A Musician’s Guide To Editing MP3 Music Metadata

MP3image-150x150By Musician and Marketing Consultant Solveig Whittle (@shadesofsolveig).

You’ve probably heard a lot about metadata. Metadata is “hidden” data in computer files that “tags” a file with certain identifying information. For example, you may have heard the word used in discussions in the media about metadata associated with digital recordings of phone conversations. Metadata formats are different for different types of files. This article is about music file metadata.

As I have written about before, having the correct metadata associated with your music files is extremely important.

Metadata, also referred to as ID3 tag for mp3 files, is the identifying information associated with your song, such as the

  • composers
  • performers
  • song title
  • title of the album on which it was released
  • year released
  • track number
  • genre
  • album art
  • lyrics
  • producer
  • and so much more

Metadata appears in iTunes when you load up your music track – hopefully instead of the dreaded “Unknown Artist: and “Track 1″. Metadata has nothing to do with the file name of the mp3, it’s information that you need a music player or special editor to view and/or change. Metadata is important for the following reasons:

  1. You want your name to show up in the key music databases, Rovi/Allmusic and CDDB/Gracenote as associated with that track. This is important because any music professional will use those databases to check you out and verify your claim to authorship or performance credit.
  2. If you plan to license your music for use in film or TV, it’s important that the use of your song(s) can be tracked for royalties, and metadata is how that is done. Your metadata must be entered properly in the publisher’s database in order for your royalties to be paid to them and to you. You probably will be giving the publisher a wav file at some point, but mp3s are often used for pitching your song, such as for sites like MusicXRay or TAXI.
  3. If you want to join NARAS, the Recording Academy (I wrote about the Grammy submission process as well as some of the less obvious benefits of belonging to the Academy earlier this year), you need credits on 12 released songs listed in the Allmusic database (either as a songwriter or performer).
  4. If you submit your music to a reviewer or to a terrestrial or internet radio station. Whether you are working with a PR agency or going direct, your electronic press kit should contain mp3s of your songs that have the correct metadata, including album artwork.

Once your mp3 song file is properly tagged, the song can be uploaded to either the Allmusic or CDDB music databases and will link you by name directly to those music files. I wrote a post about uploading your music metadata to the CDDB database, which is pretty easy. Uploading to Rovi/Allmusic is a bit more complicated and involves sending in a physical CD.

Music Metadata And MP3s

Music metadata can be associated with music files in two different ways:

  • it can be included in the file itself (mp3 or WMA files) or
  • it can be found in a separate file associated with the track on a CD (wav files).

An mp3 file is smaller in size and not as high quality audio file as a wav file. Production CDs are created using master wav files. The metadata on a physical CD is placed there by whomever produces, engineers, or masters your CD. Unless you are the engineer, you will probably not create or edit the metadata associated with the wav files on a CD. (When you rip a CD to your computer using iTunes or some other tool, it knows how to copy the metadata with the wav file and put it in the right place in an mp3file when you convert it).

Mp3 files, however, because they are smaller, are often used to submit songs to reviewers, radio stations, or contests. This article will deal with adding or correcting the metadata in your mp3 file, not your wav file.

Album Art

A quick note about album art. Your album art will need to be formatted as a square image, .jpeg file format, and in at least a 300 x 300 dpi resolution. Some other common formats are 340 x 340, 375 by 375, or even 600 x 600 format. Make sure your artwork is properly sized before editing your metadata. If you are submitting the file to a reviewer or radio station, check what size image they require.

Using Windows Explorer, iTunes Or GooglePlay To Edit Your Metadata

Using A Free Metadata Editor Such As MP3TagEditor

There are also several free mp3 tag editors you can download to edit your extended metadata. Mp3tag is one Windows based metadata editor that supports a large number of audio formats; these include MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, FLAC, MP4 (M4a/M4b), and more.

Mp3tag can not only edit all of the fields mentioned above, but also allows you to edit extended metadata such as producer, engineer, lyrics and more.

I found several videos on YouTube on how to use Mp3tag, and the one I embedded below is one is one of the better ones because it shows the drop and drag capability of Mp3tag for bringing in the mp3 file and also the album art. (Drop and drag is much faster and easier than trying to use the application icons.) You simply drag the mp3 file into the main windows, edit the song title and other data, and then drag the album art in to the box below. This video also goes on to show how to edit lyrics as well. Note that to save the metadata, you simply click the File Save icon or choose File -> Save from the drop down menu. It saves the metadata inside the original mp3 file without renaming the file.

WARNING: you may want to turn down (or off) the music track that accompanies the video tutorial, as there is no narration:

More Free Metadata Tag Editors

There are 10 additional free mp3 tag editors in this list compiled by JoJo Yee of Gizmos Freeware. There is also a list of five free mp3 tag editors compiled by Mark Harris on About.com. Most of these tools are for the Windows PC, except Music Brainz Picard, which can run on a variety of operating systems such as Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows, and is written by a non-profit, the Music Brainz organization.


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