Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Liner Notes

Liner notes are a disappearing art form.  Albums used to contain more than just music, they also had fantastic information about the record, the band, the band’s friends, and often lyrics.  When I first really discovered my passion for music was when I was introduced to underground music.  It was at that time that I discovered the awesomeness of the liner notes.  Through the liner notes of records like Walk Together, Rock Together I was given a glimpse into this amazing world that was living just under the surface.  Liner notes were like a key that helped to open a secret door, giving you a peek into the music, band, and scene.

Nowadays liner notes are an afterthought or just plain forgotten.  I thought that I was the only one who lamented this loss; thankfully I am not.  April from the blog Now This Sound is Brave, put together a fantastic piece dedicated to the liner notes in In Defense of Liner Notes that I truly couldn’t agree with more.
It was a part of the deal for me, sometimes consumed before the music was even played. Vinyl had them. CDs had them. Even fricking cassettes had them. And in the pre-internet age when all of the information I sought was not gathered in one convenient location, it was a cornerstone on which I built my reputation as someone who knew too much shit about music.
Liner notes – sometimes stately and elegant, sometimes silly, sometimes anemic, I would pore over every word of them. From musician histories to who played what instrument on which track to “The band would like to thank…”, I digested it.
Taken as a whole, stories and portraits began to emerge from seemingly unrelated albums. Hey, that bass player from that other band I used to like is now playing with these guys, and the guitarist from this band is thanked in the liner notes from that album, and those two bands use the same graphic designer, while this album and that other album were produced by the same person. Previously errant bits of information began to fit together in a great jigsaw puzzle of musical minutiae enlightenment. It was a continuing education with strands that could take you into forever if you had the mind to follow wherever they led. I learned who was most often involved in making the music I liked and was able to more successfully choose future albums to buy and enjoy, as well as being led to bands I never would have known about otherwise. I got to feel like an insider for catching on to certain jokes. And I gained an arsenal of facts that no one but me really cared about and was able to annoy my friends with them accordingly.
For someone who is a devourer of words as well as a lover of music, liner notes are a beautiful synthesis of the two, like an extra gift with every album. The more extensive the liner notes, the brighter my eyes light up.
But as the digital download becomes more prevalent, with some albums never released in a hard copy format, I watch with dismay and genuine sadness as liner notes begin to disappear. Every once in a while, a band will make me happy by including full liner notes in a .pdf with the digital version of their album (bless you, James Leg and the Dad Horse Experience), most albums only include a cover art .jpg and the songs, and sometimes even the cover art is dispensed with.
But… who produced this? Where was it recorded? Who is that playing zither on the third track? In what coy way does the guitarist wish to thank his girlfriend? I NEED TO KNOW THESE THINGS, PEOPLE!
Why are liner notes growing rare? As mentioned previously, such things can be produced in the form of a .pdf file or by other electronic means. And your average band website (which, in the case of some bands I listen to is just a Facebook page or an outdated MySpace profile) doesn’t bother going into production minutiae of each song.
Look at it this way, musicians: In a time when many of you are working your asses off by taking on the additional role of being your own PR rep, liner notes can add another avenue of connection with listeners. Aside from including the more technical notes that some of us really-I-promise are interested in, you could share stories, in-jokes, candid photos that haven’t already been reproduced on countless websites. Give the people a little more incentive to come see your live shows and buy your tour merch by giving them a deeper look into who you are and what you’re about.
This is so right on that it isn’t funny.  So to all of you bands and artists out there, listen to what April is saving and take the time to put together some liner notes to include with your downloads.  Your fans will thank you for it.

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