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December 5, 2020

How to be a pro artist using metadata

Metadata – arguably the boring side of music, but to the pros it’s “all part of the process”.

Why

When you understand your metadata, you understand your rights, splits and licensing. Being a pro with metadata is part of being a professional artist.

Metadata is the data which accompanies a track, used for archiving, categorizing and sorting. When you find music on Spotify, iTunes, Discogs or any other service or platform that hosts music with categorization and search functionality, this will be sorted by metadata.

If your metadata isn’t right from the moment you release and distribute your music, you will be categorized incorrectly and your music will not be found where it’s supposed to be.

When we consider pitching our music to people we want to hear it, think about how that music might be stored on their systems. They go hunting down a genre of music they need or see a post on social media which reminds them to find and revisit that track you sent them that one time… you can start to see why having correct metadata is important 😬

Metadata is different for each and every track, and if you have different versions of the same track there will be further variations in the metadata between each version.

Here we will be focused on the information that goes in each song’s metadata. Worth mentioning now, there is a metadata field called ‘Album’, which is the one used to group songs together into a higher level collection. If your track is [being] released as part of an EP or LP, you can put that title in this field. Otherwise, it can often be used by libraries and agents to categorize and package your songs for their internal use.

When

First and foremost, when you fill out your metadata can be a huge assist in getting it done and ready. 

If you make metadata part of your creation process, it feels much more like it’s all part of the process of music creation – and less like an admin task that’s needing to be scrambled together and done as part of music distribution and pitching. 

Once your finished track is created, if you are mastering your own work, most DAWs will allow you to bounce an MP3 version with metadata.

In addition to creating an MP3 version, you’ll also want to create a separate database (which could be as simple as a spreadsheet) to track all of your metadata in one place, so if it’s requested from anybody you know where it is and it’s ready to go. 

If you haven’t done that until now, there’s no time like the present to review your catalogue, get your metadata together into a sheet and put your back catalogue to work by submitting it to be considered for sync representation.

Now we’ll get into what metadata consists of…

Song Title

This seems simple, but there is a bit of formatting technicality when it comes to featured artists and different versions.

A featured artist becomes relevant when a track is written/performed by a primary artist, and another artist collaborates on the track – but the artists want to be credited separately as the creators of the song.

If you’re looking for a featured artist, don’t forget you can use the Vampr app to find and connect with musicians, songwriters, singers, composers and producers all over the world!

The decision of who is the primary artist and who is the featured artist typically comes down to a mutual agreement about who has the most “credits” (songwriter/composition/production) in the song, or who it benefits most from a brand perspective to be the “face” of the release. 

If you have a featured artist, the artist should be featured in the title. We’ll talk a bit more about featured artists in the Composer and Grouping sections, but for now let’s look at how the Song Title works:

The primary artist should be left out of the Song Title, but the featured artist should be stated here. This is because the primary artist goes in the Artist field, but the featured artist doesn’t.

So, a song by Jimmy Rick called “Freaky Soup”, featuring Princess, would have the Song Title “Freaky Soup (feat. Princess)”.

The other time Song Title is particularly relevant is when you have more than one [recording] version of a song. There are various version types, such as; Instrumental, Acoustic, Remix & Acapella.

Again, you would put the version in brackets following the title itself:

“Freaky Soup (Acoustic)”

Artist

The Artist field should only contain the primary artist. This could also be a band name. In our example above, this would be “Jimmy Rick”.

The reason that this is important is because it helps sort the catalogue and discography to the right categories on databases. If this metadata is filled correctly, the track/release would correspond to the primary artist’s main discography, and show as a “credit” for the featured artist(s).

Composer

The composer field is where things get a little more tricky. 

The composer name should be the legal name of the credited writer(s), not the artist alias they perform under, but this depends what name you have registered under with your PRO.

You will typically credit every writer involved, the percentage of credits they have for the composition and all of their Performance Rights Organization (PRO) identification numbers, known as CAE/IPI numbers.

This should be relatively simple if you’re signed to a PRO, as your ID number will be available to you from their site or in their correspondence.

Getting an ID number from other artists can be trickier. 

In the instance of any collaboration, you should always be filling out a split sheet with your other collaborators. With this, you agree to the splits of the ownership of the song and take note of your collaborators PRO CAE/IPI numbers. 

If your collaborator isn’t registered to a PRO (as a friend, you should recommend they should be 😉), you can leave that out in the song metadata – but always outline the credit split.

Your Composer metadata should look as follows:

“Elliott John Gleave (50%) (PRS #00045620792) / Jimmy Rick (50%) (PRS #00045620793)”.

If there is another writer:

“Elliott John Gleave (25%) (PRS #00045620792) / Jimmy Rick (50%) (PRS #00045620793) / Tim Burtford (25%) (PRS #00045620793)”.

The percentages should reflect whatever was agreed upon between yourself and your other collaborators.

