Metadata for Songwriters: Everything You Need to Know

Metadata is one of the most essential, yet troublesome parts of the modern music industry. Millions of dollars never make their way to the right songwriters because of inconsistent recording data. Because music can be distributed globally through multiple services like Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, etc, the difficult responsibility of tracking the usage, assigning it to a specific songwriter, and ensuring the royalties are paid out correctly can become even more so without the proper data.. Instead, this information gets stuck and held by different pay sources, in what music industry professionals have dubbed the ‘black box’, or unallocated royalties. To ensure you’re collecting all of your royalties, your song’s metadata has to be correct. 

Follow along as we explain what metadata is, why it's important, and identify some important items you should ensure you have on record for your songs. Let’s go.

What is metadata? 

Metadata is the specific information about your song. A few common examples are release date, record label, publisher, and writer(s) information. There are a few significant times throughout your journey as a songwriter where metadata will be important, including when you:

  • Distribute a song or album
  • Register your song(s) or album for music publishing (both with a collection society and/or with a publisher)
  • Legal or copyright dispute
  • Resolving a split/claim dispute
  • Pitching a song for creative opportunities (sync)

Example: During Distribution

Let’s give an example, for instance, during distribution. As this is generally the first step songwriters take once a song or album is complete, you’ll be starting with minimal metadata such as the song name, genre, length, whether it’s explicit or not, release date, songwriters, etc. Once you input your metadata with a distributor*, they will then generate unique IDs for your recording, called ISRCs, International Standard Recording Code, which is assigned to the song itself, or UPCs, Universal Product Code, which are assigned to products such as an album or EP, once registered, which adds a new datapoint to your song’s overall metadata information.  These act as a unique identifier to your recording or product. This data may seem like a formality, but without it, your song wouldn’t be able to be identified amongst the millions already out there. Giving all this information helps to ensure that all rights-holders will be paid for the use of your sound recording(s).

*Note: A distributor isn’t the only entity to issue ISRC or UPC codes, but most commonly will. If you self-distribute or you have released songs and plan to work with a distributor, they can be purchased by the songwriter and provided to the distributor that way. 

Why is Metadata Important?

In short: the unique information that’s assigned to you, as the songwriter, and your songs has a lasting impact on whether or not you’re getting paid. Remember in grade school when you were required to put your name on your assignment or homework? This was intended so that your teacher could assign a grade and track your individual progress. Metadata is similar, only now you’re the one tracking your progress and the “name”, or song metadata” is how you do so.

Example: Music Publishing Registration

Let’s try another example, for instance, during the registration process for music publishing. Once you’ve recorded and distributed your song, you’ll need to have information ready for when you’re registering your song to collect music publishing royalties. The metadata provided by you and your distribution company will allow your publisher or publishing administrator to register that song within their network for publishing royalty collection.

For instance, let’s say your song gets a play on Spotify in the United Kingdom. The collection society there, PRS/MCPS, for instance, will get a report from Spotify with streaming data in that territory. Then, the data from Spotify gets matched to PRS/MCPS’ records (hint: this is where they assign that information to your song!). Once matched, the data and royalties get sent to your home collection society or your publisher, which is then paid to you. Sounds simple enough, but in reality, it’s a tedious and time-consuming process. If there’s any mismatching or mistake in data, the royalties are frozen and held until they are able to make a match.

What metadata do I need specifically for my music publishing?

Publishing royalties can get held up for a lot of reasons. In order to make sure your metadata doesn’t get mixed up or input incorrectly and your royalties get to you, you’ll want to make sure that you have your metadata correct and organized. Here are a few key pieces of data to make sure you have and are correct when you’re registering to collect publishing royalties:

ISRC: This is an alpha-numeric code that stands for International Sound Recording Code. This is the code that identifies your actual recording, and it’s really important that it gets matched to all of your publishing data. Streaming services and distributors all use this code to match up streams to your recording. You can find your ISRC through your distributor, or if it’s up on Spotify, you can get it through their API or third party apps like spotlistr. Think of an ISRC like a barcode. When an item's barcode gets scanned it goes into the stores database that it was sold. When a song gets streamed the ISRC gets ‘scanned’ and entered into a report showing that it was streamed.

ISWC: The ISWC is similar to the ISRC, it stands for International Standard Work Code and it’s meant to represent the underlying composition of your recording. For example, if you do an acoustic version of your song, it will have a different ISRC than your original version but it will always have the same ISWC. The ISWC is the underlying code, and can have multiple ISRCs linked to it. Your composition will receive an ISWC when it is registered at a collection society such as a performing rights organization (PRO) or a collective management organization (CMO).

Writer Names: This may seem like an obvious point, but it’s extremely important to have the same name(s) all across your data. If you’re using your middle name, try to use it when you register your song everywhere. Make sure you’re coordinating with your co-writers and writing out their names correctly as well -- there may be a lot of Jane or John Smiths out there!

Song title: The song title can cause some issues with registration. If the song gets registered with slightly different titles or has special characters, there can be duplicate entries made. One of the entries can get matched and collect royalties and the other might not receive anything. 

Splits: Conflicting splits can also hold up a song's royalty collection, especially if all the writers are registering different ownership amounts. Working on a split sheet with your co-writers before you register or release your song anywhere can be helpful. This way, no duplicate entries will be made again and conflicting shares won’t freeze royalty payments.

When in doubt, keep a record

Metadata is one of the most important parts of the modern music industry, especially in the publishing world. Keeping this data in order and making sure you’re on the same page with your co-writers can be the difference between getting all of your royalties or losing them to the “black box”. There are a lot of resources available, including in our resource center, to help you understand what information you need to keep organized. But, when in doubt, keep a record -- it never hurts to have more information you may never use than not enough when you need it. 

If you have questions about any of the metadata described above, reach out to our team.

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