Data Future; Bill Wilson And Brandon Martinez On Metadata And Innovation

TThe October week was unexpectedly warm as I hustled past glum commuters with “real jobs”, my Jimi Hendrix tie waving in the breeze. Bachman-Turner Overdrive played in my head as I caught the 8:07 into the city (close enough) to cover the Future of Music Coalition’s annual policy summit in Washington, DC.

Bill Wilson (Music Business Association VP, digital strategy and business development) and Brandon Martinez (co-founder and CEO of INDMUSIC, YouTube’s largest music network, and the company behind the monetization of the Harlem Shake) both graciously agreed to interviews.  Although they were conducted several days apart, the points meshed so well that it was like both men were sitting at the same table.  Generous with their time and ideas, they shared their thoughts on what indie musicians need to do now, where the field is headed, and how to flourish in a digital age.

On Metadata 

Data Future Conversations with Bill Wilson and Brandon Martinez about metadata, innovation, and flourishing in a digital age

Bill Wilson

Metadata is the information that “lives” with your song, such as artist, title, songwriter, etc.  Embedded with the sound file, it’s an essential bit of information that facilitates everything from discovery to royalty payments.  Strangely enough, it’s an often neglected step by today’s independent artists, partly due to ignorance of the topic.  Thankfully, there’s people working to change that.

After listening to him speak on a metadata panel, I sat down with Mr. Wilson over veggie burgers  for a lunchtime interview. (Vegetarians unite!) His main point was this:  Not paying attention to your digital life is an imminent threat to your career. 

His refreshingly animated demeanor brought to life a topic that can sometimes seem a bit dry.  Look, it’s a thankless job, like putting gas in the band van.  But it’s something that you’ve got to do. Since metadata is the identifying information for your artistic work, not doing it properly doesn’t mean you’re put aside…it means you’re not even at the party. You’re locked out, period. 

It’s an ocean of information out there, so doing this right is vital.  “The enemy is in the mirror” he went on to say.

“You have to tune your instrument, you have to lug your amp, you have to do thankless, invisible jobs.  Get used to it.  I’m sorry, life is hard!”  (Laughter around the table.)  His point: he’s not being snarky, it’s just that important, and the reality of the situation.  “It’s typically the job of the labels and the managers to do all of this, and know all of this, but until you get to that point, it’s on you.”  

“If you don’t like to get paid, then by all means, keep doing what you’re doing.”  But if artists wish to claim the maximum benefit from their music, proper attention to metadata is essential.

Brandon Martinez made a similar point a few days later during our phone interview.  It’s become cool for people to say that they’re Indie, and that’s great, but it also means that you’re responsible for every aspect of your career.  It’s also about finding the right partners to suit your needs, such as content and rights management, etc. 

Data Future Conversations with Bill Wilson and Brandon Martinez about metadata, innovation, and flourishing in a digital age

Brandon Martinez

Mr. Martinez’s specialty is YouTube, and his take on metadata echo’s Mr. Wilson’s.  Everything is linked back to metadata.  You can get RIAA and Billboard charting with it, so you need it.  It’s all linked back to ISRC’s, etc.  From maximum revenue to further implications, you need it!  Provide all the information.  The more you provide, the better the system works for you. 

Speaking on some of the specifics of YouTube, he added that an easy yet important step for artist to take is to connect your YouTube channel with your Google Plus page, allowing YouTube to verify your account.  This leads to higher search rankings, vital in today’s age of discovery.

Their main point on metadata was clear:  just do it.  It’s that important.  The second point:  be thorough, and provide as much information as possible.

A Changing Picture 

Digital Transition of Music

Digital Transition of Music

The theme of the summit was the future of music, and indeed, it seems to be a question that’s even bubbling to the surface in mainstream media.  I was excited to hear what both gentlemen had to say on the topic.  As Mr. Wilson pointed out, there’s still a heavy return from the old model, and it’s a transitional time.  Mr. Martinez stated that the industry has gone from a system of physical dissemination of product to digital files (hence the importance of metadata!)

When I asked him about the unease about Spotify and other such services, and the pushback from the labels and artists, he said “Streaming is here.  To fight a changing industry is just silly.  To think an industry could control a worldwide culture is just crazy.” (Emphasis mine.)

Bill Wilson mentioned that “the new business operates in the copyright parameters and the existing physics of the old world, whether we like it or not.  So, we have to figure out how to create economic interest around expansion.  I think that because we’re moving to an algorithm-based economy, that is, discovery,  the data question is important. At some point, you see forward thinking companies, (like any other adoption curve) with economic necessity move forward faster, and those who are legacy resting on their laurels because they can.”

With the change in the world, more opportunities arise, and it’s about “getting as much revenue from as many sources as possible.” according to Martinez.  He added  “The core is data.  That’s how the industry has shifted.  Do the data correctly.  Leverage it to make sure it’s delivered correctly.  I’m curious to see a tour that’s booked on analytics.  It’s now a global music economy, and we’ll see data and analytics adding to bigger successes (like music videos and shared content.)”

When I asked him later about revenue opportunities in the new market, he listed a host of ideas, including streaming, downloads, emerging platforms (YouTube, Soundcloud, etc), but also looking beyond that to grant integrations, merchandising, and selling merchandise in batches. I think it’s about broadcasting to your audience, then evaluating your audience. Reward them for being engaged, and find ways to make it special.    There’s cool things in the ticketing space, special meet and greets, even playing informal football games, hosting fan breakfasts, etc.  The more that you know about your audience, the more invested in you and career they become, and you become equally invested in them, and really care about them.


Both Wilson and Martinez stressed the importance of education.

“Not a lot of people go to conferences.  Learn where the opportunities are, and how to handle them.   Learn more, read more, reach outside your comfort zone, especially in YouTube.  Read billboard, read read read, look at some of the digital video stuff like Daily Dot, Tube Filter, and New Media Rockstars. Learn from more than just the music industry.  Look at it as much broader.  Collaboration is a  much broader part of it, too, and not just with musicians.  In the YouTube world it’s big to be in each others videos.  Collaborate with a video director!  The internet, and YouTube especially, is filled with talented creators.  Use the broader world.”

 And Wilson offered up this gem:  “Don’t lose the storytelling.”

In closing

I left both conversations encouraged about where we’re headed, and with a new appreciation for the relatively untapped potential of the data-driven marketplace.  Artists are in the driver’s seat, but that also means that diligence is needed.  Today’s Indie must do it all, from proper metadata entry to inventing the next big idea – but that’s a good thing.  Get educated, and get crackin’!  The future belongs to those who take the initiative.

Josh Urban is a freelance writer, musician, and entrepreneur living near Washington, DC, USA. Say hello on Twitter @DontJoshMe