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Making the Case for Digital Liner Notes

May 23, 2017

When the 33-⅓ RPM speed became the preferred format for albums on vinyl, a wonderful and often overlooked tradition came along with it: album liner notes. While previous renditions of this – literal notes about the recording living within the album’s sleeve – had existed in recorded music before this, often times the space was reserved as an advertisement for other recordings from the label putting it out.


Album liner notes made it possible for artists to get creative with messaging, crediting personnel, and offering fans a little something extra in the way of art. Eventually as preferred formats of music evolved to tapes and CDs, the tradition continued. Anyone who grew up buying music in the 1990’s can tell you how much extra work it was to read some of those liner notes, but regardless of that, how satisfying it was to have a little something extra from their favorite band or artist. Of course, vinyl record liner notes are the best because of their size. I even remember trying to make wall art out of some of the Clash records’ (that I more or less stole from my dad) liner notes as a kid.


As the tides changed once more and fans switched to digital, liner notes became more of an afterthought for most – and eventually new music fans would be buying and streaming without even having their own personal history of CD booklets. In 2004, iTunes began offering digital booklets to certain albums. TuneCore offers artists the opportunity to include digital liner note PDFs when they distribute to iTunes for an additional cost.


While more and more releases began to include digital liner notes within iTunes over the years, it’d be a stretch to say it was any sort of craze or phenomenon. Fans can be delighted to find that their new digitally downloaded album contains a little something extra from the artist – a recent high profile case of this was Drake’s 2016 Views album which featured a digital booklet of images that were considered to be ‘meme-able’. This was an interesting example of a pop star not only incorporating something considered to be rather antiquated into their release, but doing so in a fashion that appealed to his generation of music fans.


But beyond that, does anyone care? Sonicbids published a great piece about this a few years back, with artists and industry folks chiming in with their opinion on the once-holy liner notes. These days, we see artists who cater to their ‘niche’ fan bases by focusing on vinyl releases – whether it’s LPs or 7” records – while still working with distributors like TuneCore to offer a digital component for those who prefer to stream or download. Artists have the opportunity to connect with these fans further by getting creative with their liner notes, and should they feel so passionate about the effort they put into them, include it as a digital PDF as explained above.


Another overlooked element of these booklets is that they give artists the opportunity to credit the producers and engineers associated with the release. Aside from the general karma points of shouting-out those hard working folks, it also allows artists who are fans learn who helped make such a great release even better. (It might even throw some business their way.)


There’s little doubt that artists with fans who prefer vinyl will continue to choose this medium for releases – but some wonder how long the resurgence of vinyl will last and how effective or important it is to the majority of independent artists. During a time of great saturation for indie artists online, standing out in the crowd can feel difficult – but what better way to garner some extra attention for your new release than a unique creative offering at no extra cost to the fan? Perhaps digital booklets and liner note PDFs can be an artistic channel for more artists to express themselves, give proper credits and ‘thank yous’, or provide a bit of a window into the production of the album or EP.


If you’re an artist who’s beginning to roll out vinyl copies of an upcoming release, it’s likely that you’re putting some thought into what your fans are going to be able to see and read in addition to what they’ll have to listen to. This should be cherished and seen as an opportunity to really connect with them, even if it’s just some credits and a cool poster. But for that other portion of your fan base who’ll be downloading, it may be worth your time to convert it all digitally, too.


If you’re an artist who is really just starting to develop a fanbase, vinyl copies of your new release probably aren’t in the cards. But as you begin to consider how you’ll be marketing it when it comes out, think of how a digital PDF of liner notes and additional art could help foster a new level of dedication from your fans that both already exist and begin to discover your latest release. If you feel you have the kind of audience who would appreciate this sort of component to an album, it’s likely that some will even consider converting from their preferred way of listening, streaming, to downloading it permanently.


Got any cool success stories with offering fans digital PDF booklets with releases? Let us know in the comments! For more information on how to include one of these with your next release via TuneCore, read more here.

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