Credit where credit's due...
Who played bass on track seven of the new Beyonce album? Where was the Snow Patrol album recorded? When was the last time you looked at the credits on an album?
If you own one of the 10 billion songs that have been downloaded from Apple's iTunes store, there is no way of knowing the answer to any of these questions. In fact, there is no information relating to the recording, musicians, equipment, publishing or thank you's on any legitimate MP3.
Actively crediting contributors' inspiration and hard work is standard across all forms of the creative spectrum, from movies to art galleries. Why, then, has the collective music business let this slide? Blackberrys and iPhones have technology that can help you find your car, keep tabs on your bank balance or check how straight your shelves are, yet there is nothing available that lets you find out the name of the musician shredding the guitar solo you happen to be listening to.
As I earn my living working as a sound engineer and producer, this is a serious and negative trend that I am rather concerned about. Not crediting contributors means devaluing their work and belittling their input. And how are people in the future meant to know how much work goes into recording, mixing and producing an album, and which people worked on it?
It goes further than that: for most engineers and producers, each album they work on — especially the successful ones — are the calling cards that help them secure the next job. Bands and record labels who liked a particular album will often turn to the album's producer and/or engineer for their own project because they want to emulate a particular vibe or sound.
Since it seems that digital distribution is here to stay, and is, indeed, probably the future of the music industry, we should all strive to make it the best it possibly can be. Having to compromise on sound quality with compressed audio due to storage or bandwidth limitations (or do we really, with ever cheaper storage and ever faster broadband speeds?) is bad enough, but to also lose the enjoyment of looking at the artwork and reading the liner notes of the album you've just purchased depletes the whole consumer experience. Maybe this even contributes to falling music sales, as people feel they are not getting value for their money any more and are therefore less inclined to spend it. Perhaps it also contributes to the illegal download problem, as there is currently little to separate legal from illegal downloads, except for the price tag, a clear conscience and the law.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Expanding metadata to contain the traditional CD liner notes, credits, ISRC codes and possibly even lyrics adds very little to the file size. The ID3 tag standard already contains default fields for most of this information, so it seems a shame that most online aggregrators don't include it — and in some cases even discard it when it is supplied to them.
On the subject of ISRC codes, they are the common way that European radio stations identify tracks to allocate payments to the relevant copyright holders and performers. Commercial CDs have these ISRC codes embedded in the substream of each individual track, but most MP3s do not (even though there is theoretically a field for it). As more and more radio DJs turn to MP3s and AACs, this could spell big financial losses to the writers and musicians who should receive this income. This is especially important to people like you and me who don't have a big record label behind them pursuing the radio stations.
Those of us involved in the Music Producers Guild (UK) feel that this issue should be debated out in the open, with a view to garnering the opinions of all those involved; artists, labels, producers, publishers and audience alike. As a solution to the problem is really in everybody's interest and should be rather simple and cheap to implement, what is there to lose?
Let's get together and make the online future of recorded music as great as it deserves to be and can be.