The Art of Music Monetization: “Metadata”

Michael Whalen
4 min readMar 14, 2018
Basic Music Metadata input

“Met-a-da-ta” (n) Definition: A set of data that describes and gives information about other data…

Most musicians lie that they know what metadata is and how incredibly important it is to monetize your music. In short, without metadata or worse, if it is entered incorrectly, you cannot monetize your music. Literally.

So, why is metadata such a “thing”? Boredom? Laziness? My cynical self says that people want this work done for them. However, I think it’s actually worse than boredom — it’s ignorance. Fear is also a powerful driver that prevents people from getting this work done completely. Humans are funny about making mistakes: they are so afraid to make a mistake that they don’t do anything. Ironically, doing nothing is a mistake. A big one…

Another possible problem with creating metadata is that you simply do not know the answers to the information that needs to be entered. This article is to help demystify the terms and hopefully empower you to get this work done.

Your aggregator will ask some questions while other aggregators will ask many of the same plus some additional info. Said simply: answer everything. I am happy that most of the major aggregators have made their own metadata policies so strict (and they have to conform to the major music platform’s policies as well) that it is nearly impossible to click “release” on any indie release that doesn’t have most of the fundamental information properly inputted. (note: Apple Music and Spotify are notoriously tough about metadata).

That said… people still try the “workaround”. Sorry kids, there isn’t one. Here is a primer on terms and what’s needed…

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Songwriting: Who are the writers? You don’t even have to enter the percentages of their share. Just the names. Stumped already? Have you not worked-out who wrote what when? Do it now.

Publishing: Who are the publishing companies associated with the writers? The performing rights organizations for each company listed? You MUST know who the publishing companies are and their PRO affiliation. Ask your collaborators. You could be smart and do a collaboration agreement that lists the publishing company of each writer.

[With these first two questions, I think I have just lost about half the people reading this article]

Title: The full title of the song… not some shorthand BS. Seriously. Also, check how the name is spelled or capitalized.

Album Title: Over time, I believe that the “album” as we know it will disappear. In the meantime, list it.

Artist/Band Name/Performer Name: Duh.

Year that the song was released. Not recorded, released.

Genre: This can actually get a little tricky. For example: for those of us who make “New Age”… it isn’t a current listed genre for Apple Music in their pull-down menu except you can search the genre. Weird, right? Here’s how to answer the question of genre — — in what category would you apply to have this recording considered for to be nominate-able for a Grammy? This question dispels most confusion.

ISRC: International Standard Recording Code. These are important. First, recording rights owners based in the United States can apply for a Registrant Code through the US ISRC Agency. This Registrant Code will allow that label, company or independent artist to assign ISRCs for its past, current and upcoming recordings. There is now a one-time $95 application fee for the allocation of a Registrant Code. This Registrant Code is yours for life, and it will allow you to assign up to 100,000 ISRCs each year. If you have not already obtained a Registrant Code, you can apply for one through this website: Apply Here.

Second, the U.S. ISRC Agency has allocated Registrant Codes for ISRC Managers (which is your aggregator), which they can use to assign ISRCs on behalf of clients or customers (that’s you). ISRC Managers can provide individual ISRCs to independent artists or to those who do not wish to manage their own ISRC assignment. ISRCs are issued as a part of the business arrangement between the company and an artist, and they are assigned to only those tracks that fall within this agreement.

Here’s the deal: you cannot have your music tracked on digital radio without a ISRC. For reasons beyond common sense, people are “confused” by the numbers and letters in ISRCs. Here’s a pro tip: grow-up. Now.

Everything else: Have you looked at the liner notes on any vinyl release? Aren’t the credits gorgeous? Well, that’s everything else… Engineers, mastering people, musicians, arrangers, contractors and maybe even the studio names… This data can be invaluable to the people who worked on your recording because places like SoundExchange have a (small) portion of their collected royalties earmarked for “sidemen” and “contributors”. Feeling generous? List everyone who worked on your project. First of all, you might be shocked how many people bring your music to fruition. Secondly, you owe to include these folks on any part of the digital stream that you can send their way.

Metadata are the coordinates for tracking your music. Without it, your music will be used and NO income will come your way. This fact may or may not be incentive to do this work completely. This information is literally the lifeblood of the streaming world. If you want to know how the major labels are making billions from streaming: they have no problem in getting the metadata done and done right so they can collect. Shouldn’t you?



Michael Whalen

Emmy® Award-winning composer, record company executive, copyright expert, dad, dog owner and CrossFit newbie