A guide to music metadata and token standards


The slightest misspelling of a name in a song’s metadata can lead to unfair compensation and errors. Here’s a guide to make sure you never miss a detail.

by Firebird Music Protocol average

In the music world, metadata most often refers to the credits of songs you see on services like Spotify or Apple Music, but it also includes all the underlying information related to a released song or album. , including titles, names of songwriters and producers, publisher(s), record company, etc. This information needs to be synced across all sorts of industry databases to ensure that when you listen to a song, the right people are identified and paid for. And often they are not.

Therefore, the problem is much bigger than a misspelled name when you click on the credits of a song on Spotify. Missing, bad, or inconsistent song metadata is a crisis that has left, by some estimates, Billions on the table that never gets paid to the artists who made that money. And as the amount of music created and consumed continues to grow at a faster rate, it’s only going to get more complicated.

So far there is no unified database structure. Metadata passes through a non-standard interweaving of databases across the industry: from labels to distributors, from distributors to DSPs, from DSPs to PROs, from PROs to publishers.

Unallocated royalties are royalties generated from the use of a song, but never paid to a specific artist, performer, or songwriter due to missing information. If you haven’t properly recorded your songs, you’re likely to miss out on your own royalties, leaving them unclaimed and tied to the ‘black box’ money that major publishers split up on redistribution.

Currently, the main standard for identifying music in all file formats is the ISRC code – “a fixed point of reference when the recording is used on different services, across borders or under different agreements license”. However, ISRC codes are assigned to sound recordings – just one of the layers of music data.

There have been several attempts to create a global music reference database, but to date there is no ultimate source of truth that would resolve metadata conflicts. Now the most notable public music databases are the open source platforms MusicBrainz and Discogs and the IFPI’s ISRC code catalog – but, unfortunately, they are all far from complete.

Read more on SoundCharts

Musicbrainz Schema Diagram

Take a look at this Musicbrainz diagram above. A visual diagram of the open source database they created to standardize metadata for Web2.

On the face of it, it’s clear, to encapsulate the basics of digitizing and storing music and its abstractions, we need to be able to analyze multiple layers of complexity.

For example, the more people get involved, the more people there are to distribute salaries, royalties, and awards. Just like making a movie, with levels of investors, producers, engineers, entrepreneurs, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum, there might be someone who owns the rights to both sides of the intellectual property of their songs. With the advent of the democratization of sound, more musicians own their own copyright than ever before.

So what is a song?

It can be broken down into two parts (aka “two sides”) of intellectual property. However, both parties have many types of royalties that can be collected based on the use of this musical property.

A musical work Where composition (aka Publishing) is the result of the creative thought process of songwriters and producers. Usually lyrics, melodies, etc.

Royalties include:

  • Performance royalties
  • Mechanical royalties (mechanical)
  • Printing royalties

A sound recording (aka Masters) musical work, produced and recorded by performing artists.

Royalties include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Interactive streams (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.)
  • Sales (iTunes downloads, etc.)
  • Digital Performance (Pandora)
  • Neighboring rights
  • Synchronization License

In the end, a single composition can create hundreds (or even thousands) of distinct metadata entities, which greatly complicates the landscape. There could be a lot of people involved in writing or recording this song. Music companies have to match all these different layers of abstraction. For example, if ASCAP receives a report on a radio broadcast for a specific release, it must associate it with the underlying composition to locate the songwriters. And SongTrust collects mechanical and performance royalties.

What about copyright?

Copyright is just that, a right to make a copy. It is the exclusive right to the intellectual property associated with it.

A song is copyrighted once it has been ‘corrected’ into a form that can be copied, eg written down or recorded. It must be original in the sense of not having been copied from elsewhere. Copyright allows authors to control the use of their work: who uses it and how.

Copyright prevents people from

  • copy the protected work (the right of reproduction)
  • distribute copies, whether for free or for sale (the distribution right)
  • rent or lend copies of the work to the public (the rental right)
  • perform, show or play the work in public (the public performance right)
  • communicate the work to the public, including putting it on the Internet (the right of communication)
  • make an adaptation of the work (the right of adaptation).

