Karl Fowlkes

Why Is Proper Metadata In Music Is So Important?

Photo by dhe haivan on Unsplash

Bad metadata has cost producers and songwriters millions of dollars.

There is nothing I hate more than checking Spotify or Tidal and seeing incomplete metadata for a song. Not only is there a level of disrespect because giving people proper credit should be an afterthought, but often times producers are taking less money or no money at all to allow you to use there production. Additionally, many fail to realize how important the proper entering of metadata is on the business of songwriters and producers and to a lesser extent artists.

The metadata I am talking about is all the crucial information when a song or project is released including titles, songwriter and producer names, publishers, record labels, and other data points. When this information is not properly entered many songwriters and producer, in particular, are left without payment because the metadata from these releases are not synchronized across industry databases to make sure that when a record is played, the right people are paid.

Metadata seems like a complex concept but it’s really not, just get the proper names and information from the people who are involved with making the record and the proper backend business partners. That's it. However, if you go to the song credits on a streaming platform right now there will be some artists that you support who have uploaded tracks without crediting and entering the proper metadata in a song. This usually happens when an artist is independent, dropping a project without much fanfare or for a lack of a better word, lazy. On the other end, for a major label to release a song or project without proper metadata is completely unacceptable.

These mishaps in metadata happen at every level and part of the problem is a lack of a standard across the industry. At this time in music, with transparency and digital business at a premium, there needs to be an acknowledgment and understanding from the music business as a whole that proper metadata isn’t a plus it’s a necessity. There should be stricter consequences for major labels in producer agreements who fail to input proper metadata across all streaming platforms. Independent artists and labels alike should not shirk the responsibility of crediting and entering proper metadata as well.

While I will stop short of calling this a crisis, millions of dollars in unpaid royalties have not been paid out because of proper metadata not being entered. See Here. We call these Black-Box royalties. Black Box royalties are royalties that were earned but never paid out to any artist, composer or producer for a plethora of reasons, one being bad metadata.

This is all worrisome because songs and projects are being consumed and uploaded at a rapid pace and producer/songwriter compensation looks to be on the upswing. With that being said, if metadata remains spotty whats it all even matter?

We already know that songwriters and producers have been underpaid and undervalued for the longest of time but what makes the metadata issue even more disheartening is the lack of effort it takes to properly enter most song information. Entertainment Lawyer Jeff Becker of Swanson, Martin & Bell stated in a Verge article that, “Part of the problem is the fields everyone has chosen to write into their software to populate these credits are all different…So if a credit is sent to a database that says ‘Pro Tools engineer,’ but that database doesn’t have that field, they either choose to change it or ignore it altogether. Typically they ignore it, and that credit has nowhere to go.”

This aligns with my early assessment that what we need is universal standards for metadata and penalties and enforcement for those who don’t follow protocol. Bad metadata usually isn’t a simple oversite, its negligence that sometimes results in people not getting paid.

I am here to also acknowledge that some songs, especially in the pop and hip hop realm, are extremely difficult to credit all parties because of the number of songwriters, producers, and contributors involved. In addition to the people making the music, many of them are signed to publishing companies and record labels that make it even tougher to input the right information. This creates confusion and other difficulties in getting the right metadata. Understandable and less unconscionable as that is, it is even more important to input the right metadata in these instances because some of these pop and hip hop records stream at an astronomical pace.

For now, if you are a songwriter or producer stress to the artists and people you are working with to properly input your stage name, real name, publishing information and other details necessary for proper payment and recognition. What’s the purpose of signing split sheets and agreeing to terms if you will never be paid out?

On a grander scale as technology pushes into the music business the importance of metadata and data standards in music, call for higher levels of innovation, protocol and collaboration for all of the key parties involved including streaming platforms, major record labels, tech companies, and publishing companies. As we fight for transparency and a more equitable music business, metadata is crucial.

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Karl Fowlkes

Written by

Entertainment and Tech Attorney at The Fowlkes Firm l Music Industry Professor at Drexel U, Hip-Hop Professor at Rowan U l Email: kfowlkes@elawandbusiness.com

The Startup

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