Today's entry was written by superstar FMC intern Dan Eno.
The word metadata may sound more Star Trek than rock star, but it is a critical issue for musicians trying to make a living via emerging digital revenue streams. But what is metadata? As important as it may be to ensuring proper paychecks, many musicians still do not know.
Metadata is information that lives with every file on your computer. Through a magic merger of words and numbers, metadata describes files so that they can be managed by both the user and the system. In the case of a music file, like an MP3, metadata refers to the tags associated with a particular piece of music typically information about the artist, album name, year of release, etc. On the surface, it might seem like these tags are mostly useful for the listener, who needs some way to quickly sort through MP3s. But why are they so important to artists?
Well, as more and more of the music market migrates online, sales from services like iTunes or eMusic or Rhapsody or those yet to be created will represent a larger portion of total music revenues. Songs and albums are organized by these services according to their metadata, so it's important that the cataloging be accurate. Otherwise, your new acoustic country record could get mistakenly filed in the alt-doom-emo-crunk genre and never sell a single copy.
But keeping clean metadata isn't just an issue for budding indie artists looking to make their big break online. Non-rock artists, especially jazz and classical musicians, have borne the brunt of some of the most poorly organized metadata out there. This is largely because the new business models are often developed with only popular music in mind. Should Beethoven or the London Symphony Orchestra be listed as the performing artist for the LSO's recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony? It may sound like a superficial difference, but when you consider that webcasters use metadata in reporting what music they play and ultimately who gets royalty payments the need for more accurate tagging becomes clear.
In addition, metadata is moving beyond the basics of track and album names to include album art, song lyrics, artist biographies and more. As the scope of metadata grows, music applications on mobile platforms like smartphones and gaming devices will begin to rely on it. Eventually, the data itself may become an essential part of the product. Because of metadata's critical role in new business models, experts like Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, say that the music business has to focus its efforts on really good metadata.
There are several companies and organizations working to compile metadata records, and musicians should try to make sure the information about their music is complete and accurate when submitting their work to digital distributors, etc. Organizations like MusicBrainz and freeDB have developed databases that are open source, so it's easy for artists to submit new data or make corrections to anything that isn't right. Companies like Gracenote and Allmusic maintain and develop their own metadata sites and work directly with labels to obtain their data. But be prepared to still double-check your data to ensure it's all in order. Remember, your metadata may be the first thing a potential new fan ever sees or hears of your work, so it's important to keep track of it and make sure it's accurate. Especially if you're one of those new alt-doom-emo-crunk acts. . .