Don’t Wait For Music Tech Companies To Provide Digital Liner Notes Or Augmented Lyrics

Liner-notes-emily-franklinMany music fans, musicians and music writers believe music is being devalued by the track-based digital listening experience. In response, some note that digital liner notes and augmented lyrics could deepen the listening experience by encouraging the listener to reimmerse themselves. Though a variety of solutions are emerging I have yet to find one that truly satisfies. In fact, I believe that smart musicians and labels should take on this task themselves and claim ownership via their official sites.

Mark Mulligan kicked off some Twitter discussions with a series of questions about the effects of digital music on contemporary listeners including:

Here's a thought? has on-demand, single track music consumption changed people's emotional attachment to music?

That without having sit thru an album anymore, + with more media competition a swathe of would be engaged fans are no longer here?

Emily White recently focused on "The Potential Of Annotated Song Lyrics" to address such concerns and also joined in an Upward Spiral discussion featuring the implications of that post.

She includes a number of examples of lyric-related apps and sites as references in her post but feels that none of them answer the question:

"What if all the information about songs that already exist in artist’s liner notes, Twitter feeds, SoundCloud pages, and blogs was curated and displayed as I listen, the same way that muisXmatch and TuneWiki play lyrics in real time?"

Though I don't think it's possible to go back in time and restore old school album immersion experiences, I do think it's possible that what White is suggesting would be a great thing for both musicians and fans. I've been keeping an eye on some of the possible solutions, both old and new, and the following seem to be leading examples of what is currently available:

Pitchfork's Advance

Pitchfork's Advance sounded like it would do the trick with a combination of streaming album previews and such related content as "album art, lyrics, track listings, credits and artist info." However, my attempts to check it out have been frustrated by a sometimes poorly functioning interface and somewhat underwhelming related content.

Hopefully other people are having better experiences but it's got to work really well all the time before it can solve any problems.

Orchestrated Text

Orchestrated Text is an interesting hack that focuses on telling the stories of pieces of classical music as you listen. Unfortunately Florian Frisch hit the nail on the head when he tweeted:

"i liked the idea, but then the text was a bit too trivial, i thought."

Though I would say the term "trivial" is not damning enough, keep in mind that it is a prototype and the creators' claim that "Orchestrated Text has been well received by classical music fans." Maybe they're focusing on the potential once more sophisticated copy is included.


I previously mentioned h1tchr, which is designed to bring info from Wikipedia and Discogs into the Spotify app for particular songs and albums. Paul Sawers can give you a tour but from a random selection of songs I found that the combination of Spotify, h1tchr and inadequate sources underwhelmed.

In some cases it was unclear if information was unavailable or if h1tchr was having trouble accessing and displaying it but even if it functioned in a flawless manner the limits of the sources were pretty clear.


TuneUp is an iTunes plugin that's been around for years. I don't know it's history but I recently picked it up as part of a software bundle and am planning to check out its ability to clean up metadata and related info in one's iTunes collection.

I discovered that it also provides a sidebar to iTunes that offers lyrics from Gracenote, music videos from YouTube, a bio from Freebase, concert notifications from StubHub, album recommendations from Amazon and merch selections from Ebay.

TuneUp came the closest to successfully drawing together elements in the manner Emily White seems to be describing though I would find her preferred list of sources quoted above to be more compelling.

I've looked at these products on the desktop so I would also be interested in hearing from people who've checked out mobile versions.

Don't Wait for Music Tech Companies to Meet Your Needs

My experience to date suggests that musicians and labels shouldn't wait for music tech companies to come up with something that will support their music. Instead, they should provide their own solutions.

For example, one could gather together all related content that one can repost or create oneself about each song and establish a dedicated page on one's own official website. Each page could include such elements as:

Official tracklists and lyrics

Embeddable media such as YouTube videos or SoundCloud audio as available

Links to purchase options as well as related on-site content such as bios and tour schedules that are relevant to all track and album releases

Backstories and liner notes

Related visual content

Selected tweets, Facebook posts and similar social media content from both the band and fans

Excerpts and quotes from reviews, blog posts and related coverage

If you wait for companies that are looking to find ways to make money off providing this info, you're always going to be a bit disappointed by the results. But if streaming music services ever get their act together and include links to your official site and you're already providing such services, then you own the experience and that's a powerful thing.

[Thumbnail image: cover of Liner Notes by Emily Franklin.]

Note: If you're an artist or label already exploring this territory, please contact me at the email below for a possible feature at Hypebot.

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/App.net) also blogs at All World Dance: Videos and maintains Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. Also relevant is The Recording Academy’s “Give Fans The Credit” campaign!– givefansthecredit.com

  2. We have labels and publishers now creating app/books/releases and lyric are a vital part of each of the one’s we’ve seen in development.

  3. At the app level, I’d like to add the Blue Note app we developed for Spotify – open.spotify.com/app/bluenote
    The data is a combination of entered by hand, hitting the Rovi API and ingested data from WhoSampled.
    It doesn’t solve the problem this article addresses but it’s a good attempt to head in the right direction.

  4. Ah yes, the piece you ran was on the iOS app we did for Blue Note. The one I’m referring to above is available via the Spotify desktop client and it has a user experience much more akin to what you’re article is about.
    Please check it out when you get a chance and would love your thoughts.

  5. this is definitely one of the reasons that CDs are still here and are selling as well as downloads. look at spotify–they can’t even get the release year right half the time, and otherwise provide NO information. terrible for any serious music fan.

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