It’s safe to say that metadata is one of the current buzzwords in the music industry. You can’t attend an industry event without someone discussing (or complaining about!) metadata in some form or another.
As with other current industry buzzwords (neighbouring rights is another good example), it gets bandied around quite a lot, but there is sometimes a bit of confusion as to what we are talking about and more importantly, why we are talking about it.
Over the coming weeks we will be digging into this sometimes misunderstood and undervalued asset, debunking a few myths along the way and trying to decipher the role that metadata plays across the industry, as well as understanding its importance.
So what is metadata? and what does it mean to us music industry folk? Are we talking about sales data, social data and big data in general? Or are we talking about track titles, ISRCs, album names, etc…? Well, the answer is both.
Let’s start at the beginning with a good old definition… or two.
Broadly speaking, music metadata falls into two categories: the data going in, what the rights-holders pump in, sometimes called input metadata or descriptive metadata and the data coming back, or transactional data.
Here’s what the Oxford English dictionary and the Guardian have to say about these two definitions of metadata:
1) Metadata n. a set of data that describes and gives information about other data. (Oxford English Dictionary)
In our case, this means everything from track title, artist name and ISRC to contributors, country of recording, composers, etc… i.e. all the data that describes the track, product or underlying work.
2) Metadata is information generated as you use technology (the Guardian)
This type of data has been talked about a lot recently with regards to the NSA scandal and this refers to information that is created as a result of people interacting with technology. In the NSA’s case these are things such as the date and time you called somebody, or the location from which you last accessed your email.
Put it in a music industry context, we could transpose these examples and talk about number of downloads on iTunes, where a stream or sale has occurred, or how long someone played a track for on Spotify.
That’s all very well, but why is it important to rights-holders?
We will be looking at data that falls under the second definition in one of our coming posts, but in terms of the first definition, the answer is that it powers every aspect of the industry these days: search at DSPs, Collection Societies, neighbouring rights (that one again!), music apps and services like Shazam or BBC Playlister, as well as backroom solutions such as royalty accounting and much more.
These places all use metadata to power their activities, which highlights the importance of providing them with rich, clean and consistent metadata.
On a macro level, the music business has been slowly transitioning into a data driven business, not just with the advent of digital, but also in online sales, public performance, publishing and just about every other segment. Metadata is powering fan’s experience of music, how they discover and how they become passionate about artists.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see how neglecting metadata before sending it out into the world, is putting businesses at a serious disadvantage with regards to marketing and revenue opportunities.
Metadata is also how technology interacts with the music industry these days. Any new service coming to market is looking to use metadata, including third-party metadata, which we will also be looking at in an upcoming post, to power their platform and the customer experience.
Metadata lies at the heart of today’s music industry, which is why it is important to encourage rights-holders to see it as a core element of their business and not just an afterthought or byproduct of the digital supply chain. Only then will we be able to truly maximise the value and potential of that data.