Are album credits finally coming to streaming services?
Chances are that you didn’t buy the CD of Jay-Z’s 4:44, so you might not have known that it was recorded by Jimmy Douglass at United Studios in Hollywood, or that it was produced by Rich ‘No ID’ Daily (aka Ernest Dion Wilson), or that Dave Kutch mastered the recording at the Mastering Palace. More likely you were streaming the LP, which as of last year became the primary mode of music consumption in the US, according to a Nielsen report that stated that “on-demand audio streaming has now surpassed total digital sales for the first time in history.”
Album credits are critical to those who want to work in the studios where partciular records were made, or with the people who worked on a particular recording. But without some place to aggregate that information, like the booklet in a CD, these kinds of career- and business-building connections simply can’t get made.
However, that kind of info is slowly but steadily making its way into the music-streaming ecosphere. Subscribers of Tidal, the music service owned in part by Jay-Z, have been able to access remarkably detailed digital liner notes to recordings streamed on the service. The feature has been quietly available on all of Tidal’s platforms for nearly a year, and new information is being added daily, the company say. (And given the number of credits involved in a typical urban-genre recording, they will have their work cut out for them.) In fact, Tidal are providing considerably more information than even the typical vinyl record jacket, with its vast open spaces. You can also find credits for art direction, sample clearances (opening track ‘Kill Jay-Z’ contains the track ‘Don’t Let It Show’ from Alan Parsons Project’s 1977 I, Robot LP), creative director, photography, mixers and A&R credits.
Tidal have been outliers in the streaming race — they lag far behind streaming leader Spotify in terms of revenue and subscribers, with three million or so subscribers versus Spotify’s 50 million, and even far fewer than Apple Music’s 20-million-plus paying subscribers. But the company have also positioned themselves at the leading edge sonically (at least, to the extent that’s possible online): Tidal delivers true lossless streams at 1.4Mbps, virtually CD quality, for all practical purposes, while Spotify maxes out at 320kbps and Apple Music at a slightly lower 256kbps (though it uses an arguably better encoding scheme, AAC, than the Ogg Vorbis format used by Spotify).
But Tidal’s commitment to including this kind of metadata with its streamed tracks puts it ahead of competitors like Apple, Spotify, Pandora and YouTube, all of which fail to regularly credit producers, engineers and studios at all. That’s unfortunate, because it’s not like the information isn’t available: the three remaining major labels now routinely provide this kind of metadata with their releases, as do most major indie labels. And at a time when most people use search engines to research people and places, the metadata attached to songs help push tracks onto and to the tops of playlists. We live now in a data-driven world, and the metadata that informs who built that track can become part of what tickles the algorithms that make that track generate more streaming revenue.
There’s a lot more that can take place in the studio to enhance what can be done to push tracks through the crowded streaming pipes — what happens during the first 40 seconds of a song have never been so important. We will look at some of the ways this can be achieved in the future. For now, let’s just be happy that metadata like credits can actually have a salubrious effect on royalties, too.
The push to get comprehensive crediting associated with streaming and other distribution modalities is not new, and it’s seen initiatives from both the professional and consumer ends of the market: it’s been on the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing’s agenda for some time, with mixed results, though there are hints there could be more traction to come; and MoveOn.org, the grass-roots petitioning site, has an entreaty online called ‘Show the Album Credits on Apple Music!’ However, the difficulty in getting that ball across the goal line is reflected in the fact that it’s thus far taken about two and a half years to reach 90 percent of its target of 50,000 signatures. It’s a big problem with what is still a low-level of awareness of it.
Studios are adding more social-media managers to their staffs. It could be someone dedicated to the task, an outsourced marketing person, or an ambitious assistant or intern. In any event it’s a good thing, because whoever does it, it’s a key way to get the studio’s brand into the conversation, and to make sure that when credits are supplied to streaming services, the studios themselves are mentioned (and spelled correctly).
Studios can benefit from the kind of visibility that being included in credits can bring. Ellis Sorkin, who runs Studio Referral Service — think Tinder for recording studios — in Los Angeles, remembers a certain band asking about a particular studio they’d seen noted on the back of a Fleetwood Mac album 25 years ago. Sorkin then referred the fledgling band, by the name of Nirvana, to a studio that seemed to have its best years behind it at the time, called Sound City, where they made this little record named Nevermind. “It really brought that studio back to life,” says Sorkin. And while Sound City has gone to magnetic heaven now, Dave Grohl’s eponymously named documentary will keep at least its legend alive.
But that’s not where you want to be. “Keeping the brand out there is essential,” reminds David ‘Roz’ Rosner, studio manager at Quad Studios in New York, who proactively maintains that classic facility’s name on social media by asking that it be included in as many appropriate credit listings as possible. “It’s a ‘What have you done lately’ kind of business. But it’s up to each studio to keep its name out there.”
As the industry moves deeper into streaming as the way music is delivered and consumed, it’s going to be up to the studios that make that music to keep their presence as prominent as possible. Hats off to Tidal. Let’s hope everyone else follows suit.