Music Executives Tackle Metadata's 'Toothbrush Syndrome' at Music Biz 2013

Music Biz Metadata Panel, from Left: Michael Doernberg of ReverbNation, Michael Drexler of BMI, Vinnie Freda of Isolation Network, Jonathan Bender of SoundExchange, Barak Moffit of Universal, Steve Savoca of Spotify. Credit: National Association of Recording Merchandisers.

Metadata is not one of those sexy topics you bring up at a cocktail party -- unless, perhaps, it’s directly tied to your livelihood and how much money you stand to earn.

That was one conclusion from a panel of top executives in the music industry speaking at the Music Biz conference taking place this week in Los Angeles. The panel is part of a larger program developed by the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers (NARM) to tackle the migraine-inducing subject of metadata, the digital information attached to tracks and albums.

Bottom line: “If [the data’s] no good, people don’t get paid,” said Jonathan Bender, chief operating officer of SoundExchange.

For example, tagging a track as being from “Thirty Seconds to Mars” as opposed to “30 Seconds to Mars” could lead to royalties being paid to the wrong band, or no band at all.

A major problem facing the industry stems from a lack of a common standard resulting from companies creating proprietary databases, all with different ways of labeling and categorizing information.

“It’s the toothbrush syndrome,” said Barry Smith, senior VP of West10 Entertainment. “We all need one. We all want one. We all have one. But we won’t use anyone else’s unless it’s an emergency.”

What data should remain proprietary and what should be open as part of a broader industry standard is “the biggest question we face,” said Michael Doernberg, chief executive of ReverbNation, a digital marketing platform used by 2.8 million.

To help answer that question, Barak Moffitt of Universal Music Group suggested that music data should be divided into two general buckets -- data that makes sure artists and labels get paid, and data that helps to better promote the music. Moffitt suggested that data that ensures artists get paid properly should be standardized, while marketing data remain proprietary.

“When it comes to paying artists, there should be little argument” that the data should be standardized, Moffitt said.

Standards that ensure certain pieces of information are all reported exactly the same way by everyone also helps the industry by streamlining licensing and royalty payments. “Having standards takes cost out of the system,” Bender said.

Standards also help reduce errors, Bender said.

From a consumer standpoint, accurate metadata is important because it helps deliver more relevant search results, said Steve Savoca, Spotify’s head of content.

One of the best ways to reduce errors, Moffitt said, is to “tap into the self interest of everyone in the industry” whose livelihoods depend on accurate data.

“If you can do this, everything else will take care of itself,” Moffitt said.