What is music metadata and why is important to digital music

“The thing about metadata is this: It’s as fundamental to digital music – whether you’re making it, marketing it, or simply enjoying it – as flour is in your bread.” [cit. Spotify for artists]

What is music metadata?
Music metadata is the information embedded in audio files used to identify, sort and deliver your audio content. The more detailed the metadata is defined during the distribution process, the easiest will be the collection and distribution of the royalties generated to the creators and the availability of the content itself to be found by final users and listeners. But it does not end here. 

Music metadata that might or shall be included, but not limited to, are: artist name and featuring, song or album title, release date, record label, genre, or style. This sum of information around each and every audio content distributed, delivered and released, help, for example, digital streaming platforms (DSPs) like Spotify, Tidal or Apple that rely on metadata, to suggest similar artists or curators to create those “unreachable” playlists everybody wants to be on. Most importantly, accurate metadata has a key role when it comes the time to allocate royalties payouts. 

Why is it so important?
Royalties revenues, as we all know, come from physical sales, synchronization and licensing among other sources and, of course, digital streams. In the latter case, the accuracy of a songwriter payout depends on the accuracy of the metadata stated. If, as in many cases, the metadata is not correctly placed at the time of content distribution, the information will not be synchronized across the whole music ecosystem databases and therefore all rights holders involved will not be paid correctly, in proportion, as they should.

“For this reason we shall not forget to include a great piece of the puzzle such as songwriters, copyright owners and publishers.”

Spotify’s Head of songwriter and publishing relations, Jules Parker

Just to make it clearer: a song is written by an artist (not only interpreter but also songwriter of the song, otherwise we should differentiate the two roles as well), which at the time of the recording wants to feature two more artists to collaborate. The three of them belong to 3 different record labels and publishers. The song has a successful projection, meaning that will be included in a marketing strategy plan of promotion, will roll on national radios, will be licensed for a film campaign and so on. In order for all the parts to be fairly paid, all need to be included in the metadata and correctly credited for their part. If any kind of information is not included, not credited, it is misspelled or does not follow the DPS’s guidelines, can lead to insolvent payments to the rights owners involved. 

Even a focus on royalties is not the purpose of this article, just keep in mind that the decision behind royalty percentages and splits among the parties, is taken previous the distribution and release, through deals among the artist(s), managers, producers, labels, publishers and all parts involved in the supply chain. These agreements are usually taken at the early steps of the creation process and can (or cannot) interfere with the metadata included at the time of distribution. 

The music industry, at all levels, still does not have one globally applicable solution yet, it is mostly left to individual collecting societies, key-players such as manager, record labels, music distribution businesses or right holders. 

“We are all aware of the music industry’s metadata problem. Many collecting societies and publishers estimate that about 25 % of music publishing revenue doesn’t make it to its rightful owners due to lack of accurate metadata, and the industry is scrambling to find a viable solution. […] Agreed and transparent metadata early in the process is the only solution to a sustainable music rights management system. And the only way to get there, is to remove the music industry’s silo mentality and bring in more openness and collaboration.” said Niclas Molinder, founder of music metadata company Auddly. 

In October 2019, music-metadata standards-setting organization DDEX (of which SonoSuite is a full member) launched Media Enrichment and Description (MEAD) that supports more than 30 different mechanisms for the description of parties, releases, resources such as sound recordings, and works in ways that are different from the data exchanged using DDEX’s Standard for Release Deliveries (ERNs).

It is a long-way road ahead until a common path will be found and applied at global level, but in the meantime also international streaming platforms like Apple Music or Spotify are strengthening their guidelines and getting more strict about the quality of the metadata delivered, enforcing to distribute adequate information causing otherwise content to be removed. New features like “Written by”  are also implemented to bring behind the scenes creators into the spotlight with good response from labels and distributor crediting songwriters. 

Also, at local level, Claro Musica, made the composer field mandatory on its platform in order to deliver music through them. This change has been carried out for this specific channel according to the Brazilian law requirements, which enforces the composer’s information to be sent within the releases’ metadata.

Just “get” the most out of it: Main reasons to include metadata

Correct music metadata is crucial to conducting a transparent music business, so let’s resume some main reasons why it is important to include correct metadata:

  • Get through

As mentioned above, more and more streaming platforms or copyright laws are becoming very restrictive about content distribution. In order to avoid any copyright infringements or rejection from the DSPs follow their guidelines and place correctly all metadata required. 

  • Get discovered

Curated playlist of all streaming platforms are the most-wanted nowadays, especially for promotional purposes. Getting the chance to get into a playlist is not obvious nor easy. Including genre or moods into your content metadata will help curators worldwide to find new artists and songs and select them for their playlists. 

  • Get placed

Music supervisors for commercial and films work exactly like playlist curators. The more information is included in the metadata the easiest will be to be found and get placed in a soundtrack or tv commercial. 

  • Get paid

Making sure that every key-player is credited accurately will provide correct, fair and fast royalties’ payouts to the right owners and collaborators. From artist to publishers, all parts count and need to get adequately remunerated for it.

How can you benefit including the correct music metadata during the distribution process using SonoSuite platform?

We want to ensure that all actors involved in the creation of audio content which will be digitally distributed through our platform are properly credited for the music they make and always meet all DSPs guidelines. Our Quality Control service ensures that each audio, album artwork and metadata uploaded is compliant with the DSPs content guidelines and DDEX’s standards. In this way, we help music distributors and records labels worldwide using our platform, to avoid any copyright infringement or quality issues that might affect the correct delivery of their catalog.

If you are a record label, a music distributor or aggregator and want to distribute your content catalog worldwide using SonoSuite platform, just talk to us.