Top of page

Guitar, Bass, Drums, Metadata: Musical Context for Long-term Preservation

Share this post:

Those of us in the “cultural heritage” sector get used to being at the end of the line sometimes. With very few exceptions, the unique items that end up in our collections usually get here after all their primary value has been extracted.

While we’d love to have a more regularized path for the treasures to get here, it’s actually to our benefit that creators and intermediaries have such strong incentives to steward and properly preserve their digital materials.

Metadata Madness wheel by user musebrarian on <a href="">Flickr</a>
Metadata Madness wheel by user musebrarian on Flickr

This is especially true in the music industry, where artists and records labels are still struggling to turn their digital art into gold. Digital music files are valuable cultural artifacts in their own right, but before they become “artifacts” they’re valuable assets that need to be managed for the long-term in order to sustain their earning potential.

There are tremendous opportunities for the cultural heritage community to leverage existing digital music workflows and to engage with the music community to implement digital stewardship processes for the benefit of all.

The best way to do this is to tap into existing initiatives and processes for managing digital music data. Nothing is currently hotter in the technical side of the music biz than discussions on metadata. For example, a new Recording Academy initiative called “Give Fans the Credit” is an effort to brainstorm ways to deliver more robust crediting information on digital music platforms.

The preservation benefits of rich metadata have long been apparent to NDIIPP. Metadata projects made up a number of 2007’s Preserving Creative America projects, including the “Metadata Schema Development for Recorded Sound” project, which focused on creating a standardized approach for gathering and managing metadata for recorded music and developing software models to assist creators and owners in collecting the data. The project ultimately developed the Content Creator Data tool, an open-source application that captures metadata at the inception of the recording process.

The NDIIPP connections with the music industry don’t stop there. John Spencer of the MSDRS project, a current member of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance Coordinating Committee, is also a participant in the Music Business Association’s Digital Asset Management Workgroup. The workgroup is co-chaired by Paul Jessop, a former chief technology officer for the RIAA, and Maureen Droney of the Recording Academy, Producers and Engineers Wing, who joined us for a conference panel a couple of years ago.

Music metadata doesn't look the same these days!  Schumann's "Erinnerung" by user pfly on <a href="">Flickr</a>
Music metadata doesn’t look the same these days! Schumann’s “Erinnerung” by user pfly on Flickr

“I think there are two important on-going efforts that the music community is beginning to embrace,” said Spencer in a recent exchange. “One is that artists and performers are beginning to understand the importance of unique identifiers to define their ‘digital presence’ related to musical works. With the need to further automate the collection of royalties because of new delivery technologies, getting artists and performers to understand the importance of these identifiers is a place where the digital stewardship folks could help by showing examples of how they have implemented identifiers in their given space.”

The DAM group is working to “coordinate and standardize all non-recorded music assets relevant to the digital music value chain, such as artist images, credits, liner notes, archival assets, and more.” To that effect, they spearheaded last year’s publication of “MetaMillions: Turning Bits Into Bucks for the Music Industry Through the Standardization of Archival and Contextual Metadata.” The  paper looks at the current state of metadata collection and curation in the music industry and explores how the data is being shared at each stage of the lifecycle, with an emphasis on showcasing the sales and marketing rationale for a more standardized metadata framework.

The Producers and Engineers Wing will soon release an update of the “Recommendation for Delivery of Recorded Music Projects” (PDF).  This report “specifies the physical deliverables that are the foundation of the creative process” and “recommends reliable backup, delivery and archiving methodologies for current audio technologies, which should ensure that music will be completely and reliably recoverable and protected from damage, obsolescence and loss.”

More recently, the Music Business Association has hosted a Music Industry Metadata Summit and is working to expand the uptake of work being done by the Digital Data Exchange, a not-for-profit organization creating standards for the transmission of metadata between systems along the music supply chain. DDEX has established a working group focused on studio metadata, chaired by the aforementioned Mr. Spencer, with the release of specifications still to be determined (though we should note that they have already published a wide variety of other standards and recommendations).

This intense focus on metadata by the creation and intermediary management ends of the music industry should provide immense benefit to stewarding institutions once they ultimately take possession of the materials. Still, there are aspects of stewardship that may not be addressed by the current metadata efforts on the creation side, and the input of stewardship professionals could add lots of value.

So what are the most effective ways for the cultural heritage community to engage with the music community?

“Currently, I believe DDEX is a key piece of the puzzle,” said Droney in a recent conversation, “as it is the only organization working on actual standards for music business metadata. Standardization of the collection and transmission of recording studio metadata is the goal. In the meantime, educating the music community about best practices, both for the collection of credits and other technical and descriptive information, and for the short- and long-term archiving of masters, are important first steps. Also of note, the Audio Engineering Society has taken a serious interest in the National Recording Preservation Plan (PDF), and at the recent AES convention in NYC there were a number of tracks related to audio archiving and preservation that were inspired by the Plan.”

Comments (4)

  1. A minor caveat: the Library does have an important regularized path for the treasures to get here long before their primary value has been extracted. The Library routinely receives extraordinary treasures (including music) through copyright deposit, right at the beginning of their economic life. In addition, donors and sellers of many of the unique items in the Library’s collections (including the Sagan papers as well as musical treasures) quite frequently retain copyrights and are able to continue collecting the economic value after the items become part of the Library’s collections.

  2. Great point! We certainly have a variety of paths for how we receive things. I was trying to emphasize how we’d benefit from greater input, rigor and standardization on the creator end.

  3. Nice summary. I work on studies of metadata in book publishing which seems like child’s play compared to the complexities of the music industry(s).

  4. To lentigogirl,
    I had not recently viewed this message thread, but I would like to address your comments. I concur that the Copyright Office collects a wide swath of metadata, but, they do not accurately collect the performers and their roles of a specific recording with respect to a “circle P” copyright. In most parts of the world, performers are paid for terrestrial broadcast of their recordings. They are not in the US (nor Iran or North Korea, and there is one more country I forgot..). If these laws were ever to change in the US, it would be extremely important to have that information recorded along with the sound recording copyright so that the performers could be compensated for their work.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *