You look at any book you own, you’ll find a 10- or 13-digit code underneath a bar code somewhere on the cover or maybe on one of the first inside pages. Every book published since 1970 has an ISBN–International Standard Book Number–so it may have a unique identifier which allows authors, publishers, librarians and booksellers to track and order books and book-like products (think audio books) everywhere on the planet. ISBNs have allowed for the creation of a massive global database of books.
If they can do it with books, they can do it with songs, right? Er, no. At least not yet.
No one has succeeded in creating a central database of music. Some recordings have been assigned an ISRC number–International Standard Recording Code–but with tens and tens and tens of millions of recordings out there, most songs don’t have one.
And it’s not just a matter of giving a song a number. If this is going to done properly, every version of a song needs its own number. The album version? That’s one number. A single edit? That’s another. Same thing with the multiple remixes. Every live version must have its own number. And so on and so on.
It’s a big job, but someone’s gotta do it. With tens of millions of songs (and their various, er, variations) pinging around on streaming services, artists and publishers need to know where their music is going so they can get paid for the use of their intellectual property. Giving each master recording its own identifier will go a long way in making sure the metadata associated with any given song is 100% correct.
The problem is no one can agree how to go about this.
Billboard takes a look at the industry’s efforts to make a truly comprehensive database of all music a reality.
When ASCAP and BMI announced July 26 that they had been working together for almost two years on a joint database for the more than 20 million songs they represent combined, they thought that all sectors of the music industry would welcome the news.
So they were surprised when record labels, publishers and some licensees criticized them as coming to market with what some have called a half-baked solution that could invite more government intervention in music licensing, sources tell Billboard.
They were even more surprised to learn that the two biggest music trade groups, the labels’ RIAA and the publishers’ NMPA, had begun their own discussions to build a comprehensive song database and had purposely excluded ASCAP and BMI from that initiative, at least in the early stages, the sources said.