Digital Discourse: Sammy Andrews on the power of metadata

Digital Discourse: Sammy Andrews on the power of metadata

If you’ve ever seen me speak at music biz conferences you’ll be aware that I often say, “The sexiest thing in the music business is metadata.”

It’s often greeted with jokes about how much fun I must be at parties, but without metadata, this industry would not exist. It is behind the discovery, monetisation and marketing of music. We have however, as a business, failed to get it right so far, as there have been no hard rules around minimum viable sets of data.

Last month, the Intellectual Property Office announced a UK Industry Agreement on music streaming metadata, off the back of the industry working groups following the select committee enquiry in 2021.

To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, a few years ago, The Ivors Academy estimated that, for song compositions, £500 million is incorrectly allocated every year due to missing or incomplete metadata. While it is overlooked by many in our business, metadata holds the key to unleashing music’s true potential in the digital age.

Indeed, since the IPO announcement, it’s become clear that many people don’t understand the term or the implications this data has if they’re not the ones actually inputting it. But make no mistake, every person in the industry has a part to play in ensuring that we fix this issue.

In this piece, we’ll explore the vital role of metadata and how to get it spot on.

Metadata, in simple terms, is the information about the music we adore, nurture and promote every day. It covers things like artist names, album titles, release dates, song codes, composers, songwriters, featured artists, explicit content, genre and more. While these might seem like mundane bits of data, they’re the backbone of organising and discovering music in today’s digital soundscape.

Imagine a colossal library with shelves stretching endlessly into the distance. Now envision searching for a specific book without any system in place. Pure chaos, right? Well, that’s precisely what happens when metadata goes missing or gets messed up, and why it’s so important it’s corrected.

Metadata also ensures the efficient categorisation of music. It helps DSPs create seamless user experiences, allowing fans to discover their favourite tracks with ease. Accurate metadata ensures that a musical masterpiece doesn’t end up in the wrong genre or artist catalogue, preventing potential fans from ever finding it.

Have you ever stumbled upon a hidden gem through a personalised music recommendation? Chances are, metadata played a big role in that pleasant surprise.

Metadata fuels the algorithms that power music streaming platforms, enabling them to craft playlists and suggest artists based on the listener’s musical tastes. By diligently entering metadata, artists and labels increase their chances of having their tracks featured in playlists tailored to their target audience. This opens doors to new listeners, amplifying exposure and potentially launching careers to new heights.

On the business side, metadata makes sure that everyone gets their (questionably sized) slice of the proverbial pie. Accurate metadata is crucial for collection societies, streaming platforms, labels, songwriters and artists alike. It allows for precise tracking of streams, making it far more likely that the appropriate royalties reach the rightful owners of the music, but only if it’s correct.

There are also calls in the industry to make the song code mandatory for release metadata. This makes much more sense than the current practice of DSPs attempting to match them to their own databases for songs (ISWCs) based on track titles and lengths, but faces some issues in order to be implemented.

Obtaining an ISWC can take a long time, which doesn’t work for artists wanting to release quickly. I’m hopeful, given the rumbles I’m hearing across the business, that this will be addressed.

Sadly for copyright infringements, metadata can be stripped from recordings. This has led to some sectors asking whether the industry should ensure the embedding of ISRC codes into recordings, but that’s for another day! Back to our magical metadata.

So, what can you do to make sure that metadata is correct?

If you’re reading this piece and you’re still unsure, take a little time to get educated on metadata usage, and work with your artists, songwriters and partners to ensure delivery of the correct metadata from the off.

Establish a standardised format for your data. Consistency is key! Decide on a structure that suits your needs, capturing all the relevant information accurately.

Attention to detail is crucial when naming your files. Be descriptive and concise, and avoid vague terms. Opt for a naming convention that includes the song title, artist name and the version of the track (if applicable).

Make the most of ID3 tags, the metadata format embedded in digital audio files. Fill in fields like artist name, album title, track number, genre, song code and release date. Don’t go too wild with genre labels, as that will actually hinder discoverability.

Also, double-check your metadata for accuracy before you hit the button. This is a big issue – typos, misspellings and wrong information render the data useless. Get it right the first time.

While I know that there is some pushback from certain areas of the industry, I am excited to see where the business will take the IPO voluntary agreement, but we can all do our part to ensure that it’s a success for everyone.

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