DDEX was formed in 2006 as ‘Digital Data Exchange, LLC’ by a consortium of leading media companies, music licensing organisations, digital service providers and technical intermediaries. They realised that the developing legal digital music industry needed to adopt standards related to the way it communicated information about works, tracks and products (including ownership and sales information). This ‘metadata’ needed to be communicated in a common format and then delivered between companies in a common way so that each party requiring access to the metadata can understand it. In the early days of the digital music industry, companies were each developing their own formats and methods of delivery. This meant that any organisation wishing to transact with more than one other company had to be able to understand multiple formats delivered in multiple ways. As the music industry transitioned from a high value, low volume model to a low value, high volume one, this way of formatting and communicating metadata was expensive and inefficient.

Therefore DDEX has standardised the formats in which information is represented in XML messages and the method by which the messages are exchanged between business partners. Now, DDEX is becoming the de facto standard for the formatting and delivery of metadata relating to the digital music supply chain. The initial focus for DDEX was developing standards that enabled the communication of information, usually between record companies and digital retailers, about the releases being offered to consumers, and information about what had been sold or used. Thus early versions of the Electronic Release Notification Message Suite and the Digital Sales Report Message Suite were developed. Early attempts to implement these standards showed that more work was required and so further developments followed until late 2008 when the message suites in the form they are now being implemented were published. In the meantime, DDEX went on to develop early versions of the Musical Work Licensing Message Suite, early versions of the handbooks and other supporting standards.

The founder members of the DDEX consortium were the record companies EMI Music, SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT (now Sony Music), Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group; music rights societies ASCAP, The Harry Fox Agency, The MCPS-PRS Alliance Limited (now PRS for Music), SACEM and SGAE; and digital service providers Apple Computer Inc., Microsoft Corp. and RealNetworks Inc.