Peter Filleul: It's all in the data…

The APRS Sound Fellow opines on the way the metadata wind is blowing
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Peter Filleul

My sojourn at the APRS threw me into a number of dark and complex arenas, most of which I knew nothing about at the start. However, after 20 years as the APRS rep on the BSI’s Metadata and Identifier sub-committee and representing them as a supposed expert on the ISO ISRC Working Group, I now have a pretty good idea of the way the metadata wind is blowing.

Our interest in metadata was entirely stimulated by a primary issue for the British Record Producers’ Guild, at the time a division of the APRS, identifying accurate details of performer contributions to recordings. This information was essential to performance revenue streams, handled in the UK by PPL, an institution that had hitherto refused to include studio producers in their distributions of ‘needle-time’ income. Perhaps the APRS having such a close relationship with the venues and equipment by which recordings were made might enable an effective path to the accurate and authoritative recording data the labels required – thus providing indisputable, irresistible leverage to persuade PPL to pay studio producers.

Was I correct to assume that PPL’s record label members had complete and accurate metadata about performers’ contributions as an administrative priority? Surely…?

The ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is a unique identifier that should be applied to each releasable recorded track, rather like every book should have a unique ISBN number. You can order a book using an ISBN in a bookshop – a useful mechanism for the publishers, authors, booksellers and readers. Sadly, an ISRC offers no such useful mechanism for its stakeholders.

The IFPI, the worldwide body representing record labels, has been the designated authority that handles the ISRC standard since 1989, but their system can only be used privately by individual labels: there is no open access between labels nor to other rights- and stake-holders such as performers, rights-management organisations, broadcasters, libraries or digital aggregators and distributors – and certainly not to consumers.

The lack of an accessible global recordings registry has always impeded the usefulness of the ISRC. No registry means no independent way to check on downloads, streams, broadcasts and even sales of recordings; no transparent way to confirm usage of their recordings for rights- and stake-holders; and no way even to ensure the contributor information upon which revenue distributions are based is correct.
Why would labels be nervous about sharing information that accurately identifies their products? Why would the labels’ global body, the IFPI, insist they alone should control the way ISRC is run?
Answers on a postcard, please.

Peter Filleul is a musician, the former executive director of the APRS and a very recent recipient of the APRS Sound Fellowship