Metadata Confusion Costing the Industry More than Money, Delegates Told at NARM ‘Music Biz’ Summit

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.

Misspellings, multiple identities for a single artist, and multiple release dates are costing the music industry a lot of money and causing great confusion among customers, according to a day-long summit on metadata held at the NARM "Music Biz" gathering at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

As the music industry becomes more dependent on digital revenue, clean, authoritative metadata becomes increasingly important, which can have an impact not only on sales but also on payment to the rights holders.

At Spotify, incorrect metadata can result in lost sales opportunities. For example, Beyonce's music has been serviced to Spotify in three different ways, one with her name without the accent over the last letter in her name, another with the accent but also with the addition of Knowles, her last name; and also as Beyonce & Shakira, with the metadata listing both artists as a single entity instead of as separate artists.

So while Spotify can create fixes when customers are making searches to link all three, it is a whole other matter to change all the metadata manually. Consequently, if Spotify subscribers follow Beyonce, they won't know if a new track or album comes out under Beyonce Knowles or as Beyonce & Shakira.

"We want all the Beyonce content on one artist page so that the users and followers can find it easily," said Spotify's label relations and content operations lead Ron Ubaldo.

For example, when "Accidental Racist was delivered to Spotify, it came in as Brax Paisley and LL Cool J." I can tell you that Brax Paisley is not getting a lot of listens," Ubaldo added.

Another situation is what happens when "an artist wakes up one morning and decides we hate the way we spelt our name," Ubaldo asked. He answered that 30 Second To Mars, which has put out three albums under that name, but now has decided that it wants to be known as Thirty Seconds To Mars. Spotify can put the new album in under that name, but it can't manually change all the metadata so that it migrates all the data under the old spelling to the new page.

Yet, artists do that. Prince decided to become a font for 10 years and younger artist decide to change their names as they get older. "We have to build tools that are system-wide solutions,” Ubaldo said. “We can't just create tools for one artist.”

Beyond names, album release dates are becoming a problem, said Rhapsody International senior program manager of content operations Brad Kovacs.

By having separate release dates for digital sales, streaming and different territories, its resulting in less promotion for a title. But beyond that, release date nowadays means more than one date; i.e. when can a new release information go up and when can track data be listed, when is the pre-order date and when can the title be streamed? Another problem is the original release date, Kovacs added.

When a title is reviewed in Pitchfork but can't be found at the music services, it creates confusion for the customers and subscribers.

"Where is the complexity from release dates coming from?" Kovacs asked the audoence. "Why are albums being released in different countries on different dates," in a world where the consumer is getting global information?

According to label executives sitting in the audience, sometimes artist availability and chart timing impacts releases to come out at different times in different countries.

For example, if an artist is touring, the label might hold up the release to time it for the tour, said one audience member. Another audience member said that different countries have different organization putting together charts and the different charting periods could also impact which days albums are released.

"No artist wants to lose one minute of charting time," said one label executive. For a big artist that could make the difference in coming in at No. 1 or No. 5. So if different country's charts use different timeframes to collect data, then the album's release is timed to maximize sales, according to each different time frame.

There are 350 digital music service providers around the world and "a lot of redundant money is being spent because each company is building its own solution," says NARM VP of digital strategy and business development Bill Wilson, who also oversees for the trade group. "NARM is trying to become a central hub to deal with these issue so we can help you same money."

Sometimes, it can come from creating industry standards in conjunction with other metadata organizations like DDEX, GRD, ISNI, and sometimes NARM can help settle issues by creating a dialog around it. Maybe a discussion on charting timeframe can help solve some of the issues around multiple release dates for a title he said. But the main message is, "we want to be the fulcrum to solve such issues," Wilson added.

Getting back to streetdate, Wilson wondered if he would have to be resigned to seeing Kiss'

"Dressed To Kill" album as a 2007 release, as it is identified on most services because of the data supplied by the label, instead of a 1975 release?

Labels try to capitalize on reissues by just giving the new release date not the old release date. Besides, labels answered that in the physical world there is no such thing as a single release date because of the release dates by territory. Other times, they may not have that data any longer because written records weren't computerized or because labels acquire other labels and sometimes the correct information doesn't get forwarded. But digital music service providers say they would be happy to just know what year albums came out so that they can present the album as part of a discography.

What about letting the music services know about release dates in advance and be able to share information in advance with subscribers, was a question asked during the day. Sony Network Entertainment director of music services Anu Kirk says that while it is important that subscribers listen to the music on the service, it’s more important to the services if they continue to subscribe. "I am in the business of whether my subscriber will be there next month," he says. "If I can tell the customer what's coming in the next month," that may help to induce them to keep subscribing. "But now I can't tell them that," he says.

During a panel on how different specialty genres like classical and electronic dance music have specific metadata needs not even being address in most of the industry dialogs, some panelist and audience member posited that after 13 years of trying to get data right, the industry may not have progressed that much in getting it right.

When an executive in the audience from eMusic was asked about data quality from rights holders, he said it’s not as good as it was in 2000. But that's because back then eMusic used to rip CDs from indie labels and copy the metadata in themselves. Now they get datafeeds from all suppliers including the majors, although they still have to rip CDs from some labels who still can't deliver music digitally. "We can't handle 23 million tracks manually," he said.

But panel moderator Scott Ambrose Reilly, CEO of X5 North America, posed the question, "Are we giving up quality [data] for quantity?"

Earlier, Ralph Peer gave a report on GRD, the Global Repertoire Database. Peer reported that the GRD participants had completed the recommendation phase of what it should consist of and it’s currently in the requirement and design phase, which will be completed next month. The construction phase begins in December 2013 and is expected to be completed in early 2015.

A key element is that the software be both designable and scaleable and it has so far passed the test. All the song information is already available in various databases and our job is to bring it together in one place so the license can see where they have to go to get permission in any given country.

Other data issues that create confusion in the industry occurs when someone owns a title in one territory and some other label owns it in another territory, or when a title is public domain in one territory buy still under copyright protection in other territories. Or when tracks are on multiple releases, that also creates a "rights collision," said one audience member.

Scott Ambrose Reilly, CEO of X5 North America said he was shocked to see 200 people in the room for a discussion on metadata.

"Its amazing that you have 200 people in a room from your industry talking about metadata," said Thad McIlroy, the author of "The Metadata Handbook," which he wrote for the book industry. "In the book industry, we could hold a meeting for the people interested in metadata in a booth in a coffeeshop.”