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Off The Record

Music & Recording Industry News By Dan Daley
Published May 2011

The mass migration from physical music sales to digital downloads means it's now harder than ever to find out who worked on a release — or to be sure your own work is properly acknowledged.

Recording studios and engineers are experiencing their own kind of credit crunch these days. As tiny as some of the font sizes on disappearing CD inserts have gotten (12 songs with three producers, two engineers, a mixer and six composers for each, plus 20 home studios, can make the graphics layout pretty challenging), at least they represented a calling card of sorts for the studios and the audio professionals involved in their making. While there are a growing number of web sites that offer credit listings, most are at best Wikis and at worst Internet come‑ons — I considered 'claiming' Teddy Riley's work for a month on one for $12.99, until I acknowledged that I couldn't really pull off a believable new jack swing joint.

The impact that credits — or lack of them — have had on studios and the careers of engineers is significant. Elliot Scheiner credits his credits on a 1973 Felix Cavaliere album with reuniting him with Steely Dan. Ed Cherney, who has recorded hits with the Rolling Stones and Bonnie Raitt, adds, "I have to say that I have definitely gotten work when somebody sees my credit on a CD that they liked or was successful. It happens all the time.” Ellis Sorkin, owner of Studio Referral Service, a Los Angeles studio booking agency, says smaller studios are particularly affected when local artists can't find out where another artist whose sound they liked recorded.

Joe Cicarelli, whose credits include the Strokes, the Killers and U2, says he relies on his manager to not only monitor online sources but also proactively email lists of current credits to record labels and other managers, to keep the industry folks in the loop on current album projects. He points out that the ones hurt the most by a lack of accurate crediting are studio musicians, arrangers, mastering engineers and, not least, the graphics designers themselves. "Record labels don't always insist on a digital booklet to go with the downloads, so we have to be diligent in at least getting the complete credit information to the record label,” he says. "But from there, we have no control over who actually gets credited.”

The Recording Academy's Producers & Engineers Wing has been working with media data company BMS/Chace on a program to attach credit info to the master sessions. The Content Creator Data (CCD) open‑source, open‑standard metadata app is intended to be an integral part of the recording process from a work's inception, with the associated metadata linked with a recording through various digital distribution channels.

CCD is still in beta testing as of early this year, made more complex by the fact that, in addition to serving the needs of the recording community, it also has to be compatible with the Library Of Congress' National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program (NDIIPP), which also includes data from SMPTE, DDEX, AES and other standards organizations. It's also a purely professional solution — it's not designed for consumer accessibility (at least at this point). With a Billboard subscription still costing over $200, the industry's huge indie cohort is still largely locked out of easy access to authenticated engineering and studio info, unlike, say, what movie fans and moviemakers can get through imdb.com (the Internet Movie Database), which, for about $55 a year, lets actors and crew post their resumés and other info. They and other volunteers can also correct erroneous entries under the supervision of staffers at IMDB, which is owned by Amazon. Music discography site discogs.com uses a combination of moderators, editors and reader 'votes' to pursue accuracy and comprehensiveness. Like its predecessor AllMusic Guide (www.allmusic.com), AllRovi (www.allrovi.com) uses approved writers to make its entries and often includes recording, assistant, mixing and mastering engineer credits, though not studios. And the sheer deluge of new indie music might understandably overwhelm any staff. Chris Mara, owner of Welcome To 1979 Studios in Nashville, notes that, "according to allmusic.com I didn't do anything at all in 2010, which is quite frustrating when I'm always telling people I've been busy!”

But at the grass‑roots level, the DIY approach probably offers the best current strategy for both studios and engineers: using engines like Google, regularly search for and check the accuracy of the credits for projects you or your facility have been associated with; make any corrections as quickly and aggressively as possible, with backup documentation ready; and periodically update your web site, Twitter feed, Facebook page or other networking media you use to promote new projects. And, suggests Pete Mignola at Metrosonic Studios in New York, encourage clients to link to the studio's web site from their Facebook, MySpace and other promo pages.

Accomplishments are their own kind of currency, and engineers and studios are trying to figure out ways not to leave that money on the table.    

Published May 2011