I recently decided to contact some radio stations to see if they would be interested in inflicting tracks from my album on their unsuspecting audience. I was all set to press SEND on my first email when I ran across some information on the Internet about something I hadn’t thought of – the importance of metadata for radio stations. Apparently it is a very useful tool in organizing the tracks they store on whatever systems thy use to store them. Sending a track without the accompanying metadata is not likely to endear you to the station’s music director and will make your submission appear unprofessional. I had never really paid much attention to metadata before, so I thought I’d share some of what I found out, how I added it to my tracks and some useful links that explain it better than me.
What Is Metadata?
Metadata is information attached to an mp3 file identifying the artist, the composer, the album it is part of (if any) and various other things. It can also include cover artwork. If you have ever uploaded a song to a distributor like CD Baby, DistroKid or Amuse, you will have had to provide this information as part of the upload process. The distributor will have attached the information to your track in the form of metadata to allow the streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music to add it to their libraries of songs. In addition to the information you provide, they will also have added a unique identifier called an ISRC, which ….well, it uniquely identifies it. More on the ISRC later. Importantly, the metadata is part of the MP3 file itself. It’s not dependent on links to files on your computer – if you send the file somewhere, the metadata goes with it.
Metadata isn’t restricted to MP3 files. It began with CDs and a certain amount of it can be added to .wav files. Most of what I say here will refer to MP3s because it is possible to add a whole lot more to this format. Also, it seems to be what most radio stations who accept digital submissions prefer.
To see the metadata attached to an mp3, choose a song and check it out in Windows or in iTunes. In Windows, right click on the file, select properties and the the Details tab. You will see the metadata arranged in sections. It includes the following:
# (referring to track number on the album)
Parental Rating Reason
Part of Set
Beats Per Minute
Part of a Compilation
Beneath that is information related to the file, which doesn’t concern us here.
You will see that some though probably not all of this information is present. Now open one of your own MP3s. some information my be present like length and bitrate, included automatically when you saved it. The rest of the fields will probably be empty.
How Do I Add Metadada?
Your DAW: Some DAWs provide the ability to add metadata when exporting to an MP3.
Windows: For those of us who don’t have that capability, one simple way to add metadata is simply to fill in the information in Windows. Just add a value to each of the fields listed above. However, Windows doesn’t allow you to enter all the information you might wish to. In particular, it doesn’t let you add artwork. This is a pity because it is much more satisfying to see the album artwork in whatever player you are using to listen to the music, be it iTunes, Windows Media Player or whatever. It also seemed to me that it would appear more professional to any music producer who might listen to a track.
iTunes: Import your MP3 into iTunes and then right click on it. Select Song Info and a window will open showing much of the same information listed above for Windows, although the names of the fields are slightly different in some cases. It also allows you to add some more information. In the Details tab, you can add how many tracks are on the album (e.g. track 1 of 10). More importantly, there is an Artwork tab. Just click on Add Artwork and select your file. Remember that this information will be added to the file, so it is not advisable to add a huge artwork file. I used a 300 x 300 pixel JPEG which only added 62 KB.
Download an App: Congratulation, you have now added all the relevant metadata….but wait, what about that ISRC thing you mentioned above? Well, unfortunately, neither of these two methods allows you to add that. To be honest, I’m not sure how important this is for me. I can see how it is important for major artists who earn big bucks from plays of their song and need to provide a way to keep tack of how many times it is played. It is the method used by the streaming services like Spotify to record the number of times my songs are played. At least one of the radio stations I was thinking about contacting specifically requested it, so on the basis of “if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly,” I set out to find a way to do this. The only way I could find was to download an app.
The most commonly used app seems to be MP3 Tag. However, I was a bit put off by the fact that it comes from Russia (excuse my paranoia), so I ended up using a program called Kid3, which is Open Source and devised by a guy in Switzerland. His website (click here) is very nerdy, but the app can be downloaded by clicking on the link for Windows 64 or 32 bit or MAC OS, or you can get it at Source Forge, where it gets great reviews: https://sourceforge.net/projects/kid3/. It comes in a zip file, which you can unzip to any folder on your computer and run from there. No need to install anything, which I like because I will probably only use this occasionally. Having downloaded it, I opened it, looked up my ISRC provided by my distributor and simply added it and saved it. The ISRC field isn’t displayed when you first open it, but you just have to click on the Add… button and select it. It’s pretty intuitive, but there are YouTube tutorials, including the one below, which is what turned me on to the program in the first place.
You can also add metadata to .wav files, which I was not able to do directly in Windows.
Information on various tagging applications
The best guide I found explaining what information to add to metadata and why.