managing your music metadata
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Indeed, the recorded music industry is much more driven by data than it used to be – as is much of the work we do at PPL.  Data is critical to our mission because, without it, we cannot return revenues to performers and recording rightsholders.

In this Q&A with Matt Phipps-Taylor, Head of Insight & Innovation at PPL, we delve further into why metadata is important for members and what we are doing to continue to improve the quality of metadata we hold, along with our counterparts around the world.

First of all, what exactly is metadata?

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, we deal with both.

Why is metadata important to PPL?

In simple terms, we need to know who played on a track to pay performers, and we need to know who owns the track to pay our recording rightsholder members. In 2018, PPL generated £246.8 million in revenue, and we use metadata to identify which piece of recorded music has been played so that the performers and recording rightsholders can be paid from these revenues. This is done by matching track use reported by our licensees to recordings in our repertoire database.

Is it true that registering or providing “bad data” can be worse than providing no data at all?

Incorrect metadata in the repertoire database can impact the speed at which we are able to allocate money, as we may have to spend more time identifying the performers on a track, or the recording rightsholders who control the track.

How does PPL help to improve the standard of the metadata it holds?

A lot of what we do is geared towards helping our members and the other organisations we work with give us the correct metadata. We work to make sure that it is standardised and easy to share, and we also try to proactively identify where it might be wrong.

Can you tell us about some of the initiatives PPL actively supports?

First of all, we aim to empower and educate members and partners by providing tools and support for creating and managing metadata. We deliver PPL in Session events to educate members on how to register recordings or make claims; we encourage the early capture of data in the studio through partnerships with the likes of Auddly (rebranding as Session); and, last year, we launched a new Register Repertoire tool to make it easier for recording rightsholders to register their recordings with us.

Secondly, we collaborate with a number of organisations to support the sharing and standardising of data. For example, we are on the Board of DDEX – the Digital Data Exchange – which is a consortium of media companies, music licensing organisations, digital service providers and technical intermediaries, focused on the creation of digital supply chain standards. We worked to launch an updated data standard last year, focused on making it easier and clearer for recording rightsholders to register data with PPL and other music licensing companies.

Finally, we are continually analysing data in-house at PPL, leveraging leading technologies to process data via the most intelligent and efficient means. We have a dedicated Insight and Innovation team, which works hand in hand with our Repertoire team, who manage the 14 million recordings in PPL’s Repertoire Database. By analysing the metadata in our repertoire database, we seek to identify where performer line-up or recording rightsholder information may be incomplete or wrong. We then work to correct it before it becomes a problem. We aim to spot any issues as early as we can, allowing for efficient and even more accurate allocations.

What does the future look like for how PPL manages metadata?

We aim to make the recording metadata we use to make payments ever-more accurate. For example, we have designed a tool that assesses the new recordings registered with PPL each week, and highlights potential errors in the performer-line-up information or suggests potential recording rightsholders to assign to recordings where we lack such detail. It does this by analysing the 14 million recordings held in the PPL database and ‘learning’ about the existing data relating to a performer or recording rightsholder so that it can spot any potential inaccuracies in the new registrations. With over 37,000 new recordings registered with PPL each week, this tool helps staff to spot and correct issues more quickly.

Beyond PPL’s day-to-day operations, we also need to keep encouraging the standardisation of metadata processes across the music industry. Different organisations have different databases for their own management purposes, creating many sources of metadata of varying standards. Linking or consolidating these databases and increasing the adoption of metadata standards can benefit everyone in music; we will continue to collaborate with other organisations to pursue this goal on behalf of our members

Do you have any top tips to help PPL members manage their data?

“Register once, register well” should be the mantra of all our recording rightsholder members when uploading recordings. I would also recommend viewing the “how to” videos on myPPL which talk you through how to use Register Repertoire and provide step-by-step guides for tasks such as registering recordings and uploading content in bulk.

For performers, I would recommend that they aim to keep an accurate note of the recordings they perform on to support the claims they make to PPL. There are tools and technologies available to them to help with this, such as Auddly (rebranding as Session), with whom we announced a strategic partnership last year. And, of course, if they need one-to-one guidance with any matters, they should seek to attend one of PPL’s In Session events that take place across the UK throughout the year or contact our helpful Member Services team.

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