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Why Data Is Production Music's Unsung Hero
- Monday, Oct. 26, 2020
Ever wonder what really happens behind the scenes to make a piece of music searchable and get artists paid? It’s called data and the devil is in the details.
As a musician who set out to carve a niche in this business some 20 years ago, I never imagined that data, of all things, would be such a major emphasis of my work. I mean, could you get any further away from the fluid, boundless creativity of music than the confined, delineated order of data? Yet, here I am happily marrying two very different, though necessary partners in running a production music company...knowing you can’t have one without the other (lack of job sex appeal aside!).
Data may seem like the ugly stepchild missing the glory bestowed on more creative music roles, but I would actually call it the unsung hero...the very reason our clients can sort through and discover all the wonderfully diverse music they use in the first place. And the very reason music’s composers and artists are able to keep creating the magic they do, whether they’re doing it for us at ALIBI Music or any other entity.
See, for those on the searching end of the production music equation, the process probably seems pretty straight forward. Type in a keyword or two and up pop your options in less than two seconds as if conjured magically by a crew of hidden elves. What’s really happening behind the scenes, of course, is not as fantastical, but certainly of vital importance.
It’s data...the painstaking, devil’s-in-the-details kind of data that you don’t notice at all, ironically, until it’s not done well.
And here’s why.
For every music track we license at ALIBI, there are as many as 400 unique fields of data that have been input meticulously to provide very particular results. It’s such an important process that six out of our 13 full-time employees (including yours truly) deal with data. That’s nearly half of the company if you don’t include the more than 200 professional composers we contract around the world.
Creatively, this data helps define the music in search engines. On the publishing side, it helps ensure that artists and composers are fairly compensated by the performance royalty organizations (PROs).
The data process begins as early as the delivery of tracks by composers, whom we ask (and sometimes plead) to adhere to strict file naming standards. The original data for each new ALIBI track is handled by our music manager/supervisor Paul Ortiz in the U.K. Paul completes an original sheet of 30-40 columns, which includes information on the writer, publisher and percentages, as well as the keyword descriptors of the audio files, so people can easily find the music.
This data will ultimately be delivered to our partners, but it first goes back to the States and into the capable hands of our full-time database manager, Eddie Mackavage, who hands it off to those elves. And by that, I mean he imports the data into our custom sequel database--a feat of streamlining we built after years of screaming at Excel sheets.
This database generates roughly 315 additional columns of data, pulling, for example, all instruments from the descriptions and putting them into the instrument field. Numerous fields are auto-populated. And because our partners often require this same information but in their own formats, our sequel database also auto-fills the fields for each of those required formats.
Once Eddie gets that into the database, he uploads the audio to our website and uploads the data to attach the audio with those 400 fields. On the creative side, he then sends it to music supervisor & head of sync AR Julia Trainor and me to proof--a round of QA for accuracy and to add anything that may have been missed. Eddie implements our notes almost immediately and updates our website. And when all that’s done, we can actually publish the music from our site.
On the publishing side, Eddie gets the data into Music Maestro, our publishing program, to get everything registered with the societies (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc.). Our VP, publishing Jonathan Haskell makes sure this data is both correct and organized and delivers it to some 20-30 different places.
If all of this seems exhausting, just imagine doing it without the speed and accuracy of a custom sequel database. A relatively small update that once took all day is now done in three seconds! Sure, we’ve created a streamlined way of dealing with data, but it’s still an intensive process requiring tremendous dedication to quality.
Early on in my production music journey, during a meeting with then head of Turner Studios Jim Rich, he told me that having great music was imperative (I agree!), but if you don’t have the data for it, it will never be found or tracked properly. “You’re not in the music business. You’re in the data business,” he said.
I’ve taken that very much to heart over the years, as you can see, and it’s why we spend so much time working on the data side of things while we let the creatives do their awesome creative things.
As I’ve said before, providing detailed, accurate data may not sound like the sexiest part of production music, but it is absolutely clutch in giving editors an efficient way to find music that works for their projects and--equally important--getting artists and composers paid for their hard work.
Jonathan Parks is founder and executive producer at ALIBI Music.