podcasts: facing the music

february 9, 2017

When the industry started to realize that music metadata was corrupt, inefficient and damaging, it was too late. The iTunes store, Spotify, Google Music and a variety of other digital merchant services were selling despicable music metadata repeatedly and often.

How did music metadata arrive at its lowly state? Quite simply put — the industry didn’t care (To an extent, it still doesn’t). Varying metadata for individual songs were thrown around without a care. Understandably, the new digital frontier for music was exciting. iTunes provided an avenue to purchase any song at any time. Napster and Limewire made these songs free for all, and eventually Spotify launched and cracked open the legal world of free streaming with millions of songs instantly available to millions of people. The digital music world barreled along for a decade, building and improving upon its technology, creating a wonderfully accessible ecosystem of songs and artists. No one bothered to peek under the hood and see the hideously inaccurate metadata underbelly brewing with a vengeance.

Then, people began to notice. Blogs began to report. Companies were formed.

Metadata became a dirty word. The metadata required to sustain the growing industry just wasn’t there. It still isn’t there. Royalty reports are amuck, publishing data amiss. The answer to everyone’s pressing questions is continually answered with two words: bad metadata. No individual person is at fault. Like a parent not knowing that they raised a rotten child until they find them 8 years old and screaming in the middle of the grocery store; no one could have possibly had the foresight to make the required decisions for a healthy metadata backbone that the industry today requires.

And so, the trek to fix this issue is underway to a large degree. The term metadata has emerged from the darkness, not as a savior, but as a stark reminder of poor decisions. Setting things right is a painful process that will take years to get in line. In the meantime, musicians are losing money, people are losing jobs, and the industry is crippled.

At this point you’re probably wondering why Podcast is even in the title. Here’s the Shyamalan surprise: these thoughts aren’t meant for the music industry’s eyes. They’re meant for the podcast industry — a group of passionate and energetic people that are blossoming into something fantastic and far-reaching.

But there’s no substantial Podcast metadata.

There’s a title, a description, a topic and a date. There’s no options to credit contributors, composers or hosts. There’s no sub-topics for individual episodes. There’s nothing to improve searchability and discoverability. There’s nothing of substance in podcast metadata to promise the preservation of the incredible content being created.

Podcasts are growing in popularity now more than ever. Google Play has added them officially to their platform and, soon after, Spotify followed suit.

What happens when companies want to begin monitoring the moods and topics of each Podcast episode and wants to credit each and every single person involved? What happens when the need for royalties and publishing rights is requested and all the industry can do is point people to thousands on non-descript credits in Podcast descriptions?

Music metadata style guides were written by various distribution companies as they struggled to adapt to the growing amounts of music metadata produced by the industry. If there was a definitive and all-inclusive music metadata style guide from the get-go, maybe things would have been easier. Sadly, there is no Podcast metadata style guide.

So, I wrote one. Feel free to reach out for a copy.

But this isn’t a call to me. This is a call to the budding Podcast industry to pay attention to their standards. As you’re building your companies, your products, your livelihoods… make a point to pay attention to the small details that will otherwise go unnoticed. If glossed over, these are the bits that will eventually come back in the future, say a curt “How do you do?” and bite you in the ass.

Don’t take it from me, take it from the music industry.