McMurtry, a classical composer himself, explains he would pay less through independent-focused distributor like TuneCore or CD Baby than the likes of Naxos of America and Hamonia Mundi. But TuneCore doesn't distribute the classical genre to iTunes (it doesn't have the interface to add the extra information involved with classical music) and CD Baby -- McMurtry has been a customer for over 15 years -- "is able to handle some classical metadata."
Classical music faces unique metadata problems. Distributors and services typically focus metadata fields like artist, song title and album. That's fine for popular music but problematic for a genre with composers, orchestra, soloists, compositions and movements. That makes searching for desired music a less-than-enjoyable experience for classical music enthusiasts. In a July article about this metadata problem, NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas lamented that "classical music remains distant and inaccessible."
Within industry circles it's well known that metadata -- or descriptive information about recordings and compositions -- is currently a limitation that prevents digital music from reaching its full potential. Artists and rights holders can't be properly paid if digital services and performing rights organizations don't have full, accurate metadata. Similarly, digital services can't properly pay royalties without accurate metadata.
Beyond royalty payments, metadata problems extend to information about the recording. Who was the producer? Where was it recorded? Who were the session musicians? What instruments were used? This information would augment basic metadata and create new ways to link recordings. Want a playlist with tracks on which Nashville session musician Paul Franklin played pedal steel? As of today it's not possible.
There have been efforts to fix these problems. Over the last few years, Music Biz, the music industry trade organization, has been holding metadata summits and released a metadata style guide to provide standards for naming and managing digital music. And efforts are underway -- albeit without much discernable progress -- to create a global music registry. The U.S. Copyright Office's report on music licensing released in February recommended such a registry be created by private actors.
Non-classical musicians and labels can distribute their music through Dart, but the company is really a bet that classical metadata is a problem worthy of being fixed. "At our core, Dart is a music metadata company," says McMurtry. "We pride ourselves on creating the best music metadata in the world."