Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Behind the Music

After I linked to Kirk McElhearn’s piece about Apple Music’s limited search capabilities, Erin “Syd” Sidney pointed me to a three-year-old post he wrote about the lack of detailed creator information available on the platform:

Liner notes are how my friends became walking encyclopedias who could draw a line, no matter how thin, between records that spanned genres and generations.

[…]

Songwriters whose work we could admire and follow as they provided the musical framework for artists to develop. Producers. Engineers. Humans.

Each one of these people represents an industry, one being bulldozed over by what appears to be simply a lack of attention to detail.

Music purchased via the iTunes Store has long included a PDF version of the album booklet, and went even further in 2009 with the introduction of the interactive iTunes LP format. In an amazing coincidence, Apple just recently stopped accepting new iTunes LPs in the Store.

While I don’t think the full experience of the iTunes LP format was successful, I wish elements of that could be brought into Apple Music. Hip-hop producers and a handful of rock producers are well-represented in Apple Music playlists, but imagine if you could get detailed information about any track. Lyric support, introduced in iOS 10, is a great start for listeners to begin to explore music in greater depth,1 but songwriters, engineers, musicians, and non-superstar producers regularly go uncredited.2

Note that the absence of this information isn’t necessarily a technical issue. My understanding is that major artists submit directly to streaming platforms with track metadata set according to the ID3 spec and album metadata added separately; indie artists submit this information via intermediaries like CD Baby and Tunecore. If you’ve ever edited track or album information in iTunes, you’re familiar with several of the fields ID3 supports. However, there are several fields not shown in iTunes that are also supported, including the “TIPL” field, which stands for the “involved people list”.

It would certainly be a Herculean effort to add this information to all of the tens of millions of tracks in Apple Music — an effort that, in my fantasy world, would be totally worth it. For starters, many producers and songwriters are known for particular styles; adding more of this information could make for more accurate suggestions. But, along the lines that Sidney writes, it could also encourage deeper user discovery. There’s nothing like working your way through a songwriter’s catalogue, or understanding the widely-varied engineering career of someone like Steve Albini, or grasping the scope of every album Bob Ludwig has mastered.


  1. Not only does Spotify display lyrics, they went one step further and built in Genius support to help explain the lyrics. ↩︎

  2. I wonder if this is one reason why producers like Metro Boomin and Murda Beatz frequently tag the tracks they produced with a unique vocal signature. ↩︎