One development – since the advent of the MP3 as a delivery format – is the complete lack of credits and liner notes. It’s amazing to look through the records in the iTunes music store, and see how many don’t have downloadable pdf versions of the artwork. I know most artists still put a great deal of effort into selecting the artwork for the cover, the photos and the layout of the booklet, putting together a list of credits, thank you’s and even some decent liner notes and lyrics in many cases. Surely looking at this as an extension of their artistic vision, so for them to then go ahead and not include it in the world’s largest music store, makes no sense to me.
For example, this new 20 yr. anniversary release of U2’s Achtung Baby with all it’s extras, outtakes, and miscellaneous snippets and burps, doesn’t have a pdf booklet to go with it. Not even a single page. As a matter of fact, every U2 album up to 2004’s ‘How To Unplug a Bomb’ or whatever the fuck it’s called – with the odd exception of Under a Blood Red Sky – comes sans pdf booklet (that’s fancy talk for ‘we couldn’t be bothered to create one’). And this is one of the most tech/media savvy bands out there. One would think if anyone has the resources, they do… but no. And how about Nirvana, that 20 yr. Nevermind re-issue? Nope.. neither the $20 ‘Deluxe’ version, nor the $45 ‘Super Deluxe’ version comes with a pdf booklet – in both cases you just get more half baked b-sides and outtakes.
I’ve scanned cd booklets and photos, and put together pdf’s for every single one of my artists that didn’t give me a booklet they’d done on their own. Because i wouldn’t even think of selling the album without the liner notes and artwork. It would be like selling an LP in a clear plastic bag. It’s a shame, really, that artists aren’t hip to this. There is a lot you can do with a pdf document today. You can embed HD video, live links to websites and all kinds of metadata. Thus essentially creating a constantly evolving and growing artwork and info document. For all i know, you can probably get one of those stupid balls to bounce across the top of your lyrics while the music plays!
Now, this isn’t only a problem for the fans that want more Anton Corbijn photos of U2 looking thoughtfully (but not too seriously) past the camera while they save the world. This is also, and perhaps more importantly, an issue for the people involved in making those records. As mentioned here, albums – the good ones at least – are rarely made by just one person, and there’s the rub. Those people (my friends, colleagues, and I) not only need the exposure/recognition, but we deserve it. As a matter of fact, sometimes after mixing.. tuning and comping multiple takes of subpar (he says, diplomatically) material, i.e. creating a listenable album from wilted and past-their-due-date ingredients, i’m amazed my name is not on the cover of the fucking thing. Right next to the “artist”.
Ok, maybe I’m being a bit of a jerk here, and of course they’re not all like that for me. Far from it. In fact I’ve been luckier than most. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with the US Olympic-team-equivalent of musicians, and when that happens, they are the ones making me look good. I record Earl Harvin or Abe Laboriel Jr, and just about any mic, anywhere near the drums, will work. And I get the high fives. Some years ago I did an album with Mavis Staples – among others – and her voice is so grand, so powerful, that she stood a full 5 feet from the mic while she sang (I have witnesses). And she still sounded bigger than 10 Keshas all lined up. “Man, what mic are you using on her? Tube mic?” they’d ask. “That must be a tube compressor too huh? Maybe even two of them?” Doesn’t matter – I’d say. Not in that case. She’s what matters. And those are the good records. The ones you want your name on. In all the pdf’s, in all the print ads, and included with all the downloads, along side every copy out there. Because that’s the shit people hire you for. Those records.
By the way.. do you think that album has a pdf doc with it on iTunes? Nope. It’s got Mavis, Billy Preston (his last recording), Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Ann Peebles. And it’s got that very Olympic Team i mentioned earlier: Jay, Chris Bruce, Pauly B, Bramhall, Palmer… all guys who would be proud to have their name on the same page as these legends – digital or physical. And all people will ever see of that album is a thumbnail version of the purple and black cover, in the iTunes Music Store or on Spotify. Strange too, because that album was supposed to be ‘different’. It was not a large label, not a corporation, rather a project put together with care, by the producer. A musician himself. He even wrote some great liner notes to go with the album, but somehow he – like most artists – has neglected to pay attention to what goes on with iTunes, even if it’s been the biggest outlet for music for the last 5 years. In fact, this producer’s own solo albums, all 10 of them, are available on iTunes… without liner notes, pdf’s and credits. Not a word about the players, engineers, managers, assistants, art directors, photographers… nothing. A black hole. Every album is lacking. His new album came out 3 weeks ago, and there it was, front and center – on Spotify. Digital outlets covered. Streaming covered. Downloads covered, Blogs covered, Websites and Radio covered … A well oiled machine. Go team! Except, of course, no one will ever know who exactly this ‘team’ is. Probably just that one guy, people will assume… he’s talented like that. Solo artist.
Another example… remember that French artist i mentioned in my last blog? The one that had the ‘really meager budget, but still wanted to make a double album – so he could show the world how much he had to offer, artistically’? The one who got the producer to round up all his friends and colleagues to work on the album for next to nothing? Guess what happens when you download his double album on iTunes and pop open the pdf booklet. A well defined section listing all the people that worked on the album? Close to the front, perhaps? A long list of thank you’s to the many people involved in making this artistic statement come to life – for pennies on the dollar? Several pages of gratitude and humility? Nope. As a matter of fact there is no pdf booklet at all. Not one page. A lot of songs.. sure (artistic statement, remember?), but no thank you’s. I don’t know about you, but i think that’s a pretty crap move. That’s some ‘Take the money and run’ shit, as far as I’m concerned.
What are these artists thinking? Are they so entitled to our help that they need not breathe a single word about it to anyone else? Should we be so thrilled to work with them, that the experience alone should suffice? No. Not by a long shot.
This is a major oversight, and it needs to be rectified. I’m not saying that artists should go march outside the Apple campus to invoke a change in the code of iTunes, to include liner notes front and center, in the application – even if that’s what should happen. But they could at least get their shit together enough to include a pdf booklet with their own albums on iTunes. With my company, I make sure to include an info pane on all my artists’ pages, so the listener/buyer can browse the credits while listening. It’s important to me, and to my artists. It’s important that people know who they included on their team, who made the album what it is, and how.
A documentary came out not too long ago, called ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown’ about The Funk Brothers. The session men behind countless hits that never got any credit. Another one is finished and almost out, about ‘The Wrecking Crew’, the phenomenal LA session men and women of the 60‘s. Another group that went uncredited. Sound familiar? Fast Forward? Seems to me we are quickly getting to the point where a third and fourth documentary might be in order. Might even become an annual thing: “And tonight at 8pm on NBC: last year’s credits…”
So. If you are downloading music, made available without credits, get on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ and demand those pdf’s. Artists are increasingly making themselves available and accessible via social media, so use it. Tell them what they could do better. And if you are an artist, creating music for digital downloads, making it available without credits: not cool. You need to do better. Go check iTunes (all of you), look for your albums and get this shit sorted out. The ball is in your court.
Oh, and by the way, do you know what’s holding up the release of that ‘Wrecking Crew’ movie, made by Tedesco’s son? The fact that he can’t get the artists/labels to sign off on the licensing of the music!! All he’s trying to do is give credit where credit is due. But he is being charged so much for the songs – the very songs the people this movie is about played on – it may never happen! Fuckingoddamit, sometimes the people in this business can be lame.