It’s all very well being able to buy music instantly, and take it everywhere with you. But somehow, it feels like we’ve lost something along the way with downloading. Music – at least, recorded music – used to be this thing that you would hold in your hand, treasure, read through the liner notes and yeah – smell.
As a wise man once said: “Don’t front like you’ve never licked a record…”
I even met a prominent music industry professional this week who clearly recalls taking his early record purchases to bed with him, and keeping them under his pillow as he slept. But none of these things are ‘the music’. They’re all the bits around the music. It’s the artefact, the artwork, the accompanying text – and not actually the recording of the tune that was being loved in this way.
And while of course we love the music, when you separate the recording from the artefact, things change.
Digital is worth less (not worthless)
Let me say right off the bat that one of the main reasons that download sales aren’t filling the gap left by declining CD sales is that downloads ARE WORTH LESS. All that stuff that we music lovers used to smell, lick, read, touch, alphabetise, loan to friends, put under our pillows and wrap as gifts just isn’t really there anymore.
All that’s left is the noise that comes out.
But that information about the music – metadata (literally, information about information) is still really important to us, and there are ways in which we can make use of the fact, and start to create digital products that are valuable.
It strikes me that one way to reinvest value in recorded music, is to try and put the value back into the experience of music consumption, based on all of the information surrounding the recorded music. Something we can read, look at, pore over, alphabetise and engage with as consumers. Doesn’t have to be lickable, per se – but it’d be great if there was something.
I wrote a blog post a long time ago about the ways in which information such as essays, recording session information, photographs and so on could be put together using XML, so that it could be packaged and presented in any number of ways, according to developer’s capabilities and audience preferences.
I think this is well overdue now.
There’s so much information that could be bundled with an album. Put into a zip file with the (high quality) album tracks. Link outward to (or draw information from) services like Last.fm, MusicBrainz, CDBB or FreeDB.
Best of all, there’s an opportunity to make that metadata interactive. To my knowledge, NOBODY is doing this. A standardised format that will allow music fans to contribute to, edit and expand upon digital liner notes in a distributed fashion.
If you know something about a band, or want to write a review of a gig you just saw them do, or have some photographs of the recording session, or can link the studio engineer to another album she was involved in, then there’s no reason that can’t turn up in my copy of the album’s liner notes. Equally, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to correct you on a factual error along the way – or amend my settings to ignore all cameraphone video contributions.
It’d take a bit of work to get all this standardised, but there’s such a wealth of information about any recording, and no longer any shortage of space, or cost of printing and replicating – seems a shame not to give it a try.
Okay, so you don’t have to get a 3,000 word essay, a photographic portfolio, video package and PDF brochure into the zip file of your album download just yet (though it’s something to work towards). For now, the least you can do for your audience is provide decent track information on any digital music you make available.
Bare minimum should include Artist Name, Song Title, Album Title (if it’s not from an album, put something in here), Genre (be general – at least put in a genre that people have heard of), Track Number, Cover Art (even if it’s just your logo or a photo). Might be a good idea to put your URL in the Comments section too.
There’s nothing more unhelpful than having a download from your website with missing information. As a consumer, I’m likely to throw it into my collection, come back to it a few weeks later, not know who the song is by, and just hit the delete key. A bit more information, and I’ll pay a bit more attention.
The more information – the more metadata you include with your recordings, the more value your music will have.
Of course the music is the main thing. But consumers make meaning from music. It’s their main thing. And if you remove the clues and the anchors for that meaning, you’re just making it difficult for yourself.