The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #19340   Message #197863
Posted By: Joe Offer
19-Mar-00 - 09:24 PM
Thread Name: Mudcat FAQ - Newcomer's Guide
Subject: Posting Lyrics - how to do it

Posting Lyrics

The Digital Tradition Format

All lyrics and tunes submitted to the Mudcat Café are considered for inclusion in the Digital Tradition Folk Song Database, so it's best to post lyrics in Digital Tradition format:

I'm working on refining guidelines for submitting lyrics. Here's a copy of my e-mail to somebody:
Hi - we'd love to have any folk lyrics you'd like to post at the Mudcat Cafe. All lyrics that are submitted stay in the forum, and people can find them using our search engines. Many of the lyrics are also "harvested" and included in the Digital Tradition Folk Song Database, which now has lyrics for some 9,000 songs (you can access the database in the blue DigiTrad search box you find on most Mudcat pages).
If you'd like to post a song, first check that database to see whether it's already there or not. Make sure you put the lyrics in a thread that has a title that's related to the song (like an ongoing thread that's collecting train songs, if that's appropriate; or a thread you start that has the song title as the title of the thread.). The SUBJECT line for the message with the lyrics should include this information:
Lyr ADD: title of song here

Ideally, you should follow the Digital Tradition Format:
  • song title on the first line IN ALL CAPS
  • songwriter name (in parentheses) on the second line
  • skip a space
  • then the lyrics
  • skip a space
  • then any notes
  • and then finish off with your initials
Yes, there are copyright questions, but we leave it to the operators of the Digital Tradition to deal with them. In the meantime, we ask people to feel free to post whatever lyrics they'd like in the Mudcat Forum - keeping in mind that we are primarily a folk and blues site.

-Joe Offer, Sacramento, California-

Lyrics Requests

In another thread, Mrzzy writes:
This would mean that anyone, before posting anything, have to research whether any prior threads existed on it, which is nigh unto impossible. I was told that I ought to have done that when asking for the lyrics to the Country Gentlemen's version of Two Little Boys, whereas what I had done was see if that version were already in the database. Turns out the thread was years old and didn't spell things the way I did, so I think that if I had done such a search, I still would not have found it...

Also, threads get llllllllllloooooooooonnnnnnnnngggggggggg sometimes. I had posted to the World Where Are You one, and later saw that someone had split off a smaller subthread for better loading, but the smaller one doesn't have my comment on it so I am not even sure how it got split up... And I'm a linguist too (in case you hadn't figured that out by my thread on jargon in folksongs)! So this was very interesting!

In response, Joe says:

That's exactly what we're asking for - that people take a moment to look around themselves for information, before asking the rest of us to look on their behalf. I guess I'd liken Mudcat to a library. Reference librarians love to tackle interesting questions and they'll go out of their way to help people who are working hard to research a question, but I'd imagine that they must get really frustrated with people who always ask for information, and never open a book themselves.

Our music discussion threads build up a fascinating body of knowledge, but that information is much more valuable if it's easy to find. You bring up a good example with "Two Little Boys." It took just a moment for me to put "Two Little Boys" in the filter box on the Forum menu, and set the "age" to 3 years. Seven threads came up, and the longest had only 17 messages. If all of those threads were together, they might make up a very interesting discussion (and eliminate a lot of duplicated information). Again, it's like a library - it's very frustrating when the books on a given subject aren't all on the same shelf.

If you post lyrics for a song, a "harvester" from the Digital Tradition takes about half an hour to process those lyrics for inclusion in the database. The harvester searches the database to see if that song or other versions of the song are already there. Then, the format of the lyrics is checked to make sure it meets the Digital Tradition format (see the
Posting Lyrics (click) in this thread). Also, an attempt is made to match the song to the various Keywords (categories) of the database. The database also tries to include the initials of the person who submitted the lyrics, and determining the initials of someone identified only as "songlover" or another pseudonym also takes time. What's really frustrating is when harvesters takes half an hour to process a song, only to find out they goofed on the search, and the person who posted the lyrics had copy-and-pasted the lyrics right from our own database.

So, yeah, I think it makes sense for people to take time and thought before they post or start a thread. After all, they're asking other people for time and thought, aren't they? This is strictly a volunteer operation. What's wonderful about it is that it is a body of knowledge that is constantly growing, something that we all can contribute to. I think it's reasonable to request that we all use care in what we post.

I don't think you need to worry about music threads getting too long to load. A thread with 50 messages loads quite easily, and music threads rarely get that long. The "BS" threads get long and it makes sense to start a "part 2" once they get to a hundred messages or so, but that almost never happens on music threads.

We certainly don't expect newcomers to know the ropes the first time they post, but it certainly is a pleasure when people show consideration and good scholarship when they post to the music threads. If somebody has responded and provided information, a word of thanks is always nice, too.

It's a wonderful thing that our Forum is a spontaneous free-for-all, no-holds-barred bull session. However, it is also a very valuable information resource for those who love folk music, and it's good for all of us to do our best to do what we can to make the Forum the extraordinary resource it can be.

-Joe Offer-

Answering Requests

I don't know what impressions other people have, but it seems that in the last few weeks, we've had a number of non-answers to song requests. People tell people they might be able to find the song in such-and-such a songbook which they might be able to find online for a hundred dollars if they're lucky. Somebody said that a song called "A-Rovin" is in the John Jacob Niles Ballad Book, but they neglected to tell what name Niles called it. Somebody asked for a gypsy song, and somebody responded that we should stop attacking gypsies - not knowing whether the song attacked gypsies or not. Other people are reluctant to post lyrics because maybe we're afraid that Harry Fox doesn't want us to post lyrics any more.
I think that if somebody requests lyrics that we have, we should provide a link or tell people exactly how to find the song. If we don't have the requested lyrics here at Mudcat, then we should post them.

