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When you open Spotify, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, Apple Music, or any other streaming music service to search for your favorite song, there’s a lot going on under the surface, and most of it has to do with metadata. Metadata is the information attached to a track that identifies the song title, who made it, who owns it, and more.
Without the correct metadata in place, the millions and millions of tracks available for streaming would become an incomprehensible mess — and music artists wouldn’t get the credit or royalties they deserve. That’s why getting your music metadata in order is essential when it comes to successfully streaming your catalog and more. As a music creator, knowing the basics of SEO for musicians can increase your digital reach and garner new listeners on a streaming service.
What is music metadata?
Music metadata is the information linked to every single song you can find on Spotify or other streaming services. Metadata fields include:
- Artist name
- Song title
- Producer name(s)
- Writer name(s)
- Song genre and subgenre
- Release date
- Copyright owner(s)
- and more…
Why metadata matters
Metadata is a key component of any recorded song for several important reasons.
- Findability. If your music doesn’t have the right information coded into it, fans, performing rights organizations, music supervisors, and everyone else may have a hard time finding it.
- Credit. Everyone likes and deserves to get credit for their work. Adding thorough and accurate metadata ensures that credit goes where credit is due.
- Money. Royalties from digital music distribution, streaming platforms, placements in media, and other sources can add up, but sloppy or incomplete metadata can be a major roadblock to getting paid.
- Industry respect. Getting your metadata in order will make you look more professional and knowledgeable when your music industry peers are checking out your work.
4 steps to optimize your music metadata
The best and most effective music metadata is clean, consistent, current, thorough, and accurate. Here are a few steps to help you get there.
- Verify your information up front. This means checking in with all collaborators, publishers, copyright holders, and anyone else you’ll be mentioning to make sure that you know how they should be credited in your metadata.
- Proofread thoroughly. Don’t input song metadata when you’re exhausted after a long gig. Or if you do, make sure you check it an additional three times before finalizing everything. Attention to detail here will pay you back in dividends.
- Choose the right keywords. If you’re describing a song’s mood or sub-genre, imagine the track as a potential fan would looking in from the outside on a quest to discover new music. Even if you had metal in mind when you recorded your song, if it comes across as more adult contemporary or hip-hop or soft rock, that’s the descriptor you should go with.
- Update as needed. Outdated or obsolete metadata will do you no good, so adjust your information as warranted to keep it up to the minute.
Avoid common mistakes
Metadata is one the few areas of musician life where you must strictly follow the rules (sorry about that). That means giving streaming services, music supervisors, and anyone else the precise information they’re looking for. Descriptive metadata should contain certain information, but shouldn’t be bloated with too many keywords. Similarly, don’t ignore formatting requests, like avoiding certain punctuation or types of descriptors.
Keep best practices in mind
A key best practice for music metadata is to proofread and double-check everything, as typographic errors can disrupt proper accreditation, search results, and payment. Make sure that everything is consistent — band name, title track, featured artist, publisher information, etc. — regardless of which streaming platform you’re working with.
Update your song metadata regularly as needed and be as accurate as possible when it comes to describing your music’s genre, mood, and so on. If you need help with this, it never hurts to get an outside ear or two to help you classify your music accurately. Finally, be as comprehensive as possible, and include all the information that could be relevant.
Credit co-writers, producers, and collaborators with care
When you’re collaborating with other musicians, writers, and/or producers on your recorded music, make sure your metadata gives everyone the appropriate credits they deserve. That means verifying with any stakeholders exactly how they want and need to be credited. Even a small misspelling or punctuation error can gum things up when it comes to attributions and payments.
Similarly, make sure that any songwriting or producer splits you’ve worked out are clear and accurately reflected in your metadata. Key to this is having all splits agreed upon — in writing — well ahead of time, to prevent confusion and conflict later on.
Stay up to date on keywords
Changes in the music industry, and music culture as a whole, can happen quickly. Keep an eye on terms and names potentially related to your work to make sure that your metadata is as accurate as possible.
Did a new genre just become super popular, and does your music fit perfectly within it? Did a producer or collaborator on your most popular track recently take on a new stage name that lots of people now know? Have certain terms related to your music fallen from favor, while others have blown up in popularity? Go into your music metadata and keep your info as current as possible.
Stay current on different platform requirements
Apple Music and Amazon may want different types or formats of metadata than Spotify and YouTube Music. One key to making sure your music is streaming in all the right ways — and all the right places — is making sure each service has the info it needs.
If you’re not sure where to start, just do a search for different streaming services and see what they ask for. Here’s Spotify’s Music Metadata Guidelines, for example.
Maximize your visibility, maximize your royalties
Each stream you get on a platform like Spotify or Tidal may only pay you fractions of a penny, but fractions add up, and if you get lots of listens, those pennies can add up too. If you want to get paid, make sure that your metadata is thorough, accurate, and formatted properly.
Good metadata hygiene also sets you up for success when it comes to people wanting to license your music. Music supervisors, film or TV directors, video game producers, and anyone looking to license music will appreciate you making their jobs easier by putting all the info they need in the same place. That translates into better chances of your music being selected, and you getting paid.
Remember that getting your metadata right isn’t just about earning royalties — it’s also about helping people find your music easily and effectively. From newbie listeners to diehard fans to potential collaborators, press, and other industry pros — the more you have your metadata in order, the more likely it is that the right people will find your music at the right time.
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