A guide to music metadata and token standards
Just the smallest misspelling of a name in a song’s metadata can lead to unjust compensation and error. Here’s a guide to making sure you never miss a detail.
In the music world, metadata most commonly refers to the song credits you see on services like Spotify or Apple Music, but it also includes all the underlying information tied to a released song or album, including titles, songwriter and producer names, the publisher(s), the record label, and more. That information needs to be synchronized across all kinds of industry databases to make sure that when you play a song, the right people are identified and paid. And often, they aren’t.
As a result, the problem is way bigger than a name being misspelled when you click a song’s credits on Spotify. Missing, bad, or inconsistent song metadata is a crisis that has left, by some estimations, billions on the table that never gets paid to the artists who earned that money. And as the amount of music created and consumed continues to increase at a faster pace, it’s only going to get messier.
Up to this date, there’s no unified database structure. Metadata runs through an unstandardized intertwinement of databases across the industry: from labels to distributors, from distributors to DSPs, from DSPs to PROs, from PROs to publishers.
Unallocated royalties are royalties that are generated by song usage, but never paid out to a specific artist, performer, or songwriter due to missing information. If you haven’t properly registered your songs, chances are you may be missing out on royalties of your own — leaving them unclaimed and bound for the “black box” money that major publishers split during redistribution.
Currently, the primary standard for music identification across all file formats is the ISRC code — “a fixed point of reference when the recording is used across different services, across borders, or under different licensing deals”. However, ISRC codes are assigned to sound recordings — just one of the layers of music data.
There were several attempts to create a global music reference database, but up to this date, there is no ultimate source of truth that would allow resolving the metadata conflicts. Now, the most notable public music databases are MusicBrainz and Discogs open-source platforms and IFPI’s ISRC code catalog — but, unfortunately, all of them are far from complete.
Read more at SoundCharts
Deconstructing Copyright and Rightsholders
Take a look at that Musicbrainz schema above. A visual schema of the open-source database they’ve created to standardize metadata for web2.
At first glance, its clear, to encapsulate the basics of digitizing and storing music and its abstractions, we have to be able to analyze multiple layers of complexity.
For example, the more people become involved, the more persons to distribute wages, royalties, and attribution. Much like the making of a film, with levels of investors, producers, engineers, contractors, etc.
At the other end of the spectrum, there could be one person that owns the rights for both sides of intellectual property of their songs. With the advent of The Democratization of Sound, more musicians own their own copyright than ever before.
So what is a song?
It can be broken down into two pieces (aka “two sides”) of intellectual property. However, the two sides have many different types of royalties that can be collected depending on the usage of that music property.
A musical work or composition (aka Publishing) is a result of the creative thought process of songwriters and producers. Usually lyrics, melodies, etc.
- Performance Royalties
- Mechanical Royalties (mechanicals)
- Print Royalties
A sound recording (aka Masters) of the musical work, produced and recorded by performing artists.
Royalties includes, but are not limited to, the following:
- Interactive streams (Spotify, Apple Music etc)
- Sales (iTunes Downloads etc)
- Digital performance (Pandora)
- Neighboring rights
- Synchronization license
In the end, a single composition can create hundreds (if not thousands) of separate metadata entities, which hugely complicates the landscape. There could be many people involved in writing or recording that song. Music companies need to match all those different layers of abstraction. For example, if ASCAPgets a report of a radio spin for a specific release, it needs to pair it with the underlying composition to locate songwriters. And SongTrust collects mechanical and performance royalties.
What about Copyright?
Copyright is just that, a right to make a copy. It is the exclusive right to the intellectual property associated with it.
A song is protected by copyright once it has been ‘fixed’ in a form that can be copied, such as being written down or recorded. It has to be original in the sense of not having been copied from elsewhere. Copyright enables the authors to control the use of their work: who uses it and how.
Copyright prevents people from
- copying the protected work (the reproduction right)
- distributing copies of it, whether free of charge or for sale (the distribution right)
- renting or lending copies of the work to the public (the rental right)
- performing, showing or playing the work in public (the public performance right)
- communicating the work to the public, including putting it on the internet (the communication right)
- making an adaptation of the work (the adaptation right).
Identifiers for Royalty Collection
What’s an ISRC?
The International Standard Recording Code (or ISRC) helps catalog individual sound recordings (or “master recordings”) around the world. It is a unique 12-character alphanumeric code assigned by a record label, distributor, or sound recording owner to a specific recording performed by an artist or band.
1 ISRC number = 1 Sound Recording
What’s an ISWC?
The International Standard Musical Work Code (ISWC) is an 11-character alphanumeric code or international identification system cataloging individual compositions (usually songs) rather than recordings. An ISWC is an identifier usually assigned by a collection society — ASCAP in North America, for instance — to a musical work. It tracks the song title, songwriter(s), music publisher(s), and corresponding ownership shares.
1 ISWC number = 1 Composition
An ISWC can be linked to any number of ISRCs, while each ISRC is linked only to one specific recording. Think of the Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues”; it has been covered by multiple artists (including Cash himself) on many different studio recordings and live albums. There’s only one ISWC for the song, but dozens of ISRCs exist for the different recordings.
What’s an IPI?
An Interested Party Information (IPI) number is a unique, international identification number, usually 9–11 digits long. IPIs are assigned to songwriters, composers and music publishers that own the rights to music. IPI codes are connected with ISWC
What’s a P-Notice?
The standard copyright symbol is © and applies to the author of a composition, the song and its lyrics. Copyrights generally apply to the life of the author (or last survivor of a team) plus 70 years, with some variations. This legal protection may also extend artwork and photographic materials used in the creation of packaging.
The symbol for copyrighted sound recordings is ℗. The p stands for phonogram, a legal term applied to the master recording of music, spoken words, or sounds on LPs, audiotapes, cassette tapes, compact discs, etc. A specific sound recording copyright does not apply to any other rendition or version, even if performed by the same artist(s). It is usually noted in the same way as the more familiar copyright symbol (example: ℗ 1987 Name of Owner).
So what’s next?
So, how do we put songs & their copyright onto blockchain? And onto Firebird Protocol? And beyond into the metaverse?
We do it with Tokens. Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).
In our ecosystem of Cardano, there is yet no official token standard for storing and categorizing music on the blockchain. However, there was new proposal by Andrew Westberg CIP-0060 for a new Music NFT standard, which will bring further clarity to how to use Music-related NFTs on-chain. We look forward to contributing.
So, for now, we use the CIP-0025 Standard and use the CIP-0060 as a reference.
But first, before we start our tokenization journey, we must understand a broad overview of the architecture we’ll have to build.
To start building our protocol, we are using the songs on Cullah’s 16th album Firebird. To do this, we have decided a “bottom up” approach. So, first we will start with the stems. 🌱 Each stem of each song will be minted as an NFT in our upcoming mints.
Here is an example of what our stem metadata may look like:
"Project": "Cullah - Firebird",
Now, it is important to keep in mind, that the token structures and metadata are highly subject to change. As development progresses, we will continue to publish the metadata and licensing standards the protocol will use. Stay tuned for updates in our various channels.
Q: Wait, aren’t NFTs immutable and permanent once they are minted? How can you just change the stem NFTs later?
A: Not necessarily on Cardano!
Any token’s metadata can be changed through the mechanism’s policy. Any policy can be locked, or kept open. A locked policy means that, all NFTs must be minted before the lock date specified at mint. Find out more about minting NFTs on Cardano.
With our policy it will be kept open until we have defined how the stem tokens will relate to any potential other tokens our protocol will use (like song, masters, publishing, or license tokens).
Thanks for reading!