Music Metadata - Why It Is Important


Music Metadata - Why It Is Important

Let’s close out 2020 with what I believe is the most underrated, and least discussed topic amongst songwriters and producers. Though, it should become one of the most talked about.

Metadata.

You have a name. If I want to contact you, and I have your name, I can do a Google search. But will I find you? If I do, how will I know it’s you? In the United States, most everyone has a social security number. Even if two people have the same exact name, they would have their own social security numbers. What does this have to do with metadata you ask? Metadata is the identifying information for your song, and whatever needs to be identified related to the song.

For example, Song Title is likely the easiest piece of data to identify. If you write a song, the Song Title is a piece of data related to your song. Try to put your most recent song title in a Google search. Is your song the only one that comes up? Or are there many different songs with the same title? You see how quickly it becomes necessary to have other identifying aspects of a song, rather the just the title itself. Additionally, just like we have our names, but also have other identifiers, songs have other identifiers.

The metadata of a song helps music listeners and music buyers understand as many aspects of a song as possible, including but not limited to: Who wrote the song, who sang the song, who produced the song, who played instruments on the song, the song key, the song tempo, the song theme, the song mood, the song lyrics, and most importantly, whom to contact if wanting to use the song.

With music consumption constantly evolving, we are living in a time where we can ask Amazon’s Alexa to, “Play up-tempo, feel-good music written by John Legend”. Artificial intelligence continues to drive music searches, and if this kind of information is not included when the song metadata is being entered, these are lost opportunities for the music to be consumed, for rights holders and creators to be paid accurately.

Thankfully, the importance of accurate metadata is becoming more and more top of mind. The two largest performing rights organizations in the United States (ASCAP and BMI) just launched a new resource to assist music creators and music users with finding song ownership information, called SONGVIEW. The reaction I’ve seen so far on LinkedIn from a variety of music business professionals is, FINALLY! This will be one tool among more being developed that will help those looking for information on song ownership.

Who Gets Credit and Who Gets Paid

Did you know that over $2 billion dollars owed to music creators is not paid out due to incomplete, missing, and unregistered information? Collection societies such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC (in the United States), and others around the world are responsible for paying songwriters and music publishers performance rights royalties, whereas Sound Exchange (in the United States) is responsible for paying digital royalties to sound recording owners and performing artists. How do these companies know who to pay?

When music is consumed/used, there are mechanisms in place to track use, calculate royalties, and ultimately pay the appropriate parties. However, when people can’t be found, when information is incomplete, not accurate, or just flat out missing, people can’t be paid appropriately.

How can songwriters, producers, and artists ensure that they are collecting all of the appropriate metadata, and when should one do so?

  • Before you co-write, make sure you obtain the other writers information. I’ve written songs with other songwriters only to find out they are not registered with a Performing Rights Organization. This is okay as long as they then take the appropriate steps to register.  And if you’re writing a song completely yourself, be sure your information is correct.
  • Gather and write-down all data as it becomes available. Ultimately when the song is finished being written, you should have at least: Song Title, Writers, Writers’ Contact Info and Performing Rights Organization information, Percentage of Ownership, Themes, and Moods. Many websites like Disco.ac, SongSplits.com, and others allow you to fill in this data and store it online. However, I’d recommend keep a spreadsheet, or Word document containing the information for each song, so that you always have it available to you. Websites go down every now and again.
  • Discuss and agree to song ownership percentages before you write. If you write with another writer, it should be a common 50/50 split. Or three writers, 33.33% (with one writer getting 33.34%). However, you may have or desire different arrangements based on what one contributes. That’s fine, as long as you discuss it and come to a common understanding.
  • Understand that there is certain data that you won’t have on the song until later. For example, the ISWC, which is the unique identifying number specific to a song, is not assigned until the song is registered with a Performing Rights Organization. This is not to be confused with ISRC, which is the unique identifying number specific to a Sound Recording. (I’ll do short posts related to these separately).
  • Lastly, understand that the more metadata you can include, the better equipped you and the song will be in the marketplace. As an example, if you’d like to get your song used in a television show, if you have coded all of the appropriate metadata within your MP3, when sending the song via a link to potential music users, all of the data will make your song easier to find when it ends up in someone’s iTunes catalog. The last thing you want is for someone to have your song on their computer, without information, like who wrote it, and how to contact you if they want to use the song.

I’ll be sharing more information, tips, and tools relating to metadata in the future. For now, know that I believe it is just as important as writing and producing the song, and should become a regular practice of ours to collect and ensure we have and understand the metadata we are collecting.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to you all!


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