Panel: The Album Credit Ecosystem

Moderator: Maureen Droney, The Recording Academy

Alison Booth, Sony Nashville
Jon Maples, Rhapsody International
Ivy Skoff, Recording and Soundtrack Music Production Coordinator
Shane Tobin, The Echo Nest
Kevin Wyatt, Rovi

Faulty metadata may be stymieing the music industry's effort to accurately monetize content, but where the problem is created may be hard to find. Panelists discussed the topic on Tuesday at NARM's Music Biz 2013, being held in Los Angeles through May 9.

According to Ivy Skoff, a production coordinator consultant who heads up her own firm, a strenuous process takes place to insure metadata is correct, if only to pay the musicians and engineers who are involved in each recording.

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As a production coordinator, Skoff pulls data from all sessions, contracts and invoices related to each song title. She also creates a master first draft document from that data and then sends it to the producer and engineers who scrutinize it. They check it against their mix notes and send back corrections.

For example, Skoff might note that a musician played guitar on one track, but the engineer might add that the musician also played mandolin. After everyone is satisfied, that master document is sent to the artist’s camp, where the management adds in whatever credits the want, like equipment endorsements and “thank you” mentions. Finally, that gets sent to A&R administration at the record label.

Meanwhile, Sony Music Nashville VP of A&R administration Alison Booth says she isn’t just sitting around waiting on metadata from the studio, but is also creating her own document since she is receiving bills and paying people for the sessions.

"I am running a few days behind because I am not in the studio, but I receive bills from people pretty quickly because they want to get paid," Booth said. "We start with a skeleton, but that gets filled in as the sessions progress.”

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When they get the report form the production coordinator, she reconciles it with her own database to see who was paid and not listed. Moreover, Booth has to reconcile her information with the information on the masters, because the engineers are also making their own notes to accompany the masters. Finally, she added, "We don't just collect compiled credits, we link things to every song in our database."

From there Rovi, which produces the All Music Guide, tries to compile whatever data they can from each CD they receive. Rovi has a warehouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., which has 800,000 CDs where every piece of information on each CD has been scanned or manually entered into the company’s database. Additionally, Rovi augments the data with reviews and adds information about tone and mood, related artists and influences, all information that drives personalization, recommendation and playlisting, says Rovi director of business development Kevin Wyatt.

In the last year, Rovi has begun ingesting major label metadata feeds from labels, Wyatt said. "What's surprising is how thin the data feeds are," he said. "We are hoping to see producers, engineers and songwriters and we were hoping that would replace us having to do it manually. But we found we have to do both."

Sony Nashville's Booth says that sometimes production deadlines result in the so-called thin files.

Meanwhile, the Echo Nest, through a deal with EMI, provides app developers with music and metadata to create apps. An example of a jazz app that Groove Bug created for the Blue Note label would show liner data for an album by Hank Mobley and musicians that played on it, like bass player Butch Warren and if you clicked on the bass player to see his bio and other records that Warren played on.

That approach is very much the direction that Rhapdsody is taking, according to Rhapsody VP of product and content Jon Maples. "We are trying to retain as many customers as we can and attract new customers," he said. "So taking artist metadata to create a rich experience for our customers that not only drives knowledge but discovery fits right into our wheelhouse."

So if you go to a Billy Joel album, you can see the credits like Phil Ramone produced it, and from there you can click through to see what else he has produced. "We want people to stay longer on our site, we call it extending life time duration, and we give our subscribers the tools so they can go down the rabbit hole on their own,” Maples said.

One panelist raised the issue that young music fans nowadays don't seem to care about who played on or produced an album. But if services start providing this data, then the industry will be able to see whether it matters, said Echo Nest's director of strategic partnerships Shane Tobin. Moreover, moderator Maureen Droney, senior executive director of the Record Academy's producers and engineers wing, said that even the notion that the young don't care about sound quality may no longer be valid.