An Under-Explored Frontier: The Digital Booklet
So, if the biggest digital music retailer in the known universe has what is essentially a broken “comments” field, then what’s an artist to do about comprehensive digital liner notes?
Fortunately, there’s an alternative that has been available for several years now, but remains woefully underutilized. iTunes and Amazon now allow artists to include digital booklets of 4 pages or more along with their releases. It costs next to nothing to make these virtual liner notes available to your fans, and I recommend it to anyone who asks. (And even to people who don’t.) Unlike physical CD inserts, these digital booklets use a 4:3 ratio to take advantage of the full viewing area on-screen. Adapting the CD art you’re already using into this format is not difficult at all.
In an even more ambitious move, Apple announced a next-generation interactive booklet called the iTunes LP in 2009. Thanks to the fact that it was initially restricted to major labels only – as well as the fact that those labels were less than enthusiastic to participate – the format has yet to take off.
However, this new high-res, interactive take on metadata still has plenty of promise. And it’s now open to independent artists. Hopefully, at some point, they might lead the way in doing a lot more with it than the majors have. Compared to building an interactive app for new albums, such as Björk and Philip Glass have done, creating a stunning iTunes LP takes relatively little skill.
Like many good ideas, the possibility of engaging, comprehensive digital liner notes may have become made feasible before the market was ready for it. But in the future, it seems likely that immersive, full-featured digital album art will someday become the norm. It’s certainly one of the things I miss most about physical formats.
Even if digital media can never completely reproduces the tactile satisfaction of a format like vinyl, if we can begin to offer even a sliver of that experience, by moving metadata out of the realm of tech geekery and into the realm of art, we’ll have gone a long way toward improving the experience of recorded music for countless millions of fans.
Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer, college professor, and journalist. He records and mixes all over NYC, masters at JLM, teaches at CUNY, is a regular contributor to SonicScoop, and edits the music blog Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.