Music Data Explained

What do we mean by music data?

There are different categories of data that are important in the music business - and when different people talk about music data they might be using the term "music data" to mean very different things.

Whenever we talk about music data, it’s good to be very clear on what specific category of data we are talking about.

First, there is the data that the music industry creates: track and rights data. This provides information about each track that is released, helping streaming services to organise and recommend music. It also ensures anyone involved in creating a song or recording is identified and credited.

And it tells us whose permission is needed to use a song or recording, and who needs to be paid whenever a song or recording is played, performed, streamed, synced or used in some other way.

Second, there is the data that flows back into the industry once the music is being played, and people are interacting with tracks and artists. This includes fan data, which helps artists understand more about their fans and fanbase.

But it also things like consumption data, what music is being consumed where; financial data, what money is due from the use of the music; and market data, which allows us to understands wider trends in the industry.

Track and rights data helps get music played – and ensures the right people get paid.

What is track data?

Track data is the metadata that gives us information about any one track. So track title, version, artist, writer, label, release date, genre, mood and so on.

This data allows the industry and the streaming services to organise the music, and to credit the people who wrote any one song and recorded any one recording. Services also often use some of this data to power their music discovery and recommendation tools.

This data is usually gathered together by whoever releases any one track and is then pushed out into the world via that person or company’s distributor (or, with the bigger labels, via their own content delivery platforms).

What is rights data?

Closely linked to track data is rights data. This is the data that: allows us to uniquely identify each song and recording; tells us who owns and controls the copyrights in those songs and recordings; and details the beneficiaries for each copyright, ie who shares in any monies generated by the music.

This in turn makes it clear whose permission is needed when any one song or recording is used, and who then needs to be paid.

Because lots of songs and recordings have the same title – and lots of artists and songwriters have the same name – the industry has a number of codes that it uses to uniquely identify music and music-makers.

The International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) uniquely identifies every recording. It is allocated by the label or distributor that first releases each track. It should be provided whenever the recording is delivered to a digital platform and be logged alongside other information about the track with the record industry’s collecting societies – so, in the UK, that is PPL.

The International Standard Work Code (ISWC) uniquely identifies every song. It is allocated when a songwriter or music publisher first logs a new song with a song rights collecting society – so, in the UK, that would be PRS.

The International Performer Number (IPN) uniquely identifies any performer who appears on a recording. A performer is allocated an IPN when they first join a performer collecting society – so, in the UK, that is PPL. Whenever a new recording is logged with a collecting society, any performers who appear on it should be identified using their IPN.

The Interested Party Identifier (IPI) uniquely identifies any songwriter who wrote a song. IPIs are also used to identify any music publishers involved in monetising a song. Writers and publishers are allocated an IPI when they first join a song rights collecting society – so, in the UK, that would be PRS. When a new song is logged with a collecting society, anyone involved in writing, publishing or administrating it should be identified using their IPIs.

The International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) is a code for identifying creators of any kind of content or creative work, so it’s not music industry specific. However, it is slowly being used more frequently to identify creators in music. ISNIs are issued by ‘registration agencies’ which include the British Library and, specifically in music, Sound Credit.

Music-makers that both record and write music should make sure that they get an IPN, IPI and ISNI, and that the relevant codes are always provided when recordings and songs they are involved in are logged in the music industry’s databases. Failure to do this can stop the music-maker from being paid money they are actually due.

With songs, there are often multiple co-writers on each song. The copyright in the song is then shared between the writers and, if they are published, their publishers. It is for the collaborators to decide how the copyright is shared in percentage terms.

What is agreed – often referred to as the ‘song splits’ – also needs to logged with the relevant collecting society databases. Again, failure to do this can result in songwriters not getting paid.

Recording copyrights can, in theory, also be co-owned, and where that is the case this needs to be logged with the collecting society databases too. However, with recordings, it is more common that there is a single copyright owner, either a record label or the main artist.

There are many different types of fan data

Fan data is any data that helps music-makers get insights about their fans and fanbase. Sometimes this is specific information about individual fans. Though more often it is general data about how the fanbase at large is interacting with the artist and their music.

Email data. So, the email addresses of fans (who have opted-in to receive information by email). And then, once regular emails are being sent to signed-up fans via mailing list platforms like Mailchimp, all the data about who has opened the email and what links they clicked on.

