Laurel A Calsoni

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why Modern Musicians Should Care About Metadata
By Bill Wilson, VP Digital Strategy & Business Development
NARM and
April 25, 2013

Metadata. It’s a jargon-y word that probably turns a lot of artists off at the mere mention of it. It’s also one of the main things standing between them and a variety of new opportunities to make money. And those new opportunities are becoming increasingly important for cash-strapped musicians.

As time marches on, today’s artists are finding that sales of their recordings are making up less of their overall revenue picture. Of course, recordings will always be crucial to musicians for a variety of reasons, but as that slice of the revenue pie gets smaller, what are artists to do to make up the loss?

The good news is that most musicians have hosts of revenue-generating assets they don’t even know about, but they require proper metadata to thrive. For example, as we shift from a unit-based (download) music economy to an attention-based (subscription) one, artist revenue will depend more and more on long-term engagement as opposed to a one-time sale. That means photos, videos, and news items will become highly monetizable products and services.

But to take full advantage of alternative revenue streams such as these, it’s extremely important that today’s artists understand how to develop and maintain their long-term digital archive, from what information it must contain to how it should be structured. It’s one of the topics we’ll be covering at’s first Music Industry Metadata Summit on May 6-7 during Music Biz 2013. But for those eager to get started right away, here are a few pointers:

Studio Credits and Liner Notes

Who played on your recorded tracks? What was the engineer’s name? The producer? What are their email addresses? What was the name of the studio you used? Collecting this information may seem like drudgery when you’re in the middle of the creative process, but these credits are the breadcrumbs of discovery. Keep a simple Google spreadsheet of ALL of this information. You’ll regret not having it in the future.

Images and Videos

With massive amounts of posters, logos, and photos being taken of artists by both fans and professionals, it’s important that musicians maintain an archive of these images (and videos) that contains not only the photographer’s name but also the date each picture or video was taken and the usage permissions for each one. Artists should also make sure to fill out the “tags” (metadata) for image location and any other info that future fans may want to search by.

Remember, other people’s images are their property. Although they can’t sell them without the artist’s permission, artists can’t do the reverse either. Therefore, musicians must prepare themselves by downloading the highest-res versions of each image to a hard drive, knowing the photographer and their contact info, and being aware of the usage rights.


Artists can gain a wealth of historical information that can be collected and re-deployed (or even sold) in the future by simply subscribing to RSS feeds for their own social media accounts. It’s a huge return for practically zero investment and something every artist can do right now.

This is just a small sampling of the ways that metadata can help artists prepare for the future and increase their income. However, if they continue to tune out every time the concept comes up, they’ll be missing out on all of these new opportunities. Maintaining a proper digital archive is not difficult to do if you’re willing to make it a priority, and as we move forward, musicians will have more and more reasons to do so.

posted by Laurel Calsoni at 3:59 pm  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Unforgotten Songs

Historical audio: A specialist record label digs up old recordings and re-releases them in digital form to preserve them for posterity

The Economist
Mar 9, 2013


LANCE LEDBETTER’S interest in obscure music began in the 1990s with a college-radio programme he hosted on Sunday mornings. A lot of his listeners in Atlanta were on the way to or from church. Unable to find a large enough variety of gospel songs to fill the show (and fit his tastes), he started approaching collectors. Some dusted off old 78rpm recordings that he went on to play on the air. Much of the material had been unavailable for years. “I could not believe how much incredible music you couldn’t walk into a record store and buy,” he says.

This stoked an obsession which led to what Mr Ledbetter originally intended to be a one-CD collection of some of the rarer gospel recordings. Instead, in 2003, he ended up releasing a set of six discs—five of music and one of sermons. The collection, “Goodbye, Babylon”, costs $100 and comes in a cedar box packed with raw cotton, along with a 200-page book documenting the selection. It received two Grammy nominations. It sold well, too, and laid the foundation for a record label, Dust-to-Digital, which Mr Ledbetter now runs with his wife, April. Over the past decade they have issued dozens more anthologies and other works.

The Ledbetters focus on material that is unlikely to have been heard widely, or perhaps ever, since its release. They stick mostly to folk and gospel, with a smattering of world music. As its name implies, their firm sells its music in digital form, mostly on CDs, though it presses a little vinyl, too.

Dust-to-Digital’s most ambitious effort since Mr Ledbetter’s original gospel set received a Grammy nomination—the company’s seventh—in the “Best historical album” category in December 2012. “Opika Pende” comprises 100 recordings made on 78rpm records across Africa between 1909 and the 1960s. The collection is the dream project of Jonathan Ward, who blogs at the site Excavated Shellac about old recordings of folk and vernacular music. In November 2012 the firm released “Pictures of Sound”, an album of historical audio that had been encoded in a variety of ways, including drawings, barrel-organ rolls and early 19th-century recording technologies such as the phonautogram.

The label also publishes more recent material. For instance, it released field recordings from a Florida folklife project of the late 1970s, and an album by a contemporary improvisational (and unconventional) folk artist who went into a recording studio for the first time in his 30-year career in 2010. Dust-to-Digital’s releases are not blockbusters. But the label has built enough of an audience that it can always afford to pursue the next project. The biggest problem, Mr Ledbetter says, is cherry-picking among the many great ideas that come their way.

At the same time, Dust-to-Digital is trying to preserve the past on a larger scale through a non-profit organisation called Music Memory. Its goal is to digitise as much as possible as rapidly as it can, by placing equipment in the homes of record collectors who are methodically processing their own holdings. The group will assemble lyrics, liner notes, discographic data and audio in an online collection.

The challenge with all this cataloguing, digitising and assembling of material for release is the awkward status of audio (or “phonogram”) rights. Whereas musical compositions or spoken words are subject to copyright protection similar to that covering books and other printed materials, audio released in America between the dawn of audio recording in the 1870s and 1972 remains under protection until at least 2067. Some reform efforts currently under way might succeed in putting audio from the 1920s and earlier in the public domain, however, as well as shortening the limits for the rest.

The Ledbetters do not let rights issues deter them. They doggedly track down the current holders of composition, performance and audio rights required for release, wherever they are. And so, bit by bit, byte by byte, Dust-to-Digital will continue to expose modern audiences to forgotten gems from the analogue era.

posted by Laurel Calsoni at 1:59 pm  

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