I’m finally digging into Dani Deahl’s informative article on metadata from a couple of months back in The Verge. All of the quoted text is from that article:
In an ideal world, once a song is finished, the metadata would be crafted by the artist or the artist’s producer, and they would submit that data to the record label, distributor, or publisher(s) involved for verification and distribution. In reality, the process is frequently more rushed and haphazard — artists and labels hurry the process along in order to get songs out, and metadata is frequently cleaned up later as mistakes are noticed.
Traditionally, the producer wears administrative — and therapeutic — hats in addition to the more recognized sonic-shaping guise.1Check out Richard James Burgess’s seminal The Art of Music Production for an overview of all the job entails. I could see ‘metadata’ falling under the producer’s responsibility 25+ years ago if metadata was as important as it is today. Now, ‘producer’ mostly means something different and is often the same role as the artist. So, in this better world we’re imagining, who wears the metadata hat?
I vote for the mastering engineer. There’s already an ‘elite’ rung for mastering engineers certified by the Mastered For iTunes program. Let’s find a way to certify mastering engineers (and potentially producers, or studio engineers, and even record label managers) as Metadata Ambassadors. As an artist — or a label — you will be assured that if you use a certified mastering engineer, your metadata will be collected, organized, and accurately submitted to the appropriate parties.
Of course, more artists are mastering their own work2and I have strong feelings that they should not do this, but I’ll save that rant for another day. so the process of metadata submission would be open to all. But if you enlist someone certified — that is, a person trained in the dark art of metadata — then not only will you not have to deal with it (beyond providing requested info), you can rest easy. Metadata’s sorted.
Having a centralized database and set standards for music metadata — [Jaxsta rep Joshua] Jackson’s idea of an IMDb for music — sounds like a straightforward goal, but getting there has stumped many of music’s largest and most powerful entities for decades. There are many reasons for this, but the tectonic shift to streaming is a major contributor.
Again, let’s imagine a better world. In this one, the music industry actually bands together and puts some funding into mitigating the chaos. Discogs is the closest thing we’ve got to an IMDB for music. A light partnership and investment from the industry could implement other essential data to a Discogs listing and develop an API where this information is accessed and utilized by third-party platforms. There could be a ‘pro’ view for a Discogs listing that reveals ISRCs, publishing splits, rights holder contact information, and so on. It’s not a perfect proposal, especially as much of the data will remain crowdsourced, but it would be a million times better than what we’ve got. And, most importantly, this information would exist in a web interface that is accessible and understandable to the layperson. Much more so than an online spreadsheet on some PRO’s backend.
There isn’t much agreement on if any particular arm of the music industry should lead the way or be responsible for fixing music metadata. Some think digital music distribution companies like TuneCore or DistroKid could do more to educate artists, as it’s often an artist’s only touchpoint before their music is live on streaming platforms. Others think the streaming platforms themselves could set an example for better metadata by displaying more credits, which would encourage everyone involved to make sure the data is right.
I’m co-signing all of the above. The distributors can undoubtedly do more, and none of the distributors I work with ask for exhaustive metadata. By ‘exhaustive,’ I’m talking about no-brainer stuff like songwriter and publisher names. But I’d love to see distribution go even more in-depth, asking for information like the producers, the musicians, the studio and its location … liner note stuff. I know that the streaming platforms aren’t listing this info yet but why should they if the distributors don’t have it? It’s not like Spotify is going to add liner notes when that information isn’t already available for them to exploit.
I’d love to see a significant distributor lead the way and throw down the gauntlet on metadata. To say, “we’re taking metadata seriously and will start logging the info whether anyone uses it or not.” And, once all this data is in hand, they pressure the DSPs to include it. Admittedly, including these ‘liner notes’ is but a small competitive differentiator, but it *is* one and streaming platforms need any they can get.
Pie-in-the-sky stuff, I know. But we need to imagine that better world to draw us closer to it. So, how do we make these things — or alternate solutions that drive us in a positive direction — happen?