Website data. Information about what pages people have visited on an artist’s website, where those people are based, what devices and browsers they use, and so on. This data might come from the platform being used to power a website or via services like Google Analytics.

Direct-to-fan data. Information about what fans bought what products from a direct-to-fan store, such as via a platform like Bandcamp.

Streaming data. All the data provided by the streaming services, both directly via their artist portals, and usually via each music-maker’s label or distributor as well. This includes what tracks were streamed when and where, plus things like what playlists tracks appear on.

Ticketing data. Information on who bought tickets to what shows. With mobile ticketing, there may be additional information available too, such as when fans arrived at the venue.

Social data. This is any data provided by a social media platform about how many people see and interact with a post, and other general information about the people following an artist on any one platform.

Advertising data. This is the data provided by any digital advertising platforms, which are often also social media. Generally once an artist starts using the paid-for advertising tools of a social media platform, they will get better data back about who is interacting with their content and posts.

Re-targeting data. This is also connected to digital advertising. Digital platforms provide advertisers with some simple code that they can use on their website, emails and other online activity. If people access a web page or click on a link that has been connected to this code while logged into that digital platform, said platform tracks that user activity. This can then be used by the artist to target future advertising, so that messages are only shown to people who have interacted with the artist’s music or content before.

Smart link data. Smart link tools exist to make promoting new release online easier. Rather than always having to tell fans all the different places they can access a track or album online, artists can set up their release on a smart link platform. They then have a single short link to use in their marketing, which takes fans to a page of buttons via which they can access the music on each platform. This is good for fan communications, but also provides some extra data about how fans are interacting with the music.

Affiliate link data. Some digital platforms allow other people or companies to become ‘affiliates’. Each affiliate is then given some code to add to any links they share to content or products on those platforms. If a fan clicks through and buys something, the affiliate gets a small commission. But they also often get some data about how the fan interacted with the platform.

CMU wrote a Fan Data Guide for the Music Managers Forum. For more information on these different kinds of fan data, and what artists and their business partners can do with them, download a free copy of the Fan Data Guide

There are various different ways we can use fan data.
How a music-maker uses fan data will depend on the kind of data and what the artist is doing at any one time. But there are four key ways the data can be valuable in helping the artist understand and grow their fanbase.

Profile the fanbase. The data tells the music-maker general information about their fans, including where they are based, what devices and platforms they use, what kind of content they are most likely to interact with, what playlists they subscribe to, and so on.

Test campaign effectiveness. The data tells a music-maker and their business partners whether any one bit of marketing activity worked. So, you post a short video to Instagram promoting a smart link to a new track. Did anyone see or interact with the video? Did anyone click on the smart link? Did anyone stream the music? By asking those questions and checking the data, the music-maker and their team can learn about what works best when engaging with fans, and use that information to inform future marketing activity.

Target messaging. Some data allows music-makers and their business partners to target their marketing. So, with digital advertising, the artist and their team decide who to prioritise when pushing content out based on the kinds of people who have responded most positively in the past. Or, using the re-targeting tools provided by social media, they push new content specifically to people who have interacted with past content

Profile the fan. Some data allows the music-maker to better understand the interests of individual fans, usually by name or at least email address. Email data and direct-to-fan data is particularly powerful in this domain. It means fan communication can be targeted according to a fan’s specific interests.

GDPR, privacy regulations and fan data

How you can use and share fan data is often regulated.

Fan data – and in particular data that can be connected to a specific individual – is regulated by data protection law.

The fan must know what data is being gathered, who will have access to that data, what the data will be used for, and how they can see and remove the data. Artists and their business partners need to provide this information in a ‘data and privacy statement’ on their websites, and they should sign-post this information whenever they are directly gathering data.

For artists, awareness of data protection law is perhaps most important when collecting things like email addresses from a fan.

If the plan is to send promotional emails to the fan, it’s best to have them both provide their email address and then also confirm they definitely want to opt-in, by sending them an email that contains an opt-in link or button.

Platforms like Mailchimp can facilitate that process and keep a log of the fan opting-in to receive messages, in case the artist ever has to prove that permission was provided in the future.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
You've successfully subscribed to CMU.
Your link has expired.
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.
Success! Your billing info has been updated.
Your billing was not updated.
Privacy Policy