The digitalization of music has changed so much about the business from downloads to streaming to new ways of interacting with fans and selling tickets. This has turned the industry up side down. Vinyl may be surging again, but it likely won’t ever be the dominant force it once was and CDs are quickly becoming an afterthought. With these in the rearview, we are missing not just the sound quality, the tactile ability to hold music, but also song and album credits.
Song credits were a critical part of CDs and vinyl. You could flip over the back of a vinyl sleeve and see who engineered a song, who wrote the song, what was sampled and who played the drum part. CD sleeves also have this information with the songwriter’s publishing companies, the producers and much more. A lot of this can be wonky and may not interest the casual fan, but some connections can be really fun to make.
Calvin Harris put the songwriting credits out on his Twitter for each song during his Funk Waves Bounce Vol. 1 album cycle, which was refreshing to see from a pop artist to say the least. Some derided him as arrogant, showing all of the instruments he played on the record, but it was good to see all of those instruments or machines and who wrote on each of the songs for the album. It didn’t go as far as a vinyl sleeve, but the information was broadly there.
Now this needs to arrive on streaming services. Spotify added songwriter credits in February, but they are often incomplete and potentially wrong. It is up to the artist, their teams and the publishers to input the correct information in the credits. It isn’t an obvious part of the interface, requiring you to right click on a song and then select it from a dropdown menu. It could be a design issue, but these platforms have overcome much larger problems. You can’t see credits on an album scale. You have to just look at individual songs and it doesn’t give clarification on samples.
Tidal implemented comprehensive album credits towards the end of 2017 with information on where LP was recorded, samples, producers, writers, art direction and more. Apple Music just doesn’t have that information obviously available, though if you download a song from iTunes credits come with the track.
However, in the age of streaming, who wrote, engineered or produced a song is not as readily available as it should be. Session musicians have it even worse. This information can take you down rabbit holes you never really expected, helping you to discover musicians who work as songwriters for others and are artists in their own right. You learn more about each song, the artists and the process of making a song by seeing who is involved.
There is the problem with digital songwriting credits that are often incomplete or wrong. This opens the door to blockchain technology to get this information right the first time and forever. Streaming services should help push the business in this direction.
Songwriters, engineers, producers, session musicians and others would probably like better payouts as money trickles down from tech companies through labels and other middlemen, but getting greater recognition would be a great way show appreciation for the backbone of the music business who create the great artists we see everyday.