Rhapsody has announced, at the Music Biz 2013 conference, that it’s going to add liner notes and credits to its digital music service, giving users the ability to search for specific songwriters, producers – or even all recordings featuring a specific session musician. It was hailed as “a first” for digital music, though there have been moves on both sides of the Atlantic to “give credit where credit is due” for a while now.
But how will Rhapsody get this information, when not even digital distributors have it?
Using digital music services, one would be forgiven for thinking that making a record is a one-person/band job. The multitude of musicians, producers, writers and engineers that all play a part in the final recording has magically become invisible during the transfer from physical CDs and vinyl to downloads and streams.
No wonder your average music fan today thinks artists can survive on selling T-shirts, making personal appearances or partnering with brands. Meanwhile, few people would buy a T-shirt with a picture of a mastering engineer or, say, Max Martin (one of the most successful songwriters in the world today).
The reality is that none of the UK’s top 10 best-selling tracks in 2012 were solely written and performed by the same act – in the top 20 there was only one track: EDM track Feel the Love by Rudimental and John Newman. And in the US, the state of affairs is largely the same.
Credits are, of course, not only important to musicians – as a music fan, from a very young age I used to buy records according to who played on the record, or who produced it, as I saw it as a quality stamp. Now I have to trawl Google and Wikipedia for the information – and, if I find it, there’s no guarantee that it’s correct.
So how can Rhapsody guarantee that its information is correct?
Believe it or not, even though both songwriters and, in most cases, producers are entitled to royalties whenever their songs are used (as are the session musicians, in most European countries), it is only optional to fill in these credits when registering a track with digital distributors.
Reporting on the issue, Evolver.fm claimed that Rhapsody would have to build a database “by hand – session player by session player”.
I doubt it. Even iTunes now has a “composers’ view”, albeit a clunky one, which they probably sourced from ASCAP and BMI. There is a much easier way, and Swedish songwriter and producer grassroots organisation UniSon, of which I’m a member, is already putting it into practice. Out of frustration we decided to take matters into our own hands and create a Spotify app called Cred It, using the data the songwriters’ and the performers’ collecting societies hold.
In the UK (as in Sweden), record labels have a legal obligation to provide the performers’ rights society, PPL, with information on who played on their recordings, in order for these musicians to get paid when they’re played in public. PPL receives data on an average of 6,000 new recordings a week – that’s 312,000 recordings a year – so you can see how unlikely it is that Rhapsody would even attempt to put in this data themselves.
Instead it could simply reach out to SoundExchange, the US version of PPL. See, that’s another reason musicians should ensure that they’re registered with the non-profit organisation, and make sure their registrations are up to date – it’s not only to get paid, but for the glory of finally being visible again online.