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Posted November 4, 2020

by P. Gills

 There are several points at which the music metadata chain reaction can start including the release of a sound recording by a Record Label, Artist, Digital Service Provider (DSP) or the point at which a musical work is written.  

Metadata is associated to a musical work and songwriter when the songwriter becomes a member of a Collective Management Organization (CMO) or Performing Rights Organization (PRO). As a songwriter it is your responsibility or your music publisher’s to register your musical works with the CMO in a proper and timely fashion to ensure you get paid for all the uses of your musical works, from streaming to radio and public performance.

This registration of the musical work starts a chain reaction that is the beginning of the process that links the musical work to its use by Record Labels, DSP’s, Radio and TV broadcasters.

The release of the sound recording also starts the creation of associated metadata that reversely links to the musical work.

The music metadata chain reaction results in the creation of data that links the musical work, songwriters, composers, music publishers, recording, recording artists, producers and musicians. It is the linking of musical work and the sound recording that is fundamental to the success of songwriters, composer and music publishers being paid.

The music metadata link that is essential for payment is the association of a musical work to an International Standard Work Code (ISWC) and the association of a recording to an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC). This link can be a one to one or a one to many relationships with one ISWC linked to many ISRC.  

The global music metadata ecosystem is managed and maintained by respective parts of the music industry. For the musical works, songwriter and music publishers these are the CMO’s such as The MLC, ASCAP and PRS (UK) and for the sound recording,  record labels, recording artist and performers, these are the CMO’s like SoundExchange, PPL and SENA. These organizations are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the linking of the ISWC and ISRC and subsequent matching to music usage data.

The linking of the musical work and sound recording data can sometimes break down and can consequently impact the accuracy of royalties due to songwriters and music publishers. This is one reason for the formation of The MLC under the 2019 Music Modernization Act in the USA to manage the licensing, collection and distribution of mechanical interactive streaming royalties from DSP’s to songwriters and music publishers.

The organizations that manage the ecosystem are also licensing music users, working with them directly or via a data aggregation services like Music Reports Inc and HFA amongst others. It is the ability to quickly locate and accurately match musical works to DSP usage that songwriters, composers and music publishers are dependent upon for correct royalty payments. The inability to make the match is a break down of the music metadata chain reaction.

The music metadata chain reaction is impacted by the assignment of the ISWC by the songwriter and music publisher member CMO’s; these organizations nationally assign ISWC’s to musical works. Historically this process has been broken by the inability of the CMO’s to assign unique ISWC’s in a timely manner. In September 2020, CISAC, the umbrella organization for the CMO’s that protects and promotes the interests of authors and composers globally, announced a new improved ISWC system that will avoid duplication and speed up the allocation of ISWC’s by CMO’s.

This improvement has been warmly welcomed by the industry.  However, the historical ISWC’s that were previously incorrect or delayed will have disturbed the music metadata process and the ability of songwriters and music publishers to be paid.     

I am optimistic that there is a movement towards improving music metadata and the associated processes. One thing that is clear is that the rights-owner community is focused on removing inefficiencies and bad practices that impact music metadata and the ability to pay accurate, timely royalties to songwriters and music publishers. 

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