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What about the artwork?

Wes Maebe mourns the loss of proper album art – and with it, giving credit where credit is due

By Wes Maebe

Plenty of us remember sitting in front of the stereo, listening to some killer records and reading through all that information on the LP sleeve. We knew the record label, the publisher, who guested on the recordings, where the music was recorded, who mixed it, who mastered it all, what the lyrics were (if we could figure out what on earth they were singing about)… Man, what an amazing amount of real estate for the artwork!

Cassette tape inlays brought that acreage down originally, but you still had those cool accordion-style fold-outs containing all the info. The early ’80s introduced the compact disc; however, we could still find out everything we needed about our favourite music.

Now, in the current musical environment of streaming, we’re not only being deprived of sonic quality, but none of that ‘cool’ information is available for us to peruse. On top of that, we’re left with a pitiful inch-and-a-half of artwork!

That brings us to the question: What happened to our credits? Months and sometimes years go into making a record. The musicians, the songwriters, the engineers, the producers, the studio personnel, the backline techs, the publishers, the management – all part of the team that ensures you as the consumer gets the most satisfaction out of your purchase.

I do realise I’m in danger of sounding like an old-timer, daydreaming about the ‘good old days’, but I vividly remember my dad waking me up every day to go to school with Time on side one of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. The quality of the sound and the music just drew me in. Even at that early age, I had to know more. Who played it, who recorded it and who was responsible for that mesmerising album artwork.

Needless to say, this all leaves me wondering where we stand in today’s musical fast-food land: not just artwork wise, but more importantly with giving credit where credit is due.

Thanks to the hard work of several organisations, especially the Grammy P&E Wing and the MPG, we’re well on the way to standardising certain sections of the metadata that is attached to musical works. The ultimate goal will be that all the credit- and royalty-based information is attached and embedded in the files. And, of course, for the music creators, labels, graphic designers and software developers to get together to ensure that all this information translates cross-platform and is collated in a database accessible to the collection agencies in order to guarantee accurate royalty payments.

And since we’re talking about software developers, let’s find a funky way to have artwork ‘pop up’, give you the option to look through lyrics and credits information and access links to websites, social media and extra content. There are hints of this showing up on the grid, but we need standardisation. Let’s keep the dialogue going.

Wes Maebe is a freelance recording, mixing and mastering engineer and a board director of the APRS.