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State of Play

October 25, 2012
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As the music industry continues to evolve, a major component of the consumer experience has been left behind: listeners’ awareness of the people, skills, and intention that went into creating it. Those album covers, sleeves, and booklets we used to pore over— the credits, liner notes, lyrics, artwork, etc.—haven’t really made the leap from physical to electronic distribution.

It used to be common for music buyers to scour the back cover to learn who the players were, who wrote the songs, who produced them, where and by whom they were recorded, and to read the liner notes. From lyrics to “special thanks,” this information gave listeners a personal relationship with the artist. It informed them about the intent and the process of creating the recording.

Today, due to technological advances welcomed by creators and fans alike, we can use our smart phones to identify a particular song or album. But almost all music services—whether purchase or subscription based—only show consumers the name of the song, the artist, and perhaps, a copy of the CD cover. Technology has left credits, and a wealth of other information, behind.

However, proper crediting and documentation—a.k.a. metadata— actually plays a much more important role for artists in the digital age. Artists, labels, and other royalty stakeholders now have compelling business and financial reasons to ensure that accurate metadata is collected and linked to their creative works.

If you’re a music creator and you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering, “But how am I supposed to do this?” That’s a reasonable question, because, currently, it’s not readily apparent which metadata should be collected in what form, or where it’s supposed to go.

But the landscape of metadata collection and distribution is changing—in a positive way. Much of this work has been under the radar, as the creation of metadata standards doesn’t make for sensational headlines. But without these standards, creative stakeholders aren’t going to be properly credited. Even more important, in a number of scenarios where their music is played or downloaded, those stakeholders also might not get paid. Given the fact that many such payments are fractions of a cent, it is more critical than ever that we have a unified, well-structured standard for those payments to be credited appropriately.

A number of U.S. and global organizations have been working to create this structure. One of the leaders in the e-commerce standardization process is DDEX (ddex.net), an entity working with labels, aggregators, and e-commerce providers to create standardized XML (Extensible Markup Language) messaging suites for electronic releases and digital sales reporting. CISAC (cisac.org) has created the International Standard Naming Identifier or ISNI (isni.org), an International Standards Organization (ISO) specification for unique personal identifiers that assigns to performers and creative participants a unique numeric code without releasing any private information such as social security numbers. Additionally, The Recording Academy® and its Producers & Engineers Wing® (grammy.org) are deeply involved with the standards process in several ways, from the newly launched “Give Fans the Credit” advocacy campaign (givefansthecredit.com), to working with media- and data-management company BMS/Chace and the Library of Congress in creating standards for the collection of technical, descriptive, and performer information during the recording process (CCCdata.com).

All of these initiatives will play significant roles in the continued development of the standards process, which ultimately will enable content creators to collect metadata in a variety of ways. Whether via dedicated app, web portal, or DAW integration, creators will be able to provide XML output containing rich, standardized metadata. This will help everyone, from content creators to resellers, to provide accurate documentation, and facilitate proper crediting and payment.

So what can we do while the standards are still being created?

• Producers, take ownership of the documentation process; work with the artist to collect and document accurate information and assign credits. If you’re not personally collecting the appropriate metadata, assign the task to a trusted assistant.

• Deliver as much metadata as possible to the label along with the final recorded masters.

• If you are self-producing your project or are an independent artist, make sure you keep as much documentation as possible.

• Visit givefansthecredit.com and sign the petition. Help us show how much credits matter—both within our industry and to music fans.

The bottom line is that all participants in the music industry— from artist to producer to label to digital music provider—have a role to play if we want our credits back.

Maureen Droney is Senior Executive Director of The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing producersandengineers.com). John Spencer is President and co-founder of BMS/Chace (bmschace.com.

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