Digital Downloads of Classical Music Should Always Come with Liner Notes

One of my fellow reviewers at MusicWeb International has gotten so annoyed with download sites that don’t provide liner notes with downloads that he has written an article lamenting this problem. Dan Morgan points out that, in some cases, he can get a hold of these booklets by complaining.

“In two cases I complained on Twitter and the labels in question promptly emailed me the missing notes.”

But, as he later says:

“Qobuz and eclassical have both confirmed that getting digital booklets is very difficult indeed. If that is so, then the labels themselves must be to blame. Oh no, one of them confided to me in a direct mail, it’s the distributor’s fault. Or, they hinted conspiratorially, the download sites are deliberately withholding them. Really? I find it very hard to imagine either of those scenarios; the words buck and pass come to mind here.”

I whole-heartedly agree with Dan, and I’ve taken a much more rigid stance. If I don’t get a booklet with a download of a disc I am asked to review, I will not review it. But I am also refusing to review CDs I get where, when I go to rip the discs, there is no track information in iTunes. This doesn’t happen often, but one label, Brilliant Classics, is notably uninterested in providing this information to the Gracenote CDDB, which iTunes uses to provide track information. (This situation would not be different if I ripped CDs with other software, as many apps use Gracenote for their track information.)

I’ve written in the past how music PR people often get things wrong when sending out digital music to reviewers. If I get digital tracks directly from a label or PR person and they have no track information, they get ignored.

Many record labels get this right. In his article, Dan Morgan points out that labels such as BIS, Chandos and Hyperion always provide booklets, and Hyperion even provides their notes in both PDF and EPUB formats. So it’s not really rocket science; any label can do this correctly.

The problem is slightly different on the iTunes Store. Apple is intransigent about the way digital booklets need to be prepared, asking for a size that is different from that of CD booklets. It’s not that big a deal for a record label to provide booklets in this format, but not many bother.

As music listening increasingly turns toward streaming, record labels need to do what they can to make digital downloads attractive to users, and reviewers. The complaints here are, in part, because it makes it harder to review a CD, since it’s harder to find information about the recording, artists, etc. But buyers of that download also want that information, as well as the often informative notes about the works on the disc.

Providing as much information as possible about a recording seems to be a no-brainer. At least providing the same information that is in a CD would be a minimum. I don’t know why so many record labels, who are clinging to a virtual plank of wood in a vast ocean of music streaming, have contempt for their digital customers.