The importance of good Metadata for music discovery and payment

Metadata is the digital information attached to music. So if you want to make music more discoverable with just a few steps, this guide is for you…

by Chris Robley of Reverbnation Blog

Let’s talk about something super exciting… metadata. 💤💤💤

Wait, come back!

I promise it’s not as dull as it sounds. 😜

In fact, metadata can be the secret ingredient in your music’s success. 

Especially when that success depends upon streaming platforms recommending your track to the right new listeners. 

So, let’s dive into the importance of metadata for independent musicians.

What is music metadata?

Metadata sounds complicated. But it’s just information about your music. 

Much of this information is hidden behind the listening experience. That’s why metadata often gets compared to the backstage crew at a concert. It’s out of the spotlight, but essential. 

Metadata works quietly in the background to make sure your music is searchable, recommendable, trackable, and profitable.

How? Well, metadata is meant to create an accurate picture of your music: What does this track sound like? Who will love it? Where should we recommended it? Who owns the music? Who should we paid for activity? 

All these questions and more are answered, in part, by metadata.

Who provides metadata?

You do! 

That’s at least true if we define metadata strictly as the information bundled with your audio files when your music is distributed. YOU will provide that info — things like song title, album name, and genre — during the submission process for distribution.

However, other important details about your music can be submitted later via dashboards such as Spotify for Artists. For instance, when you pitch an upcoming track to Spotify, you can give additional context: mood, instrumentation, sounds-like artists, etc. 

In addition, still more information can be added by your distributor, editorial teams, or the streaming platforms themselves. This extra info helps them identify tracks within their catalog for a particular usage or placement.

Both human curation and audio-analysis tools can be used to detect musical characteristics such as BPMs, key, feeling, etc. 

Specific types of metadata

Common examples of music metadata include:

  1. Track title: The name of the song!
  2. Version: Denotes if the track is a remix, remaster, acoustic take, demo, live recording, etc.
  3. Artist name: The name of the primary artist or band performing the track
  4. Producer: The person who produced the recording (obvs)
  5. Featured artists: Additional notable musicians or vocalists who are featured guests on the track
  6. Other collaborators: Arranger, conductor, remixer, etc.
  7. Album title: The name of the album (some of these are pretty self-explanatory, huh?)
  8. Genre: The category or style in which your music should be placed, which helps set listener expectations
  9. Release date: The date when the track or album is officially available to the public
  10. Composer: The person(s) who wrote the music
  11. Lyricist: The person(s) who wrote the words
  12. Copyright: Details regarding the ownership of the music
  13. ISRC: International Standard Recording Codes are unique identifiers assigned to each track, which helps in reporting and royalty distribution
  14. UPC: Universal Product Codes are used to identify music releases 
  15. Language: The primary language used in the lyrics
  16. Explicit content: Indicates if the track contains naughty words, mature themes, or even… immature themes ; )
  17. Mood: Descriptive terms that convey the mood or emotional tone of the music

Again, you’ll be prompted by your distributor to provide most of this information whenever you release new music. 

Accurate metadata makes music searchable

Have you ever searched for a song and ended up with a bunch of random results? 

Well, you can blame the artist or label for providing incomplete or inaccurate metadata. Ain’t that nice of them?

You, the consumer, are frustrated. Now multiply that by every listener who’s ever searched for the same music. Oh, the poor artist!

Complete and accurate metadata means your music will appear as a relevant search result on streaming platforms, YouTube, Google, and so forth.

In a world of almost endless digital music, you need to be — at the very least — FINDABLE!

Good metadata leads to new fans

Being searchable is table-stakes. It’s a basic expectation for fans. 

But have you ever wondered how Spotify knows which songs to put on playlists? Yep. It’s partially because of metadata.

To really get the most out of your metadata, you want to provide information that helps recommendation engines identify YOUR track as the right music, for the right listener, at the right moment. 

The success of streaming platforms such as Spotify depends upon their algorithms keeping listeners engaged. In other words, they’ve gotten really good at predictions! 

Basically, if Spotify chooses to recommend one of your tracks to an individual listener, they’re making connections between that user’s listening habits and the information they have on-hand about your music, including:

  • Metadata provided by you at the time of distribution (genre, artist name, etc.)
  • Additional details you provided during the playlist pitching process(instrumentation, mood, sounds-like artists, relevant playlists, etc.)

And, we presume, Spotify’s own internal data, such as: 

  • Artist popularity score
  • Skip rate
  • stream-to-save ratio
  • Similar artists
  • And more

If you want your music to be recommended to new listeners, you need to take your metadata seriously. Metadata fuels recommendation!

Avoid this common metadata mistake! ⚠️

Remember, it isn’t about making your tracks appear cool or hip. It’s about providing an accurate picture of your music.

Don’t select trending genres or sounds-like artists unless you actually sound like that!

Inaccurate metadata is counterproductive, because in your attempt to game the system, your music will be recommended to the wrong listeners. Listeners will not engage, thus teaching the algorithms that your music is bad. When in fact, the music might be great, but it’s being served to the wrong audience.

Therefore, it’s vital that you describe your music as accurately as possible. 

Correct metadata gets you paid accurately💰

Metadata isn’t just about searchability, visibility, and recommendation. It also helps platforms keep track of what songs are getting played, where, when, and how often.

In short: metadata is the foundation of accurate accounting for music activity. 

Every time your song is played on a streaming platform, or used in a video, the engagement is reported (usually through your distributor) and royalties are paid correctly. Thanks to metadta.

Mess up your metadata, you mess up your money!

Go beyond traditional metadata

As I mentioned above, there’s the information that gets bundled with your audio when you distribute new music. But you’ll also want to take advantage of other opportunities to provide more context for your music online. 

This would include things like:

This info isn’t really regarded as official “metadata.” However, the more correct information that’s out there about your music, the more searchable and recommendable your music will be.

How to manage your metadata

Are you like most artists? Do you leave your metadata up to the last minute? “Oh, hmmm, what genre is this?”   

In a way, that’s fine. It’s your music, after all. So you should be able to quickly answer these questions during the distribution signup process.

However, there are cases where metadata should be more deeply considered in advance of release. 

Discuss this metadata BEFORE you try to distribute music:

  • Ownership
  • Co-writing shares
  • Splits
  • If and how collaborators want to be credited
  • Re-releasing a previous single on a new album using the same ISRCs
  • And more

Start these discussions well ahead of the distribution process, and save yourself from unanticipated delays. 

Make a spreadsheet and include all of this information for every track. Get as granular as you like: key, BPMs, influences, lyrics, and more. 

You might be surprised at how much time you can save. Don’t scratch your head every time you need to provide info about your music. Just copy-and-paste from the sheet or doc you already made!


There it is: Metadata!

Kinda boring. But super important. 

As you can see: complete and accurate metadata could be the key to unlocking a world of opportunities for your music career. 

And maybe the next time someone is searching for a tune, they’ll discover YOUR music — all thanks to metadata.

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