What is an ISRC?
The International Standard Recording Code (or ISRC) is used to catalog individual sound recordings (or “master recordings”) worldwide. It is a unique 12-character alphanumeric code assigned by a record label, distributor, or sound recording owner to a specific recording made by an artist or group.

1 ISRC number = 1 sound recording

What is an ISWC?
The International Standard Musical Work Code (ISWC) is an 11-character alphanumeric code or international identification system cataloging individual compositions (usually songs) rather than recordings. An ISWC is an identifier usually assigned by a collecting society – ASCAP in North America, for example – to a musical work. It tracks the song title, songwriter(s), music publisher(s) and corresponding ownership shares.

1 ISWC number = 1 Composition

An ISWC can be linked to any number of ISRCs, while each ISRC is only linked to a specific record. Think of the Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues”; it has been covered by several artists (including Cash himself) on many different studio recordings and live albums. There is only one ISWC for the song, but dozens of ISRCs exist for the different recordings.

What is an IPI?
An Interested Party Information (IPI) number is a unique international identification number, usually consisting of 9 to 11 digits. IPIs are assigned to songwriters, composers and music publishers who own the rights to the music. IPI codes are connected to the ISWC

What is a P notice?
The standard copyright symbol is © and applies to the author of a composition, song and its lyrics. Copyright generally applies to the life of the author (or the last survivor of a team) plus 70 years, with some variations. This legal protection can also extend to works of art and photographic materials used in the creation of packaging.

The symbol for copyrighted sound recordings is ℗. The p stands for phonogram, a legal term applied to the master recording of music, spoken words or sounds on vinyl records, audio tapes, cassettes, compact discs, etc. A specific copyright in the sound recording does not apply to any other interpretation or version, even if performed by the same artist(s). It is usually notated in the same way as the more familiar copyright symbol (example: ℗ 1987 Owner’s name).

So how do you put songs and their copyrights on the blockchain? What about the Firebird protocol? And beyond in the metaverse?

We do it with Tokens. Non-fungible tokens (NFT).

In our Cardano ecosystem, there is no official token standard yet for storing and categorizing music on the blockchain. However, there has been a new proposal from Andrew Westberg CIP-0060 for a new music NFT standard, which will bring more clarity on how to use music-related NFTs in-chain. We look forward to contributing.

So for now we are using CIP-0025 and using CIP-0060 as a reference.

But first, before we begin our tokenization journey, we need to understand a broad outline of the architecture we will need to build.

A simple and reduced overview of the key areas to address in our first iteration of the Firebird protocol.

To start building our protocol, we use the songs from Cullah’s 16th album Bird of Fire. To do this, we opted for a “bottom up” approach. So, let’s start with the stems first. 🌱 Every stem of every song will be hit as an NFT in our next mints.

Here is an example of what our stub metadata might look like:

"TOKEN": {
"Project": "Cullah - Firebird",
"Website": "https://firebird.cullah.com",
"image": "ipfs://123abc",
"mediaType": "image/png",
"token_type": "stem",
"song_hash": "asset17aa9vgnuc3pcye3k8s9cmevkzy2dugav5ygyrx",
"stem": "Bass",
"stem_order": "1/6",
"files": [
"mediaType": "image/png",
"name": "Image",
"src": "ipfs://123abc.png"
"mediaType": "audio/flac",
"name": "Audio",
"src": "ipfs://123abc.flac"
"mediaType": "application/pdf",
"name": "License",
"src": "ipfs://123abc.pdf"

Now, it’s important to keep in mind that token structures and metadata are very subject to change. As development progresses, we will continue to release metadata and licensing standards that the protocol will use. Stay tuned for updates on our various channels.

Q: Wait, aren’t NFTs immutable and permanent once they’re created? How can you just change stem NFTs later?
A: Not necessarily on Cardano!

The metadata of any token can be changed through the policy of the mechanism. Any policy can be locked or kept open. A locked policy means that all NFTs must be minted before the specified mint lock date. Learn more about minting NFTs on Cardano.

With our policy, it will be maintained open until we’ve defined the relationship between the stem tokens and any other potential tokens our protocol will use (like song, master, release, or license tokens).

Thanks for reading!

-Team Firebird

Discord: https://discord.gg/kKz6wuHMbd


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