Year & BPM

These are relatively easy, so we’ve grouped them together for sake of ease.

The Year is the year of RELEASE for the version of the recording in question. If the song is unreleased, the Year will be the current year.

BPM is the tempo of the song. This is usually known at the time of creation of the song, but if stuck, you can use a metronome to help find the BPM. Digital tools can help find the average BPM of songs which change tempo.

Grouping

Grouping is another of the more ‘tricky’ fields of metadata.

Where Composer above helped identify the splits of the writers, Grouping helps identify the owners of the copyrights. 

There are 2 primary copyrights involved with every recording of a song:

Publishing: This copyright protects the ownership and use of the composition and lyrics of a song.

Master Right: This copyright protects ownership and use of the recording of a song.

There’s lots to talk about when it comes to these two different rights, but the most common example of explaining the difference is when we talk about covers.

People who want to cover a song wish to make a new rendition of the recording of the song. Therefore, they don’t need to obtain permission to use the ‘Master Right’, because it won’t be using that recording. However, they do still need to obtain the right to use the composition and/or lyrics – so the right to use them (“obtaining a license”) is required. 

You can see how tricky this would get if somebody used (sampled) a recording of a song (the ‘Master Rights’) in their recording, that was written by 4 different unpublished writers. The person who sampled, if they wanted to be law-abiding, would need to know who all of those rights holders are to obtain their permission to use the sample. Grouping greatly helps with this process, as well as if a Music Supervisor wants to license a recording, or song to be covered, to be used in a movie, TV show, game, advert, commercial, trailer, or any other “synchronisation (music synchronised to picture)” use.

Often, an independent artist will approach Grouping and think… I’m not signed! How do I fill this out?

The answer to this is more simple than it seems. If you haven’t signed your rights to a record label or publisher, then you are your own record label and publisher!

Now, if you have signed to a record label or publisher, then you need to know how much of that right you have signed (this is usually 100% for an agreed duration, with the “exclusive licensee” paying back a percentage of royalties to the artist(s) for an agreed term). 

Here are some examples…

If you have signed a song to a record label, but kept your publishing rights, your Grouping might look like this:

“Bigg Bangg Records (100% M) / Jimmy Rick (100% S/P)”

If you have signed both your master rights to a record label and your publishing rights to a publisher, your Grouping might look like this:

“Big Bangg Records (100% M) / Vampr Inc. (100% S/P)”

If you have unsigned collaborators with master and publishing credits, your grouping might look like this:

“Elliott John Gleave (50% M 25% S/P) Jimmy Rick (50% M 50% S/P) Tim Burtford (25% S/P)”

The “M” means master rights holder, the “S/P” stands for “Sender/Publisher”. 

If you have somebody representing your music, they would signify in the Grouping that they have 100% permission from all publishing owners to represent that track on behalf of the owners, deeming the song “pre-cleared / one stop” for licensing.

Comments

When you assign an agent the right to represent tracks on your behalf, you typically give them permission to enter a deal in your name.

Before you get to that stage, you have to ensure that all copyright owners have agreed to this representation.

This deems the music “pre-cleared” or “one-stop” for the representative agent party, and makes it easier for licensees to move forward with licensing a track, knowing that they don’t have to go to multiple parties to obtain permission for usage. 

If you have this arrangement, you should put the name and contact information of that representative (this could be a sync agent or a manager) in this field. If you don’t, then you would put your own name and contact information.

Your Comments would look like this:

“For licensing, contact Josh Smith at Vampr Publishing: [email protected]

Mix Version

Referring back to the Song Title, there are often different recorded versions of a track. The version of the track should [also] be referenced in this field.

Each Mix Version should also be registered with a Collective Management Organization (CMO) that exists to register the copyright of master recordings, and each will be assigned their own International Standard Recording Code (ISRC – see below).

ISWC

You get a unique International Standard Musical Works Code (ISWC) every time you register a new “work” (composition/song) with your PRO.

ISWC identifiers are commonly written in the form T-123.456.789-C

PRS, in the UK, generates ‘Tunecodes’ (which also begin with “T-”) and can be used in placement of ISWC if you have stated the track is registered with PRS.

ISRC

Like an ISWC but for recordings, ISRC stands for International Standard Recording Code. These can be issued from a Collective Management Organization (like PPL in the UK), or auto-generated by your distributor when you release music online.

Your Metadata To-Do List

✅ Register as writer/composer with PRO

✅ Sign split sheet with collaborators

✅ Fill out your metadata in an MP3 version of your track using ID3 tags from your DAW

✅ Register your work with your PRO

✅ Register your recording with your CMO or distributor to get an ISRC number – keep a seperate record of this

✅ Store all of your metadata in a spreadsheet with correct formatting, so you can quickly pull it out when requested

✅ When you have a bigger catalogue, consider using a more efficient system for metadata collection and archiving