona Apps mentioned above, we can also engage with the music industry to provide training for them to understand how to use Wikipedia.

It’s important that artists who meet the notability criteria are adequately represented on Wikipedia, and if they are from a minority ethnic background, they’re much less likely to be. So we call on our community members to generate more content on artists whose pages lack photos, and on the music industry itself to engage with our community. Please check out the WikiProject Black British Music for suggestions on pages that need to be created. There are mutual benefits to be achieved which can help all of us, and expand the amount of free, open knowledge about notable artists.