Metadata and Its Importance in Sanitizing The Music Scene

Metadata and Its Importance in Sanitizing The Music Scene


“Metadata is the currency of the music industry, providing the necessary intelligence to accurately track and report music usage, royalties and payments. It is the linchpin of any successful music enterprise.”- Head/GM of African Music Strategy & Culture at Sony.

Music creation, distribution and monetization has evolved with some unprecedented changes in the past century. Music was largely dominated by live performances, with recordings and distribution limited to a few large companies (gatekeepers). This ‘’System’’ created a direct revenue channel for most relevant artists during their era.

Over the years, the introduction of Vinyls to Compact Disks and then Napster, saw an unprecedented trajectory of music consumption from the creators to the fans. Today, all these mediums that once housed our favorite songs have paved the way for the new digital era of music. It has become more easier for creators to make hits from the comfort of their homes and share their creations with their audience on digital streaming platforms. The ease of making music, sharing and receiving revenues for your content has seen a major boost for Africa’s talent pool.

According to the IFPI 2021 report, Africa and the Middle East recorded for the first time an 8.4% increase in recorded music and chalked some impressive gains from streaming to 36.4% in revenue.

But, what does this mean for the thousands or millions of Africa’s talent bold enough to chase their dreams, but still grappling with good fortune and nothing to show for the exceptional talents? Digital music has created a vast network of revenue generation for musicians today, however this revenue generation channel is primarily embedded on a significant element called “metadata” for song credits and royalty payments.

“Music metadata is a powerful tool for African music creators to get their music heard, promote their music and get paid for their work”- Nana Yaw Mensah, African Music Business Analyst.

With Africa projected to be an important emerging market for music, a major problem of revenue generation from the content of these talents continue to be a huge impediment. While a chunk of this is attributed to not having proper infrastructure, a major cause ofconcern revolves around publishing and royalty collection on behalf of these creators. Accurate metadata compilation is however the bedrock of digital music distribution and royalty payments. 

To most artists, the term ‘’metadata’’ sounds either too complicated or not really a significant information to worry their heads about. Unfortunately for most, a detailed metadata for a song or album is the only way to generate income and get due credit for one’s work. Music without metadata is like a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the cover. After an artist creates a soothing sound or music, the provision of metadata is the only way to identify song titles, genre or any other important information about a song or album. Without metadata it is impossible to for music agencies to sort, organize and understand the music created, thus making revenue collection and sharing a lot more of a problem.

Metadata is the medium through which Digital streaming platforms or service providers like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Audiomack etc.. use in royalty payments to publishing companies on behalf of composers of a song, but that’s just one major importance of metadata. The ability of your fans to identify your music on these channels, your ability to have your songs playlisted on streaming platforms to help increase your audience is embedded on a detailed

metadata. Most importantly it is how creators get credited for their work for future references and opportunities.

It might interest you as an artist and composer to realize that metadata compilation is the sole responsibility of whoever was part of the creative process of a song. Normally this is done with split sheet signing and information compilation. I cannot count the number of times I have come across artists and composers either delay on split sheet signing or provide incorrect information. Some don’t even understand how to even complete a simple split sheer. Sadly, all these errors affect how royalties get paid regardless of you having a proper distribution channel, publishing administrators to collect royalties on your behalf.

In most cases, metadata goes beyond just the name of artists or songwriters, genre, title of a song or royalty percentages amongst composers. In some databases of music management companies and stakeholders, length of a song, release date, ISRC and UPC codes are required to properly identify a music product. Even in some cases, a properly collated metadata by creators of a song is not enough and this may not necessarily be their fault but the complexities of digital music and a unified data system.

At this point, I know many would be wondering what exactly is the standard format for collating metadata to prevent royalty losses, licensing and copyright infringements. Unfortunately there is no standardized system for compiling metadata for digital distribution and royalty payments. There is not even a system in place yet to rectify inaccurate metadata about a song. If you are lucky enough to have a diligent team behind you, this might be rectified as soon as possible else you might be leaving a chunk of your daily bread on the table.

“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, and the industry is scrambling to find a viable solution” said Niclas Molinder, founder of music metadata company Auddly.

How does metadata work?

Portions of music metadata are stored in different databases around the world and as such a detailed collation of data is imperative at any given time when a song is licensed. This is the most important aspect of a creators ability to monetize the content he creates and distributes across the world.

A misspelled name of a songwriter, an inconsistent format of data collation will yield an error in another database or system which truncates the process of accurately crediting creators for their work. Music distributing companies around the world have their preferred format or standard for metadata collation- this differs from one distribution company to the other. What all of them have in common is the basic fields of information they need to help them track the performance and usage of the song.

The disparities in databases information creates lacuna for royalties to be swept off the table of creators. A major cause of concern is the inability of artists and their teams to rectify this error on time, through their music distributor as some of these streaming platforms have terms and conditions in regards to the duration of royalties payments to creatives.

A typical example is how three artists collaborating on a song will result in a “compound artist error” on Apple Music or Spotify should all three names be filled in the artist name data field on  these streaming platforms. Even though some of these digital streaming platforms have made some effort at resolving metadata issues on their own end, the issues still lingers on because the artists (team) don’t provide the right information about their music. Spotify for example has over the years provided guidelines for artists and distribution companies to provide accurate metadata on released songs – i.e. Artist name, release title, genre of music, artwork, live date and release date, track order, country availability, explicit lyric tags.

Apart from the provision of the right information helping in payment of royalties, it also helps the algorithms used by the digital streaming platforms to easily pick or recommend a song to a streamer. In return, consumers get to properly see the most relevant information of a song in the credits section.

While I believe these steps taken by some of these streaming platforms are helping to reduced the number of clogged and corrupted metadata, the real game changer for African artists to effectively jump overthis hurdle is for a synchronized database system across industries and regions and a standardized metadata collation format. This can be achieved through a concerted collaboration between the artists, music distribution companies and the digital streaming platforms.

Until then, the never ending squabbles of under-payments or wrong payments to artists, accurate creator information and overall up-to-date database to attract publishing and royalty collecting agencies to do business with African artists and labels, which would help sanitize the space shall be an elusive dream. And, the artists would be the worst of it.

Follow Kwesi Allen (@N_diaye1) across all social platforms

2 thoughts on “Metadata and Its Importance in Sanitizing The Music Scene

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      Actually, there are global standards for music metadata – DDEX standards are available to anyone for free:

      Digital Data Exchange, LLC (DDEX) is a not-for-profit, membership organisation that was formed in 2006, and is focused on the creation of digital music value chain standards. DDEX was established by a consortium of leading media companies, music licensing organisations, rights owners, digital service providers and technical intermediaries. Since then the membership has grown from right across the digital music ecosystem throughout the world. As such, DDEX is the only music industry organisation that has a membership spanning every sector of the industry.

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