• Sterling Skye

What is Metadata?

The guide to properly labeling your audio files with ID3 tags.

When taking on a mastering project, I always ask the client if they want me to embed metadata into the finalized files. Occasionally, musicians and podcasters are unfamiliar with this process so I'll get the response of what is metadata? This is what gave me the inspiration to write this article. I want to clear up some of the confusion surrounding this topic. Let's start with defining metadata, then we'll jump into why it's important and how you can properly embed metadata into your audio files.


Metadata is data describing data. Confused? Just think of it as the descriptive information of an audio file such as: track name, artist/author name, album artwork, etc. In most cases, this information needs to be manually embedded into an audio file. Doing so provides listeners with all the important details of your music or podcast.


We like to describe embedding this information as ID3 tagging. ID3 is the metadata container used in MP3 files. Other audio file types use different metadata containers that vary in formatting compared to the ID3 container. To keep things simple, we just refer to all metadata tagging as ID3 tagging. ID3v2 is the specific format that should be used when embedding information into your MP3 files.


Why It's Important


The obvious reason why you'd want to properly tag your music or podcast is the importance of displaying the details of your work. Your audience will read the song name or the title of a podcast episode before listening. Make sure this first impression is a good one. A professional release always includes album artwork and is free from any spelling errors.


If you're in the business of creating music to be used for licensing, you definitely want to ensure all of the track information and your contact info are embedded. This shows professionalism on your part. Additionally, any company or individual looking to license music can easily see all the important details of your track to determine if it's close to what they're looking for without having to press play.


Get found in search results. Metadata is used to categorize your work and make it easier to be found by your current and future listeners.


If you've purchased a license or received permission to include a sample of someone else's work in your song, that information should be embedded into the file. This should help deter most if not all copyright claims against your work.


Speaking of copyrights; if you've registered your music in order to protect your work, embedding this copyright information will add an extra layer of protection.


Most podcast streaming platforms retrieve all the necessary information directly from your RSS feed. However, there are still platforms out there such as Overcast that do not retrieve certain information from your RSS feed. Embedding those ID3 tags into each episode will prevent any lost information.


What to Include

  • Media Kind: Music, Podcast, Audiobook

  • Song/Episode/Chapter Name

  • Album/Podcast Name

  • Artist/Author Name(s)

  • Composer/Producer Name(s)

  • PRO Affiliation

  • Ownership/Royalties Split Percentages

  • Genre

  • Artwork

  • Date of Release

  • Track Number

  • When Licensing Music: BPM, Key Signature, Time Signature

  • Lyrics

  • Podcast Episode Description

  • Contact Information: Website, Email

  • Any Copyright/Licensing Information

  • ISRCs

Always double-check the spelling! The last thing you want is to release material with a misspelling of the name of your album or the name of the guest you interviewed on your podcast.


Here's an example taken from iTunes of the main details embedded into a song and a podcast.

How To Add ID3 Tags


So now you know what to include and the importance of doing so. Let's discuss how you can add this information. Here's four options:

  1. Ask your mastering engineer to add it. - By far the easiest option for those who outsource the engineering work. No need to go into further details. Your mastering engineer will have everything covered.

  2. Use iTunes. - A free option for those who need it done quick and easy. - Import your media, right-click and select "Song Info," add relevant information and click ok. For Mac users: right-click again and select "Show in Finder" to easily locate the edited file. - There's a good step-by-step guide for podcasters over at Podcast Engineer. Click HERE for the guide.

  3. Use your digital aggregator/distribution platform. - Music distribution platforms such as CD Baby and DistroKid let you add/adjust the metadata information of your music before releasing. - Podcast distribution platforms such as Buzzsprout and Anchor let you add/adjust any metadata information you wish to include with your podcast episodes.

  4. Download a dedicated ID3 editing software. - I would suggest this option mainly for audio professionals who frequently edit ID3 metadata information. A dedicated editing software such as MP3TAG (MAC | WIN) will be compatible with any audio file type you come across. These dedicated programs are best when you need to perform batch editing.


Final Thoughts:


Embedding ID3 tags into your work ensures that your music or podcast is displayed properly across all streaming services and playback devices. Make sure you're creating a strong first impression with proper labels and artwork.


If you learned something new or found an idea particularly helpful, please like and share this post. Let me know in the comments below of any details you add that I missed and how you add ID3 tags to your work.


Don't forget to subscribe to this blog to receive updates on future articles.


- Sterling Skye

Resources and Additional Learning Materials:


“Metadata.” Metadata Definition, techterms.com/definition/metadata.


“Metadata.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metadata.


“ID3.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ID3.


“Definition of ID3 Tag.” PCMAG, www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/id3-tag.


“Podcast Setup: How to Add ID3 Tags on Your Mp3.” Podcast Engineers, podcastengineers.com/blogs/podcast-setup-how-add-id3-tags-your-mp3.


“What Is an ID3 Tag?” Podbean, 11 June 2020, help.podbean.com/support/solutions/articles/25000021709-what-is-an-id3-tag-.


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