If you’re a music lover who wants to get the most out of your favorite tunes, you need to be familiar with metadata. These bits of information (and sometimes, just the lack thereof) can have a huge impact on how much you enjoy a listening experience, and how well your music serves its intended purpose—and these days, access to metadata is more important than ever.
So what is Metadata?
The term “metadata” has been around for a long time. In essence, metadata is simply descriptive data that tells you something about something else. While we’ll primarily focus on music metadata here, you may also encounter metadata in images and videos. For example, when you take a picture with your phone’s camera app or a digital camera, it will automatically add some basic information (metadata) to the image file itself. You may see this information if you view the properties of an image file on your computer; things like date taken, location information (if turned on), and perhaps even details like camera model and shutter speed.
In the case of music, metadata is any data that describes the properties of a piece of music, such as artist, track name and length, album title, year released, genre, etc. Some metadata may be visible to you (e.g., album artwork), while other data is stored behind the scenes in music files and databases.
Metadata for music and audio content can be broken down into two main categories:
- Technical metadata: This is information on the physical format of the audio file such as sample rate, bit depth, number of channels, etc. Technical metadata also includes information about how the material was produced, such as which microphones and what processing was used during production.
- Descriptive metadata: This is information about the context of the music or audio content, such as its title, artist name and album title. Descriptive metadata can also include more granular information on when a recording was made or where it was recorded. For example, you might have separate entries in your database for a studio recording of a track by an artist and a live performance by the same artist at a different venue.
It’s important to note that descriptive metadata is not limited to basic song information. An artist can add any piece of data they may want on their track including genre, tempo/BPM, musical key/tonality, instrumentation, and even mood or emotion. The artist can also add custom fields specific to their business needs.
Here are some examples of descriptive metadata tags and what they mean:
- Title: This is the name of the song or track. This may be different from the title that appears on the album it was released with.
- Artist: Music metadata typically includes a list of artists who contributed to a particular recording, including primary performers and featured guests. Where possible, we also include additional information about their role on the track; for example, whether they performed as a vocalist or instrumentalist.
- Album: This is the name of the album that includes this song or track.
- File: This is a unique identifier for the file, which will contain things like its type (MP3, WAV, etc.) and file size.
- Duration: How long is the song or track? (This will be listed in minutes and seconds.)
- Sample rate and bit depth: These are technical terms that describe how much information was used to create a digital audio file. Higher values mean better quality but also bigger file sizes.
- Release date: The date when a piece of music was first released commercially, publicly or privately distributed via physical or digital formats. For pre-release distribution (e.g., promotional singles or albums) the album may have both the date when it was released and when it was made available to the public on streaming services and download stores (i.e., its “street date”).
Why Does Music Metadata Matter?
Metadata is important to the music industry for artists, music labels, and listeners because it helps provide context to the song you are listening to. It’s a kind of digital fingerprint that tells you everything about your music that you need to know.
Importance of Music Metadata For Artists:
Music metadata is important because it helps to identify an artist’s music and make it searchable by people who want to buy it. For new artists, getting their music noticed is key to building a career in the industry. For established artists, maintaining a level of visibility is essential for continued success. In either case, making sure their music is tagged with the right metadata can be a major factor in how well it performs on music streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal — not to mention in the eyes of potential fans.
Music metadata is also important to music labels/publishers trying to promote their artists and their songs. Without it, they risk losing royalties from lost sales because people won’t be able to find the music on streaming services.
Importance of Music Metadata For Music Lovers
Music metadata is important because it makes your music library browsable. When you have music without metadata, it’s like having an unorganized bookshelf – you may know what’s there, but with no organization and labeling, it’s hard to find anything quickly.
The growing trend for playlists increases the importance of metadata too; best music playlists are often curated around specific themes or moods, so the metadata needs to provide the context for the playlist creator to be able to make those decisions.
Metadata also lets your streaming service learn your musical tastes. The streaming services can suggest new tunes for you to discover and even share with your friends across streaming platforms. Sharing music across platforms has been made possible by apps like Easy Tunes, whereby you can convert music streaming links and share them with friends and family who use different streaming services.
So, while many people think of metadata as a boring technical subject that doesn’t warrant much attention, it’s actually an essential part of the music-discovery process in all streaming services.