Metadata is a word you hear a lot in the world these days, and it isnt strictly regarding just sound effects. Most people have a vague concept of what it is, but dont truly understand what it does. It can apply to images, text documents and sounds. What we want to focus on is the metadata that applies to sound effect files.
So lets start with the basics, what is metadata? Metadata is extra information about the sound file. When you go to open a sound file, you get two things; one is the audio itself, and two is the title of the track. This is usually sufficient enough for your average consumer, but for the professionals in this business they need more information. Thats where the metadata comes in. Every sound file has metadata attached to it, but it is hidden. Only those who have the software that will display the metadata will be able to see it. Some of the standard information that metadata will provide is location, date, time, description, category, sub-category, etc. There is no across the board standard for metadata however, so sometimes you may end up with only a few of those fields, and in other situations you will end up with more.
It is important to note that the addition of this metadata does not affect the actual audio file in any way. The metadata is embedded or wrapped around the sound file, there if you need it, but not compromising the file.
Now that you know what metadata is, lets take a look at why we use it. The main reason is to save time, as metadata allows you to do a more comprehensive search to find a sound quickly and efficiently. This is especially handy if you have a large sound effects library. This adds to your library being more user friendly, which is always a good thing. The last thing someone wants to do is be scrolling through audio files that arent relevant to what they are looking for, they will give up and go look somewhere else. Essentially, metadata allows you to organize your sound effects library. You can clump certain sound together using categories or sub-categories. And since this data is attached to the audio file itself, if you move your sound effect library, or parts of it, you will still be able to perform searches. Metadata helps to make your life just a little bit easier.
One downside to metadata is that it is very subjective. Two people may use different describing words for the exact same sound effect, or may apply it to different categories. You cant just add every descriptive word that may apply to the sound either, as then when a user goes to search for something they will get sound effects that are barely even relevant. The key to making metadata useful is to make sure it is relevant to the sound effect. Consistency is key.