When people have SOME information about a song and contribute it, that can be really good. It can be fascinating and very satisfying to watch a number of people get together to find a song, each doing a part of the search. What I object to is when people suggest checking Cowpie without first checking Cowpie themselves to see if the song is there. Or, worse yet, they tell people to check Cowpie whe Cowpie doesn't have the song - and ironically it turns out that we have the song right here. Misleading leads can direct people away from what they're seeking.
If people post answers to lyrics requests, they should actively participate in the search and then report what they found or were unable to find. If I say that I searched DigiTrad, Cowpie, and Levy for "red roses" and couldn't find anything, that's a contribution. If I just tell somebody to try Cowpie and Levy, I'm implying that Mudcat doesn't have the lyrics.

Should I Start a New "ADD" Thread to Post Lyrics?

No, not usually. If you are responding to a request for song lyrics, please put the lyrics in the request thread, but put ADD and the song title in the title of the individual message. Our general policy is one song, one thread. Try to keep all the information about a song in one thread. Before you start a thread to post a song, search the Mudcat and Digital Tradition to see if we have it already.
I think that if you're posting a number of songs, it's a good idea to fit them together in one way or another. If you keep related songs together in the same thread, they are less likely to get lost. What I would suggest is that you have one song per message and be sure to put ADD: and the song title in the message title. If you're posting a number of songs from Sandburg's book, or a number of train songs, or a number of Northumbrian songs, they may fit together in one thread.
Now, when you request a song (after you've searched Mudcat and haven't found it), you're usually best off to start a new thread and request just that one song - unless you are requesting a number of related songs.
-Joe Offer-

Posting Corrections to the Digital Tradition

The short answer:The Long Answer:

If I find requested lyrics on the Internet, should I post just a link to their location?

Generally, it's a good idea to post both lyrics and a link to show where you got 'em from - don't post them if they are elsewhere in the Forum, or in the Digital Tradition. If you post the lyrics here, we don't have to deal with expired links, and then our Digitrad and Forum Search (SuperSearch) can find them.
There's one exception - it's probably a good idea not to post lyrics to popular songs that aren't likely to be of interest to folk musicians. I think we should do our best to respond to ALL requests, but a link to pop lyrics should suffice. If we post them here, they turn up on search engines like Google, and that in turn may bring in more people who are looking for things other than folk music. Also, if we have a large collection of commercial songs, that may attract the interest of the Copyright Cops.
Would I post songs by Rodgers & Hart and Cole Porter? You betcha!

Harvesting Lyrics

The "harvesters" who collect lyrics for the Digital Tradition are Susan of DT and Joe Offer and Jim Dixon. Dick Greenhaus does some, but he does mostly the tunes and the technical stuff. I have met Susan of DT and found her to be quite human, and a very nice and interesting person.
Several people have posted documented evidence in the forum that has almost convinced me that Joe Offer is a computer program created by Max, but my mother insists it isn't true. Mom thinks Joe Offer is human. My ex-wife thinks so, too.
And being quite human, we occasionally miss songs that have been posted. If you post a song and don't see a ^^harvesting birdie at the end of the lyrics by the end of a week, send Susan or me a personal message, and tell us where we can find it. If you're willing to give us a little more slack, post a link to your song in the
Songs you've posted (click) thread, and we will harvest and mark it at our leisure.

If you post songs, please post them in the Digital Tradition format, which is explained toward the top of this FAQ thread. We'd like to get tunes for all the songs in the database, and you'll find tune posting instructions in the FAQ and in the Please Post Tunes Here thread.
Rounds don't do anybody much good without a tune, so Dick usually stays away from them.
Dick and Susan have maintained the Digital Tradition since 1988. They make the decisions about what goes into the database, and what doesn't. I got recruited at the beginning of 2000. I just harvest, categorize, and format them, match them with the tune files, and send them as text files to Dick.

Generally, alternate versions of a song are included in the database only if the lyrics are substantially different from what's here. If a song is the same except for a few verses, I's suggest that you post the entire song so we know where all the verses fit, but mark the alternate verses some way so we know what's different and what's not.

There are some glaring mistakes in some songs in the database, and you're welcome to submit corrections (best to do it as a whole set of lyrics, with notes below to tell us what you think should be corrected). Remember, though, that we are dealing with folk songs, and we expect slight variations in lyrics and tunes and don't pay too much attention to that. If Ewan MacColl sang one word and A.L. Lloyd sang another, we probably won't care to make a change.

-Joe Offer, human being-
Somebody asked for a description of what Susan and I do to harvest songs for the database.
Here's the process: Dick takes the songs and tunes and makes them into SongWright files, carefully matching the lyrics to the notes, and correcting the tunes where needed.
All this takes a lot of work, but thre are fringe benefits. I always have new material for my Wednesday night song circle. And you wouldn't believe the number of songs that Dick has in his head, and Susan has a serious passion for long ballads.
NOW do you understand why it takes so long? I actually think it wouldn't help to have more people do the harvesting, because even my added presence can tend to confuse things and Susan and I are still learning how to avoid duplicating each other's work - but it sure helps when people post songs that are already formatted and annotated.

-Joe Offer-
Some of you may have noted that I marked Kendall's lyrics for "East Virginia" with a three-winged harvesting birdie ^^^ - the third wing means the song is redundant because it's already in the database.
But it really isn't redundant. I don't think it's different enough to include in the database, but it's certainly of great value to have all the different variations posted in the forum.
Thanks, Kendall.
-Joe Offer-

Please Note Important Message

The End

The permanent part of the FAQ stops here. What follows are questions and answers. Some will be developed into more complete information and added to the FAQ. Other parts will eventually be deleted or replaced.
-Joe Offer-
Partial Update July, 2008