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What Is Music Metadata? Everything You Need to Know

What Is Music Metadata? Everything You Need to Know

Everything in our daily lives has gone digital over the past decade. From grocery shopping to working to making music and interacting with fans, there’s almost nothing that can’t be done online today, with very few exceptions. 

Recording, producing, releasing, and sharing music with fans can also be done online, and quite successfully, as we’ve seen during the Covid19 pandemic. Of course, no digital live stream or viral TikTok video can replace the feeling of playing and hearing your favorite songs live, but if you want to reach a wider audience and interact with fans from all around the world, technology is here to help. And artists have been quick to embrace technology, uploading and releasing their music on popular digital streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal, and engaging with fans via social media channels like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. 

In this digital age of music, learning the basics of the online music industry is essential for all artists, producers, songwriters, and other professionals in the business. Familiarizing yourself with things like taxes, social media algorithms, search engines, sponsored ads, digital PR campaigns, and under-the-hood things like SEO, ISRC codes, or music metadata can help you better manage your online presence and boost your brand in the online realm. 

Today we’re talking about music metadata. What is it, how does it work, and what you should know about it, to make sure your online artist profile is optimized to perfection. 

What exactly is music metadata?

Music metadata refers to all of the information related to a digital song file, including, but not limited to: the artist’s name, song title, genre, album, release year, songwriter, producer, mixing/mastering, country, track length, and anything else that might be relevant. The more detailed the metadata for a song, the better the chances of it being properly tracked in the digital streaming world for royalties collection and analytics. 

Consequently, it’s safe to say that the more information you can attach to a song before uploading it to Spotify or Apple Music, the more chances it will have to be picked up by algorithms and found by listeners. 

Why is music metadata important?

Think of metadata information like hashtags that allow your songs to be property identified, stored, and found online. It basically helps your music be discoverable, by both search engines and music fans on streaming platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, YouTube, or Pandora. If someone is exploring new music and is looking for a specific genre, having that genre attached to your song as part of the metadata will make it discoverable, so it’s a way of making sure that the right audience finds your music on the web. 

Another important thing to know regarding music metadata relates to royalties. If your music metadata is not complete with crucial publishing information such as artist name, producer, songwriter, or song title, those who are in the right will not be fairly compensated whenever their work is being streamed or downloaded. 

To ensure that everyone who contributed to the creation of a musical composition or a recording gets the royalties that they’re entitled to, it’s critical that you add complete and accurate metadata information to all uploads. It’s a simple first step that can save you a lot of trouble down the line, regarding royalties collection, credits for your work, sampling or remixing, and more. Missing or incomplete songwriter information is reported to be one of the most challenging issues faced by the digital music industry nowadays, and it’s an easy issue to avoid. 

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How does music metadata work? 

Think of metadata as a calling card laying out all the information someone might be interested in knowing when discovering one of your songs. Whether that’s the genre, the songwriter or composer, the album, release date, and more, it’s like a resume or bio attached to each piece of digital music. There are a few different types of music metadata to consider incorporating into your next release:

  • Descriptive metadata - this includes details such as song title, artist name, track number, release date, cover art, genre, album, and other things that can help listeners find and organize their music. This is the type of metadata that caters directly to the listener, offering them all the details they need to know about the music they listen to.

  • Ownership metadata - this type of metadata refers to things related to ownership and rights, including songwriter name, producer name, session musicians, and so on. It basically covers everyone who participated in creating the musical composition or recording, with the purpose of copyrights and fair compensation of royalties. This is the type of metadata that matters to distributors, and it ensures that anyone who deserves credit receives it whenever the song is streamed or downloaded. 

  • Recommendation metadata - while the first two types of metadata are entirely objective, this category is subjective, because it relates to how the piece of music sounds, in an effort to describe it and categorize it for potential listeners. For example, this type of metadata could include things like: ‘for fans of Daft Punk,’ or ‘for fans of southern metal.’ Anything that can help the search algorithm identify, organize, and recommend your songs to potential fans falls into this category. 
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Challenges of music metadata 

It all sounds pretty easy and logical: adding proper and complete metadata to your songs can help with royalties compensation, algorithm searches and recommendations, discovery, exposure, and streaming and sales data. Sounds great! Of course, it can’t all be quite as easy and perfect as it sounds, and unfortunately, even in these days of tech savviness, there are challenges when it comes to metadata. 

For one, metadata is highly prone to human error. Most of the descriptive and ownership metadata for a song is filled in by a human, and unfortunately, this is where most errors occur, leading to problems in royalties distribution, accurate sales tracking, and more. It’s quite easy for someone to include a typo in a field metadata, or to add the wrong release year, and other things like that. That leads to incomplete metadata, incomplete and inaccurate analytics, and it could even lead to legal troubles down the line. 

Another big issue related to the fact that there is currently no unified database structure that ensures all music metadata information is filled in correctly and in a standardized fashion. Metadata information can differ depending on who is filling it in, whether that’s an artist, a distributor, a label, and this can lead to mismatches. Think of it this way, you’re an artist filling in metadata for a new song, labeling it as ‘post rock.’ The distributor might also fill in metadata for the same release, but they add ‘post-rock’ as the genre, which means that algorithms won’t be able to match the two digital files. 

You can find a complete style guide relating to the use of music metadata released by the Music Business Association, which will guide you on how to make the best of this information to keep track of your work. 

Frequently asked questions

What is music metadata?

Music metadata refers to the descriptive information associated with a piece of music. It includes details such as the artist's name, album title, track title, genre, release date, composer, and other relevant information.

This metadata is crucial for organizing and categorizing music in digital libraries, streaming platforms, and music players. It helps users search for and discover music more easily, as well as provides context and background information about the music they are listening to. Additionally, music metadata can be used for royalty tracking, copyright management, and other administrative purposes in the music industry.

Why is metadata important?

Music metadata is essential for organizing, categorizing, and efficiently managing vast collections of music in digital libraries and streaming platforms. It enables users to easily search for, discover, and navigate through a diverse range of music by providing detailed information such as artist names, album titles, track titles, genres, and release dates. This metadata also facilitates personalized recommendations and curated playlists, enhancing the overall music listening experience for users. Moreover, accurate music metadata is crucial for royalty tracking, copyright management, and ensuring proper attribution to artists and composers, thereby supporting fair compensation and legal compliance within the music industry.

Join Xposure Music and gain access to some of the best music industry professionals in the U.S. Top experts from Sony, Columbia, Def Jam, or Universal have already joined our platform, and they’re ready to give invaluable, on-point feedback on your work, which can help you land that dream record deal or publishing deal you’ve been working towards. Sign up now and reap the rewards.

If you’re looking to kickstart your music career but have limited resources, we can help you get funding for your next project while staying in control of your own work and career trajectory. You keep 100% ownership of your masters and get an advance ranging from $1,000 to $3 million to get your career off the ground. Get an estimate now and start turning your dream into reality.

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Gregory Walfish
Co-founder of Xposure Music, Gregory Walfish stands at the intersection of music, tech, and culture. With a software engineering background, he's passionate about artist development and technology.

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