Why Don't We Have an IMDb for Music?

For several years now, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has been the go-to website for anyone seeking information on movie credits, filmography details for directors or actors, or data on current and upcoming movie releases or older films. Recently, IMDb also expanded and enhanced its television credits, so it now is a better source for that information as well.

For readers that might not be familiar with IMDb, every movie and actor or director--plus movie and TV craftspeople of all kinds--has an entry that includes brief biographical details and an exhaustive filmography (in the case of individuals), production details including full cast and crew listing (in the case of movies or TV programs), and, in some cases head shots or publicity photos and links to reviews. The thoroughness and breadth of IMDb's data regarding movies has become a huge boon to film scholars and more casual film buffs alike. Pretty much any factual information needed about movies is available at one's fingertips (via a computer keyboard, of course).

It's shocking (at least to this observer) that a similarly exhaustive and detailed Internet database has not emerged for popular music. It seems entirely logical (again, to this observer) that such a site would not only be popular and heavily-used, but also beneficial to the music industry in the same way that IMDb has become a driver for video/DVD sales through its ownership by Amazon.

An "Internet Music Database" could have a page for each artist with a complete discography, biographical details similar to IMDb's, and even, if the right resources are available, a lyric archive for each artist and a listing of upcoming concert dates and promotional appearances. In addition, each page for an individual album could have links for purchasing the album in either CD form through an Internet retailer or in digital form through downloads. (IMDb has such links for purchasing videotapes or DVDs--and in many cases a movie's soundtrack album--through, naturally, Amazon.)

One of the problems that exacerbates the need for an "Internet Music Database" is the hodge-podge of sources for such information that currently exists. Music fans, I think, are frustrated by the inability to find and use a one-stop source, especially those fans that are familiar with IMDb. There are quite a few lyrics sites out there (the Lyrics Search Engine at lyrics.astraweb.com is perhaps the best), and every record company website has artist info including (usually) discography details. Individual artists also typically have their own informative websites independent of their record company. And music websites such as Yahoo! Launch offer a variety of features in connection with their music services.

Apart from the fact that it is necessary to visit several of these sites to get comprehensive artist or album information, the reliability of that information is an issue. This is a problem especially on lyrics sites--many of which are compiled through user contributions, which are notoriously unreliable--but it can be troublesome even on some artist sites. Even iTunes, which is superior in every other way when it comes to Internet music resources, does not have the kind of exhaustive information available that IMDb does for movies or that I have listed above for a potential music database.

There are no doubt reasons, probably valid ones, why there is as yet no "Internet Music Database." I am not a music industry insider, and frankly do not keep up that well with music industry news, so I am not aware of any publicly discussed reasons. The fact that the music industry stalled so monumentally on even allowing digital downloads of music, and as a result is behind the curve on everything online-related, is surely a contributing factor. The industry dissension and differences of opinion that in part caused that stalling surely is cause as well.

Further, one of the other issues that was part of the delay in making music downloads available--and continues to prevent the music of some artists being available--is that of rights. Mounting a music database that was comparably comprehensive to IMDb's depth regarding movies would require the rights from virtually every existing record company (which really shouldn't be that difficult since probably 90% of the big record companies are part of one of the Big Four music conglomerates) but given the other industry problems I've just discussed, that might be too much to hope for, at least in the near future.

And so, music fans, as they have for nearly a decade now, will continue to get the short end of the proverbial stick when it comes to consideration on the part of the fractious music industry. For too long now, customers of popular music have been given little respect, whether in the form of ridiculously high CD prices or in the form of specious "piracy" lawsuits aimed at the hapless fans that the industry ought to be courting.

It will likely take a powerful interest outside of the mainstream music industry to make an "Internet Music Database" a reality (if it is ever to become a reality), similarly to how Apple and its iTunes prodded the industry to finally make music available online on a widespread basis. In fact, iTunes might be the best bet as the instigator that finally creates or makes possible such a database. But a few others, such as Microsoft, Yahoo, or Google, could also put together the required initiative, influence, and interest to make a music database happen. Whichever entity does make it happen might have to rely on the acquisition of an already existing website or data company to expand and develop into an IMDb-like music site. IMDb itself didn't prosper until after it was purchased by Amazon (although pre-acquisition, IMDb was a much better and more developed site than any existing music database candidate would currently be).

In the larger picture, the creation of a music database is probably not a priority of the music industry, and maybe not of the other companies I mentioned. iTunes is doing gangbusters as both a business and as a cultural icon even without adding such a service. Microsoft (as it has been doing for years) and Google (as it has just begun doing) might be too busy trying to take over the world. As a result, for the time being, the interests of music fans end up being the last priority of the businesses trying to sell them music.

No comments: