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Music Metadata: What Is It? (and how to use it)

(c) 2020 by Tess Taylor

Photo by Justin Winokur

Metadata is the identifying information of the song.  It’s also called “tagging” (as in “be sure to tag your song”).  Keeping in mind that supervisors get oceans of music every day, and an MP3 will likely become detached from the email of the person who sent it and a CD will not necessarily stick with its case (assuming you even use CDs anymore – some people do, some supervisors even prefer CDs), your song (MP3) should have metadata so that someone who wants to license it knows where to find you and offer you money.  Clever people also use fields in the metadata to briefly describe their songs which enables a quick search by the user or supervisor, and is much faster than listening to a bunch of songs and therefore often preferred.

At a minimum you should include the following info and embed this in *each* track using iTunes or a program of your choice (there are a number of free alternatives out there):

– Your contact details including phone, email, Web site
– Song Title
– Songwriters – give split if more than one, can be written like this: Lennon / McCartney or this: Lennon 50% / McCartney 50%
– Artist
– Publisher(s) and Master Owner(s) – give splits if more than one owner, just like above example
– If your song is a one-stop, say so.

These extras you could include would be helpful but not necessary:

– Type of song or genre or mood
– Instrumentation (such as “male vocal, piano & guitar” or “ukulele, female vox, tuba”)
– Note if the song is an instrumental
– Any samples?  If so, include publisher details of sampled music.
– Is it a cover song?  Say so if it is.
– Any swearing?  If so, is a clean version available?
– Brief description of song (“epic orchestral” or “hard core hip hop” or “folktronica with a twist of jazz”)
– Any special characteristics of the songs such as “big build at 1:23”

Organization Is Key

Your metadata and how well organized it is says a lot about you.  Since people license based on faith that you own and control the rights that you say you do, if you do not know or if you fail to provide these basic details, then that’s a huge a red flag to an experienced music buyer that your admin leaves something to be desired.  An unknown in music licensing can be costly.  As in, large lawsuits, injunctions, projects halted, people fired, etc. and this is not an exaggeration.  The risk of the unknown, or incomplete or incorrect metadata, makes it far less likely for your material to be licensed.  If legal action or claims arise over a licensed song, it’s usually the producer or film / television studio that has licensed your material that will be sued or against whom a claim will be made.  We all hope to avoid this – it’s expensive and time-consuming.

This is one reason it’s hard to break in with A-game music supervisors and other music buyers,, it takes time to build trust with new music sources and people’s jobs are literally on the line if your information is incorrect, misrepresented or missing.

Being organized demonstrates your level of commitment and professionalism – a lot of it is just paperwork, none of it difficult, but there are lots of details.  If you plan to make a living in music, you must have your admin game DOWN.

Hope this helps.

Good luck!

Read more about Tess Taylor here or follow her here.