Monday, January 11, 2010

Listen to This: On the Beat

I listen to On The Beat with Celia Hirschman every week. Her show covers all aspects of the music business. Her show last Wed 1-06-10 was great primer on what I think is the largest challenge for musicians-managing metadata.

This is an issue I've been intrigued with my whole life. The lifeblood of the music business is music. I've been fascinated with the music business since I was a kid-reading about what happened to the Beatles, John Fogerty and others with song rights (not to mention a bunch of blues & jazz artists). Writers & publishers need to keep track of the vital information to track record sales to get paid correctly. The real salvo in the digital rights/payment war was fired when SoundScan was implemented in 1991. The record business changed overnight. The next week when Billboard printed the SoundScan listings, some dude name Garth Brooks was all over the charts. There's always been fishy ways the record industry counted record sales-calling stores, paying DJs for playing singles to boost numbers, using shipping information (and not counting returns), etc.

With digital distribution, a guy like me can release a professional album to the masses, monitor sales and collect funds for those sales. SoundScan, though, figures to be less involved in the future of monitoring these sales. From the transcript of the show:

"Today, SoundScan collects data from their network of participating retailers and creates a myriad of sales reports for their clients. With SoundScan, labels are able to see which albums are selling best in what regions, artists are able to focus their tours in areas which have the greatest sales, and record stores can prioritize their album purchasing. Everyone can see just how well an artists' record is doing. This system works very well within the closed system of the old record business. But the digital age has brought a more disruptive philosophy in the music business. Many do-it-yourself musicians couldn't care less about SoundScan, and that's where the point of sales system falls apart.

Today, artists big and small release their music through digital retailers like iTunes, CD Baby and eMusic. And while these online retailers report all sales to SoundScan, SoundScan only recognizes those titles registered in their system. While the cost to register an album with SoundScan is free, it's that one extra step that many indie bands miss or ignore. And the result is a skewed landscape that doesn't accurately reflect true sales.

While this is disheartening, the SoundScan problem just underscores a much bigger issue in the record business. That is the issue of metadata management. Metadata is the bits of information that surround a song – for instance the publishers, the writers, the label, the musicians, the bar code and the owners. That metadata, while seemingly trivial, is actually the bread and butter of the new business. While protecting intellectual copyright is most definitely the overarching concern of the record industry, it's the good management of information behind the songs that will ultimately seed a strong and fair business environment. According to SoundScan, in 2009, over a billion tracks were sold. That's a lot of data to manage.

While many well-meaning organizations lay claim to managing pieces of the metadata pie, there's not one organization in the US that handles the complete scope. Not one. For musicians, accurately protecting the current landscape is one of the most important issues of the new year."

I'm watching my metadata for 2010.