Monthly Archives: February 2013

Free the Music Metadata!

So if you read my last post about the SFMusicTech, you know that I’m back on a music metadata kick.  While I’m sure I was a little more in-tuned to it because of work that I am doing with one of my clients, it seems like I heard ‘if we just had the metadata’ a lot at this conference.  This is something that I have been thinking about for a long time (lets say since 2007 when I first registered the, so I’m going to try and pull my current thoughts together around this.

So to begin with, what is this magical metadata, and how does it help us?  The short answer is it’s the information about all the music you like to listen to – the track title, artist, release year, genre, etc.  How does this help us?  It depends on who you are.  If you are a music consumer, it can help you find what you want to listen to, as well as learn interesting facts about that music and perhaps find cool related music.  If you are an artist or label, proper metadata helps get you paid.  In this digital age, where we are buying or renting (streaming) ‘bits’ instead of plastic discs, payment comes from identifying and reporting on these tracks; this is why you will find a lot of passion in the industry about proper metadata.

So whats the problem then?  The problem is that currently there is no authoritative, freely available source of metadata that is used across the industry.  Currently there are many islands of metadata controlled by different organizations with different agendas; generally this data is hard to obtain, and once obtained, there is no good way to tie it all together.

So whats the solution?  I think it really comes down to follow the money.  Currently there is a lot of money clogging up the system, both figuratively  and literally.  By providing a way to make this money flow more effectively, we may be able to fix the problem.  The challenge is there are incumbents that would rather sit on this money, and it is going to take a bit of both carrot and stick in order to get them to move.

I’m going to further explain and explore possible solutions to this problem over the next couple of posts.  In the meantime, join the conversation.  Is this a problem that only a few of us metadata geeks care about, or is this a larger problem that needs solving?

#SFMusicTech Summit XII Wrap Up

Metadata, metadata, metadata.  With the switch to digital, everything relies on metadata, and right now the system is broken.  The gatekeepers don’t want to let it go, and the new players haven’t figured a good way around them.  This was the theme going through my head long before the ‘Towards a Credits, Rights & Terms of Use Database’ panel capped the day off.  From Brad Prendergast of Sound Exchange complaining about the state of the data that they receive from webcasters (and subsequently delaying payment of moneys owed to artists), to East Bay Ray wanting a way to track all the content on pirate sites so artists could get paid their fare share of ad revenue,  it kept coming back to a source of high quality metadata that people could freely use.

Here are the highlights of the panels I went to.

Community Conversation: Internet Radio

Kurt Hanson of RAIN, along with Brad Prendergast from SoundExchange led this discussion.  It was interesting to learn more from the people directly playing in this field.  The good news is that there is money to be made through in-stream advertising and banner ads, the bad news – it doesn’t come close to covering the costs paid out to Sound Exchange, let alone support you.  Brad did a good job of deflecting the arrows shot at him regarding rates, and just presenting ‘the facts’.  One of those facts, which I already knew, was that the data that Sound Exchange receives is in terrible shape.  They have their repertoire database which does a good job of decoding this, but this problem is one of the reasons there is so much unclaimed moneys.  If we had a good source of metadata, and everybody used this, that would help…

How Musicians are Making Money

This was where the entertainment really started.  Meant to be a discussion around how musicians can make money, it was soon coopted by ‘East Bay Ray‘ of the Dead Kennedys as a rant against music piracy and Google/You Tube’s low payout rates.  Antony Bruno, the moderator did his best to reign him in, but there was little he could do.  Steve Rennie, the manager of Incubus, did a good job of providing the counterpoint of quit bitching and live in the current world and figure out how to make money.  Poor Kristin Thomson of the Future of Music Coalition was hardly able to get a word in edgewise.

How We Will Experience Music in the Future

This was a standing room only panel where the emotions were running high, all off of one statement made by Max Weisel.  Max made the assertion that someday a computer will be able to create the perfect music for YOU!  Not recommend, but actually create the music, cutting the human being out of the relationship.  This created a firestorm.  Dave Allen did his best to ‘play the adult’ and temper Max, but Max would have nothing of it, and even went so far as to play a bad piece of violin music that was entirely computer generated.

Intellectually I believe that Max is correct, emotionally, I hope he is dead wrong.

Data / Analytics Eating the World

This panel revolved around the how analytics has changed many different industries, from politics to fashion. I found the fashion industry comparisons very interesting, as it is similar to the music industry – based around creativity, and you never quite know what is going to cause the next big hit.  Analytics can help for tracking and predicting the mainstream, but not the outliers.  My take away from this panel – track everything!

Towards a Credits, Rights & Terms of Licensing Database

I was really looking forward to this panel, but in the end, I was a bit disappointed   I guess with all the heated debate shown throughout the conference, I expected a bit more passion – there was some, but nothing compared to last Summit’s metadata panel, where everybody was agreeing that all parties need to work together to solve the problem, but you could see everybody pointing at the other person behind their backs. I heard Zoë Keating saying that we need to figure out how to give the credit so artists could get paid, and she is ‘happy’ to enter her data in order to get there. I heard David King, one of the creators of YouTube’s ContentID system, say that this is a hard problem that costs a lot of money to create and maintain, and once created the data providers don’t want that data in the public, or else Google would have graciously solved this problem for us years ago. I heard Robert Kaye of MusicBrainz talk about the wonders of being a metadata hippie and the life of open, and how if people would just use the MusicBrainz ID…   And then I heard Kevin Lewandowski of Discogs talk about using open data to solve a business problem.

What I didn’t hear was anything from the incumbents – where were the publishers, SoundExchange, PRO’s, the labels. What is going to make their life’s easier if this data becomes freer, or why do they need to keep it locked up.  I didn’t really hear any solutions except that maybe someone should sue the PRO’s to try and get them to release their data.

To me, Discogs is going in the right direction.  There needs to be a business reason to support free data, free data in itself doesn’t quite work.  The challenge becomes how to keep the data free, how to not become one of the incumbents who’s life depends on closed doors, contracts, and NDA’s.  Stay tuned, I will have a post up around this soon.

Wrap Up

I love the SFMusicTech conference – Brian Zisk does a great job of putting on an interesting, affordable show, and most importantly, securing plenty of free beer.  This was a great show and now I’m looking forward to the next one.  If you are in the industry, make sure you don’t miss it.