Digital Dialogue

Digital Dialogue is an interview/guest-blog series presented by Byta, and written by friends of Byta. Exploring niche, behind-the-scenes topics within the digital realm of the music ecosystem, Digital Dialogue presents readers with insights into challenges, successes and passion topics in the day-to-day life of those working deep in digital.

Digital Dialogue: Striving for Metadata Standardisation with Jessica Von Hertsenberg (Partisan Records)

Digital Dialogue: Striving for Metadata Standardisation with Jessica Von Hertsenberg (Partisan Records)

Who are you? Where do you work?

Hello! My name is Jessica Von Hertsenberg, and I am currently the Senior Digital Operations Manager at Partisan Records. Partisan has offices in Brooklyn, NY and London, UK and employees in LA, Berlin, and Virginia – I work out of the Brooklyn office (or will be once we’re more regularly working from the office)!

What are you currently listening to? 

I obviously have to hype up some of the great new music coming from Partisan – Geese are an exciting up and coming band out of Brooklyn, and NoSo is absolutely one to watch – their song Suburbia is an absolute bop.

Otherwise, I absolutely love the (relatively) new War on Drugs album “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” – I’m from Philly originally (where the band formed), so I feel definite hometown pride whenever I listen to them.

Give us a small insight into your daily routine? 

I collect assets (audio, artwork, metadata) for all of Partisan’s digital releases, check them for accuracy and completeness and then deliver them to our distributors for release on all digital services. I also manage the archiving of our assets, delivering videos, outlining best practices for release planning, and registering our Neighbouring Rights. Basically, for anything that’s released digitally through Partisan, I am in the background in one way or another.

Onto breaking down metadata and standardisation…

The fact that we have a problem with metadata standardisation in the music industry is nothing new; it has been reported on before and has seen many efforts made (and failed) to fix it. This is perhaps not surprising; while the concept of metadata itself is not a technological construct, most music metadata that we use today exists for purposes in the digital realm: for remuneration, marketing, brand recognition, for discovery. 

While I wish this blog post could be used to offer a broad solution that would solve this very complex problem, for now, I want to discuss the breakdown between metadata supplied (for example, by a manager to their label) and metadata as it appears on digital services such as Spotify or Apple Music. In my role in Digital Operations, I see this as a constant headache for managers and for artists, and I’m hoping that highlighting this issue will allow for a smoother release process across the entirety of the digital supply chain, as well as adding this in as yet another reason to advocate for metadata standardisation.

The way that different services display Featured Artists is a great example of this, and I invite you to go down the rabbit hole of the various ways featured artists are displayed depending on how you choose to listen to music.

And while, as you’ll see below, this is mostly a problem of optics (though don’t get me started on how artist designations affect pitching on Spotify…!), featuring artist credits are frequently the cause of concerned emails from artists and managers on release day due to the very different ways that they are displayed and promoted across DSPs – the lack of consistency leads people to believe there must be an error somewhere. While errors do occur, more often than not, it’s simply a lack of industry-wide standardisation as it applies to artist credits.

To take a quick snapshot of three major services:

Deezer: Featured artists are clickable, and “feat. FEATURED ARTIST” is listed in the track title:

Metadata standardisation with Jessica Von Hertsenberg

iTunes: Featured artists are displayed in the title only (TRACK TITLE (feat. FEATURED ARTIST)), with the featured artist not clickable:

Metadata standardisation with Jessica Von Hertsenberg

Spotify: Featured artists are not listed at the “album” level of a release (even for singles), and as standard “feat. FEATURED ARTIST” does NOT appear in the title – we only achieved this by requesting a workaround through our distributor:

Apply this problem to all of the metadata currently in use within the music industry and especially metadata used in more high stakes situations (such as with issues of payment or attribution). One can start to see the magnitude of issues lack of standardisation causes.

And while initiatives such as DDEX have made great strides in standardisation and implementation industry-wide, until there is complete buy-in across the entire industry, there will continue to be breakdowns and confusion. And even then, due to the fact that music is a creative industry that’s already trying to ask technology to solve a problem that it’s not well suited to, I think that there will always be room for interpretation and innovation (and therefore, the need for workarounds).

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Hopefully, this serves as an FYI while filling out metadata spreadsheets. We’re not trying to waste your time with the information collected or our questions. If you don’t understand a specific field, please don’t just leave it blank – ask! If there are strong expectations about displays on release day (such as placement on profiles, how artists are going to appear, casing) – ask! Better yet, send through examples of other releases so that I know we are on the same page.

(A note of caution here, though – there are limits to what is possible, and what is possible for, say, Taylor Swift, is not necessarily open to everyone.)

“while initiatives such as DDEX have made great strides in [metadata] standardisation and implementation industry-wide, until there is complete buy-in across the entire industry there will continue to be breakdowns and confusion”

I promise, though, that the same things that frustrate you are likely industry-wide frustrations, and there’s nothing more disappointing than having a release go live incorrectly. And I would much rather have the discussion in the weeks leading up to a release rather than trying to fix something once it’s live.

There will likely not be a solution to this any time soon (though I would love to be proven wrong on this), but the more knowledge that everyone in the industry has to not only provide accurate metadata whenever possible but also to understand what exactly this metadata is doing, the better. Until then, I’ll be around to answer any questions you might have 🙂

Where can readers go to find out more on this topic?