Music metadata: A product with a future

Published 11/14/2013

By Jean-Robert Bisaillon

Held May 6-7 in Los Angeles during Music Biz 2013, the first Music Industry Metadata Summit was attended by some 40 participants who discussed the future of music on digital media from the perspective of metadata. One of the event’s participants, DDEX’s Kirit Joshi, stated that while music continues to be what our senses perceive, metadata have become the real product.

What exactly does that mean, and what is music metadata?

Music metadata comprises sets of data that describe and provide information on an audio file, just as the vinyl record jacket or CD case and liner notes used to do. Without the descriptive information that comes with the “sound,” it is impossible to identify a musical work or recording online. In fact, none of the new music services – including streaming, downloading, and recognition or recommendations systems such as Shazam or Apple Genius – could operate without metadata. Consequently, your album would be very hard to locate or to discover online unless the proper music metadata have been used by such services in the first place.

This being said, there is still the problem of doing it right. How can you make sure that your music is properly indexed and sampled in today’s globalized networks? Interestingly, the DDEX people also claim that the current music metadata mess is impossible to clean up without the collaboration of multiple players and the help of our entire industry’s value chain. We are all aware of the intricacies of the copyright world. What happens if you add the interests of audio equipment firms and telecom and web actors to the mix?

More than ever before, we now have to deal with matters of musical diversity promotion, online equity, copyright application and royalty payments. The state and quality of music metadata may prove to be the key for all musicians and creative content.

I have been working since 2009 on a metadata research project whose findings can be found by downloading the Livre Blanc TGiT, my report (available in French only at on the TGiT software project.

Broadly speaking, my contention is that creators must take their future in their own hands by making sure (personally or through a trusted agency) that their musical works and sound recordings are properly indexed. I am currently creating a new tool that will make this an easy and even fun task for the first owner of such works: you, the songwriter!

In the end, the chances of ending up with information that refers to a non-existent music genre, or spells your name wrong, are greatly reduced when the music creator himself or herself is involved in the tagging process. After all, for a web robot, all it takes to derail a whole train is a single misplaced comma.

Stay tuned!

About Jean-Robert Bisaillon

Jean-Robert Bisaillon is a leading advocate in the fight for better working conditions for music creators and self-producers. He is an in-demand speaker and trainer in the areas of creative career management, cultural exports and digital music issues. He was the co-ordinator of SOPREF’s Amplified Music Forum in 1997-98 and, as a member of the French B group in the 1990s, was among the first Quebec musicians to use sampling. More recently, Jean-Robert created the digital culture research and training company iconoclaste-TGiT (“Tag It”). He’s a former or current member of many boards of directors, including those of SOCAN, Musicaction, the Songwriters Association of Canada (S.A.C.), the steering committee of Option culture/Virage numérique (SODEC/Quebec Ministry of Culture), Francouvertes, MUTEK, the Quebec Pop Music Task Force, CIBL-FM and the Board of Trade of Greater Montreal. Jean-Robert was the publisher and a co-writer of a pioneering sound recording self-production guide (Guide d’autoproduction de l’enregistrement sonore, 2002), a co-writer of the Guide pratique France-Québec du disque et du spectacle (2006, Paris, IRMA éditions) and the writer of SPACQ’s Petit guide Internet pour les auteurs et compositeurs (2008). He has completed an M.A. in Knowledge Mobilization at Montreal’s INRS–UCS (2013) with specialization in Music Metadata.

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