Understanding Music Metadata: Everything You Need to Know

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Tobias Witt
June 8, 2024

Over the past decade, our lives have increasingly gone digital. From shopping to working, making music, and connecting with fans, nearly everything can be done online. This transition became even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic when artists turned to the internet to record, produce, release, and share their music. While nothing can replace the experience of live music, technology has opened new doors for reaching global audiences and engaging with fans.

Musicians today leverage platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal to share their music and use social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to interact with fans. In this digital music landscape, understanding the basics of the online music industry is crucial. Knowledge of taxes, social media algorithms, search engines, sponsored ads, digital PR campaigns, SEO, ISRC codes, and music metadata can significantly enhance your online presence and brand.

What is Music Metadata?

Music metadata is essentially the digital footprint of your song. It includes all the essential information about your track, similar to a resume or bio. Key types of music metadata include:

  1. Descriptive Metadata: This includes details like the song title, artist name, track number, release date, cover art, genre, and album. It helps listeners find and organize their music by providing all the necessary details about the track.
  2. Ownership Metadata: This type of metadata relates to rights and ownership, such as the names of songwriters, producers, and session musicians. It ensures that everyone involved in the creation of the music gets proper credit and compensation. This is crucial for distributors to ensure accurate royalty distribution.
  3. Recommendation Metadata: Unlike the objective nature of descriptive and ownership metadata, recommendation metadata is subjective. It describes the music to help algorithms recommend it to potential listeners. For instance, metadata might include tags like "for fans of Daft Punk" or "southern metal," aiding in better search and recommendation outcomes.

Challenges of Music Metadata

While music metadata sounds straightforward, there are several challenges associated with it:

  1. Human Error: Most metadata is manually entered, making it prone to errors. Typos, incorrect release years, and other mistakes can lead to issues in royalty distribution, sales tracking, and analytics, sometimes even causing legal problems.
  2. Lack of Standardization: Currently, there is no unified system for filling out music metadata, leading to inconsistencies. Different parties (artists, distributors, labels) might input data differently, causing mismatches. For example, an artist might label a genre as "post rock," while a distributor might enter it as "post-rock," leading to confusion for algorithms.

For a comprehensive guide on utilizing music metadata effectively, the Music Business Association offers a detailed style guide to help track your work accurately and maintain consistency.

Understanding and properly managing music metadata is essential for any music professional in today's digital age. It ensures better reach, accurate royalties, and a smoother experience for both the creators and the listeners