PPL: how metadata helps artists earn money from music

We learn why metadata is important for a successful music industry career...


As the music industry increasingly embraces digital, data is more important than ever for new artists in pushing their careers forwards. 

Why? Well, as our previous blog shows, digital service providers such as Spotify or YouTube and social media platforms offer huge amounts of information on audience behaviours, both in terms of location, how they listen and more.

Equally as important is metadata. It's this information, embedded in digital audio files, that allows the creators of works to be identified by music streaming platforms and Performing Rights Organisations (PROs). And, even more crucially, this is what ensures any royalties from the use of a work go to the right writer or artist. 

We went to our friends and industry experts at PRO PPL for their advice on all things metadata and how emerging talents can utilise this information to give themselves the best chance of being paid for the use of their music... 

For the uninitiated, could you explain what metadata is?

Metadata is data that describes “something”; in the musical context, it is data that describes a song or recording.

Metadata can be “static”, i.e. fixed, such as the song title, band or artist name, or it can be “dynamic” and change over time, such as who owns the recording. At PPL, as an organisation that pays performers and recording rightsholders (i.e. record companies and self-releasing artists), we deal with both.

Why is metadata important?

Metadata is critical to the process of allocating and paying out the revenues that PPL collects. In 2018, we generated £246.8 million in revenue, and we use metadata to allocate these revenues to performers and recording rightsholders. The track usage reported by our licensees (i.e. radio stations, TV channels and public places like cafes, bars and gyms, etc.) is matched against the recordings in our repertoire database, where we hold the metadata describing more than 15 million recordings, along with the performers and recording rightsholders associated with them.

In simple terms, we need to know the details of a recording in order to identify it accurately in the usage reporting from our licensees. We need to know who played on a track to be able to pay our performer members, and we need to know who owns the track to be able to pay our recording rightsholder members."

How does good practice around data feed into revenue streams?

Incorrect or incomplete metadata can impact the speed at which we distribute money to our members. It means we may have to spend more time identifying the performers on a recording or the rightsholders of tracks used by licensees.

At what point should artists start thinking about metadata?

We recommend good metadata practice as soon as you start to record and release music. It can never be guaranteed when and where your music will be played, so having correct and up-to-date recording metadata in place from the start of your career means you can be confident that it will not impede your royalty payments.

Have you any tips or essential advice around managing metadata?

To help us pay out royalties, all information you give PPL, including music metadata, should be comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date.

Are there any resources or guides around data which new artists can access?

Our website has a detailed FAQ section which contains in-depth information on being a member of PPL. As a performer, it outlines the information you need to provide us in order to claim a performance on a recording. It also gives details on the information that we can provide to help with accurate payments, such as assigning International Performer Numbers (IPNs) to our performer members so that each artist has a unique identifier. If you are also a recording rightsholder, we have a number of ‘how-to’ videos which take you through the process of registering repertoire via our Register Repertoire tool on our website. Both the videos and FAQs can be found on our website at ppluk.com/tools-resources.

How can recording metadata be collated accurately?

Metadata is at its most accurate if it is collected at source in the studio. There are tools and technologies available to creators that help with this, such as Session (formerly known as Auddly) and Sound Credit, both of which we have a strategic partnership with. These connect to production software, allowing performer and recording rightsholder information to be added to a recording upon completion in the studio.

If they need one-to-one guidance with any matters, they should attend one of our In Session events that take place across the UK throughout the year, or contact our helpful Member Services team.

What does the future of metadata look like? Are there any incoming trends we should be aware of?

At PPL, we aim to make the recording metadata we use ever-more accurate, and to improve the efficiency with which metadata is managed. We also need to keep encouraging improvements in the management of metadata across the music industry.

Lots of different organisations have lots of different databases for their own management purposes, creating many sources of music metadata of varying standards. Linking or consolidating these databases and increasing the adoption of metadata standards can benefit everyone." 

We will continue to collaborate with other organisations to pursue this goal on behalf of our members. We are on the board of DDEX – the Digital Data Exchange - which is a consortium of companies that focuses on the creation of data standards for use across the music industry, enabling the seamless exchange of metadata from the studio to and between the various organisations that need that data.

We are board members of SCAPR too, the global body that represents performer CMOs and operates the Virtual Recording Database (VRDB). The aim of the VRDB is to provide more efficient exchange of data between CMOs to support international royalty payments for performers.

We are also the delivery and operating partner for RDx, the Repertoire Data Exchange, a project from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN). RDx provides a centralised recording data exchange between record companies and CMOs, creating a standardised mode and format for the sharing of metadata about recordings and rights, to streamline the process of registering tracks with CMOs.

By combining these global efforts to improve metadata with best practice from our members, PPL is helping ensure those performers and recording rightsholders of all levels and roles are paid properly for their creative work.

Visit ppluk.com to find out more.

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by Jim Ottewill
December 16, 2019
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