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TechTalk: MetApeel

Metadata is like a banana peel. It looks great on the banana, but once it’s separated, no one wants to own it. Who will create it? Who pays for it? How do we manage it? Who collects it? Why should I care? What’s that smell?

Metadata is like a banana peel. It looks great on the banana, but once it’s separated, no one wants to own it. Who will create it? Who pays for it? How do we manage it? Who collects it? Why should I care? What’s that smell?

I recently watched Marc Geiger’s (WME) Keynote at MIDEM 2014, where he laid out his vision of the future of music delivery. By now, everyone should know that file-based delivery of music and movies is over and streaming is it. Geiger’s keynote (on YouTube) will change how you think about the future—and it’s all driven by metadata. Users experience content through portable devices, which is ultimately trackable, so the quality of the metadata connects directly to your wallet. Without creating excellent tracking data, artists, performers, songwriters, commercial or project studio owners, producers, engineers, assistants and indie labels could lose $$, awards and new work. Consider it an investment.

Is the artist’s cut for streaming revenue out of whack? Sure! There are always difficulties and negotiations as new pies are divided. I’m sure you’ve seen “My Song Got Played on Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89.” Right now, touring and merch sales are driving the industry, but if Geiger’s right, and you can’t help but know he is, this will change. The current misalignment of priorities (artists and writers need to get paid) shouldn’t take the spotlight off what’s important: Music is the fuel and metadata is the engine. (Also check out Artists for an Ethical and Sustainable Internet for extended discussions on piracy and equitable music delivery.)

What about the sound of streaming music? Even quality snobs like me can’t argue that streaming content sounds awful because that is changing. I’ve written before about new back-end solutions for better conversion from portable devices. Just a week before I wrote this column, Liztic LLC entered into a partnership with HDTracks with the intention of bringing high-resolution audio to everyone through Liztic’s cross-platform music technology. In the press release announcing the partnership, David Chesky says, “I was really impressed when I saw that Liztic could play back high resolution audio through a smartphone connected to a digital-analog-converter.”

What about the streaming experience? It’s better and better. The “legacy” players are Spotify, Slacker Radio, Pandora, Songza and Turntable. The latest in the game are Samsung’s Milk, and Beats Music. I recently signed up with Beats, downloaded the app to my phone, and I’m listening to it as I write. It’s a curated experience and is elegantly delivered. Today, I started at the Curator tab, flipped over to Downbeat where I listened to Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis on “Let There Be Fusion”, then jumped to “KROQ’s The Good, The Bad, and the Pierce: Music I Run” to where I heard “Climbatize” (The Prodigy), “Alive” (Daft Punk) and “Breed” (Nirvana). To cool down I navigated to the Activities tab and chose the After Party at Drake’s House and flipped through Marvin’s Room (Drake), and 15 other songs. What makes it so good? A great GUI powered by metadata. The quality will surely come.

I ran into John Spencer from BMS/Chace at a recent event at the Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School in Nashville. Pearl-Cohn is a fantastic collaboration between educators and heavy-hitter organizations, individuals and companies like NARAS, Harman and local Nashville engineers like Jeff Balding, Chuck Ainlay and many others.

BMS/Chace and the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing have been immersed in metadata for over 10 years. In 2006, they started working with the Library of Congress on a NDIIPP grant-funded project to create an XML schema specifically for the collection of technical, descriptive and performer/role information. Progress is there, but it can seem maddeningly slow. There’s still not a common platform (although it’s close), and it’s proven tough to get DAW manufacturers and others in the production chain to jump onboard.

What’s new? Last year was a major milestone when DDEX created the Studio Metadata Working Group, with the idea that the richest and best metadata is usually captured early in a project. Once that happened, BMS/Chace and the Library of Congress moved the intellectual property created from their project over to DDEX. One of the hang-ups I saw early on was who will be in charge of creating data, where will it live, and how do you keep it from becoming something unmanageable and rife with errors. The Studio Metadata Working Group tackles this by making the work product available to anyone for free as long as they have an implementation license that they request from DDEX. “Forking” of the data is minimized because changes of the standard can only be made within the DDEX organization. That covers all the places the data will show up including an application to collect metadata, a Web portal, or the collection of data across many DAWs.

There is currently a short DDEX survey online, a test bed to be sure the project has all the bases covered. You can become part of the process by putting in your thoughts. If you’re not already, I guarantee you’ll be a metadata collector soon, so why not get involved. After all, how much can you hate getting paid?

Kevin Becka is Mix magazine’s technical editor.