Any musician born before 1980 can appreciate what the MIDI standard meant to music creation. I still remember connecting that 5-pin connector cable, for the very first time, between my Yamaha DX7 and my Korg DW6000 then freaking out when I heard both keyboards sounding simultaneously; even though I was only playing the Yamaha.
Pioneered by Sequential Circuit’s Dave Smith and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi, the MIDI standard was historic because major competitors like Korg and Yamaha all agreed to adopt it on their equipment; a feat that was only possible because Kakehashi and Smith knew their creation would only succeed if they made it open source and not proprietary.
This “all boats will rise” kind of thinking is rare. But one well-known figure in the production music industry has employed this kind of thinking since 1998; tenaciously working to create a metadata standard by which track searches can be done by media professionals quickly and uniformly no matter what music collection they’re browsing.
That person is Steve Pecile, founder of Soundminer. The Soundminer metadata standard, although used by a handful of progressive beta testers since 1998, was officially launched in 2002.
“We think of it as a ‘schema’,” explains Pecile. “It’s a standard by which an audio file can be digitally tagged with information about its creator, its style, where it was recorded, who conducted the orchestra, what microphone was used, which movie scene it was for, which PRO the composer belongs to, etc.” In most broadcast or feature film media projects, audio files typically pass through dozens of digital workstations before the final product is rendered. Not unlike tagging an animal before releasing it into the wild, Pecile hopes a time will come when every sound effect file and music file in a project retains its digital “wrapper” through the entire process, thus making it easier for music licensing managers, post-production personnel, movie producers, lawyers, performing rights organizations and Skynet to accurately know the origin of all those wonderful….er…animals.
Soundminer’s landmark white paper comprehensively detailed what field should goes where so that media professionals could implement the standard themselves in their own way even before they purchased any Soundminer products.
Soundminer offers an excellent software product to do all this for you (VPro – $899.99), but this writer believes that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what makes the company remarkable. It takes a magnanimous attitude to say to an entire industry: “If it’s important to you to remember which microphone you used on location to capture that footstep sound, put that information in field x. If it’s important to remember who conducted this particular film cue, put that information in field y. If the track has a hip hop flavor, be sure to check a box in the hip hop column.”
That may sound innocuous, but if every production music library and major audio content producer adhered to the schema and populated their open id3 containers the same way, music searches and audio file cataloging wouldn’t be the huge industry bottleneck that it is…and all boats would rise.
And Pecile and his colleagues aren’t stopping there. They imagine a day when finding the right piece of music will go beyond just text metadata. Digital fingerprinting – the method made famous by Shazam wherein frequency, time and intensity data for every audio waveform is captured, cataloged and compared – will definitely play a role in how production music track searches are done in the future.
Pecile explains, “With software like that, it’s less about the number of data points being captured than what conditions are being applied to those data points. I definitely see the Soundminer platform evolving in that direction, but right now it’s a question of economics. The research teams who develop these algorithms can sometimes be too insulated from the marketplace to price their products realistically.”
In a competitive industry like the music business, which has hit its share of icebergs due to overly-proprietary thinking, it’s refreshing to see Steve Pecile and Soundminer endeavor to unify the production music world with their metadata standard; and the progressive thought they apply every day to answer the question thousands of media professionals ask on a daily basis: “How the heck am I gonna go through all this music and find the track we need?”
Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of http://www.musicrevolution.com, a production music marketplace with over 30,000 tracks online where media producers, video producers, filmmakers, game developers, businesses and other music buyers can license high-quality, affordable royalty-free music from an online community of musicians firstname.lastname@example.org.