Recently, All Things Digital’s MediaMemo reported on some anonymous-insider murmurings (are there any other kind?) about Sony and other major labels prepping to launch a classical music-oriented digital store. (According to the rumors, jazz is a possibility as well.)
But why a genre-specific download store? Isn’t classical music available at other sites and services?
Sure, but the primary focus of the yet-to-be-named shop appears to be audio quality. MediaMemo reports that the label-backed retailer will offer high-quality, “lossless” downloads — surely a boon to audiophiliac classical music afficianados. But there’s another challenge facing the classical music downloads market that we hope the rumored Sony store is prepared to address.
One word: metadata.
Metadata — the descriptive “tags” associated with digital music files — help artists, digital music retailers, and listeners to organize and identify their music by labeling files with important but surprisingly overlooked info such as track name, album title, and release year. Clean metadata not only provides music fans the anal-retentive thrill of a well-organized iTunes library — it also enables accurate tracking of how digital music is used and who should get paid.
Unfortunately, when it comes to classical and jazz, the available metadata tends to be a mess. Former FMC intern Dan Eno (who, coincidentally or not, is Sony Music Entertainment’s Classical Catalog Manager) described the problem in a nutshell:
“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.”
We would hope that a new, classical and/or jazz-specific digital music store will have devised an elegant solution to the unique challenges of classical music metadata organization. Maybe it’ll help set a new standard for other sites and services, too.
And stay tuned for several focused discussions on data management for artists, labels and more at the 10th Anniversary Future of Music Policy Summit, which takes place from October 3-5, 2010 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.