Last week the Recording Academy announced a new campaign encouraging those who release recorded music to include album credit information – including songwriters, sidemen, engineers, producers – in digital releases. This is the latest stab at remedying one of the true problems of the digital music era, when nearly all download releases come stripped of meta-info and context. I’ve lamented this for years, because for nearly any music super-fan my age, liner notes on LPs and CDs were essential to learning and discovery. So far, there have been a few attempts at enhanced digital releases, notably iTunes LP. But I don’t get a sense that’s become widespread, and I don’t love a system that depends on using iTunes as your music library. A list of iTunes LP titles is HERE. There’s also a quirky but helpful site called albumlinernotes.com that houses notes for a few hundred notable releases.
But funny, just this week I came across an artist making use of one blindingly obvious but rarely used solution to this problem. Just put them on your dang website, as Kathy Mattea has done HERE for her new album Calling Me Home. Not only does she let you see who played on the project, plus lyrics, acknowledgements and songwriter information, she posts the album booklet essay by author Barbara Kingsolver. As a journalist trying to write about this release which I don’t yet have, it was a godsend, but as a consumer IT MAKES ME FAR MORE LIKELY TO WANT TO BUY THE ALBUM. For years, labels and artists have rebuilt websites to conform to each new release, with matching art and a refreshed bio that focuses on the release. But not one in 1,000 releases actually post the content that’s been written and formatted for the album booklet. Perhaps the logic is that could encourage illegal downloads. But more likely it's just neglect. And with it, a lost opportunity to market the project or enhance the experience of those who purchase it digitally.Of course if the Recording Academy really wanted to make this happen, it could make digital liner notes a requirement to be considered for Grammy Awards. Or they could follow the precedent of their Producers and Engineers wing, which promulgates standards for delivery (to the record label) and archiving of masters, to ensure changing technology doesn’t render original recordings of projects obsolete in a few years’ time. My understanding is those are not mandatory but that they’re influential enough to have become standard industry practice. Please correct me if I’m wrong.