September 29, 2017 Last Updated 12:49 pm

Thoughts on NYT story on a start-up looking to bring back liner notes to streaming music

Combining digital music with interactive eBooks is a simple way to restore the extra content music buyers used to find on LP covers and CD booklets — but Apple, the labels, and others would actually have to want to solve the problem

This story in the NYTfrom Ben Sisario caught my eye today: Restoring Those Old Liner Notes in Music’s Digital Era. The article talks about a start-up, TunesMap, which is trying to enhance the streaming music experience by bringing back some of the elements that used to be part of LP buying: liner notes, photos, and the like.

In brief, Sisario interviews the company’s founder, G. Marq Roswell, a Hollywood music supervisor, who will launch the app in November. The app will work with a Sonos speaker, and presumably other devices, and when your Apple TV is on it will display other media such as photos, videos and the like, enhancing the streaming music experience.

To me, it is Rube Goldberg solution to something that should be fairly simple. But by coming up with a complicated solution, a business can be born. TunesMap’s website shows it already has an extensive team, and the company has raises $4.75 million from entertainment-industry veterans.

A few years back, when Apple introduced iBooks Author, I wondered just what its various uses could be. After, the great thing about new technology is often that its ends up being used in ways that the inventors never thought of.

So, while self-publishers saw iBA as a way to produce their own eBooks, and publishers a way to make interactive eBooks, I wondered if there might be other problems it might solve.

One of them being the issue of decline CD sales.

Talking to members of a Montreal band I happen to run across in the Washington DC airport following a concert, I asked members about the effects of digital music on their ability to make a living as a musician. I asked specifically about whether iTunes and other digital music stores had helped them or hurt them.

I thought perhaps that keeping their catalog alive through digital might be leading to more sales. Maybe, they said, but the money they were getting was so small that it didn’t compensate for the loss of CD sales. Steaming services was only making the situation worse. All of the band members held jobs outside the band in order to survive, and more and more being a member of the band was becoming a smaller part of their working hours.

They also were somewhat disappointed that people were experiencing their music digitally through iTunes or streaming instead of via CD or LP. They put a lot of love into their packaging, and at the time iTunes didn’t allow you to download a PDF of the booklet (it does now, though Amazon still doesn’t for some reason).

That when I started experimenting with creating a “music book” using iBooks Author. My thought was that the problem might be that because downloading an album via iTunes or Amazon is cheaper than buying the CD that the gap in price between the two products was large compared to what one got for choosing the more expensive option. For example, if you could buy the CD for the same price as the download you might do it because you would feel you were getting more — generally a higher resolution sound, plus the packaging. But if the cost difference was more, as it is, you’d go the cheaper route.

But what if the price was only slightly more, but the extras one would get would be substantial. Plus, what if you could also download that solution, instead of having to wait for the package to be delivered by FedEx or USPS?

So, I began work on a music eBook that combined lots of reading content, photos and even video, plus the music you would find on the CD or the iTunes download. I thought it a great product, with one big problem: at the time, iBA did not allow for very high resolution audio. There was another problem, turning the “page” of the eBook automatically ended the playing of the music.

But I felt that with some changes by the software team at Apple, these problems could be easily overcome.

That is when I ran into the reality of the situation: music labels, Apple and others involved just were not very interested in finding a solution.

I created the first music eBook for a small label where I knew the owner, and talked to him about the concept. He sounded enthusiastic, but when I allowed him to view my example he never bothered to download it. Later I allowed others to view it, and I’m not sure any of them bothered to look at it, either.

A friend of mine has it, however, and said that once he could stream the music from his iPad to his speakers he found it to be a great product, one that he would pay for… maybe.

In the end, the problem may now be too big. So many people who listen to music do it via streaming that only a small group of music lovers demand higher resolution music files, and appreciate the liner notes and love that goes into creating a complete package. Many of those have rediscovered their LP collections and love buying vinyl records, though the price of those can be very high.

Photo: Rube Goldberg cartoon, originally published in Collier’s magazine, September 26 1931

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