It was a part of the deal for me, sometimes consumed before the music was even played. Vinyl had them. CDs had them. Even fricking cassettes had them. And in the pre-internet age when all of the information I sought was not gathered in one convenient location, it was a cornerstone on which I built my reputation as someone who knew too much shit about music.

Liner notes - sometimes stately and elegant, sometimes silly, sometimes anemic, I would pore over every word of them. From musician histories to who played what instrument on which track to “The band would like to thank...”, I digested it.

Taken as a whole, stories and portraits began to emerge from seemingly unrelated albums. Hey, that bass player from that other band I used to like is now playing with these guys, and the guitarist from this band is thanked in the liner notes from that album, and those two bands use the same graphic designer, while this album and that other album were produced by the same person. Previously errant bits of information began to fit together in a great jigsaw puzzle of musical minutiae enlightenment. It was a continuing education with strands that could take you into forever if you had the mind to follow wherever they led. I learned who was most often involved in making the music I liked and was able to more successfully choose future albums to buy and enjoy, as well as being led to bands I never would have known about otherwise. I got to feel like an insider for catching on to certain jokes. And I gained an arsenal of facts that no one but me really cared about and was able to annoy my friends with them accordingly.

For someone who is a devourer of words as well as a lover of music, liner notes are a beautiful synthesis of the two, like an extra gift with every album. The more extensive the liner notes, the brighter my eyes light up.

But as the digital download becomes more prevalent, with some albums never released in a hard copy format, I watch with dismay and genuine sadness as liner notes begin to disappear. Every once in a while, a band will make me happy by including full liner notes in a .pdf with the digital version of their album (bless you, James Leg and the Dad Horse Experience), most albums only include a cover art .jpg and the songs, and sometimes even the cover art is dispensed with.

But... who produced this? Where was it recorded? Who is that playing zither on the third track? In what coy way does the guitarist wish to thank his girlfriend? I NEED TO KNOW THESE THINGS, PEOPLE!

Why are liner notes growing rare? As mentioned previously, such things can be produced in the form of a .pdf file or by other electronic means. And your average band website (which, in the case of some bands I listen to is just a Facebook page or an outdated MySpace profile) doesn’t bother going into production minutiae of each song.

Look at it this way, musicians: In a time when many of you are working your asses off by taking on the additional role of being your own PR rep, liner notes can add another avenue of connection with listeners. Aside from including the more technical notes that some of us really-I-promise are interested in, you could share stories, in-jokes, candid photos that haven’t already been reproduced on countless websites. Give the people a little more incentive to come see your live shows and buy your tour merch by giving them a deeper look into who you are and what you’re about.

The gradual disappearance of liner notes has been on my mind for a while, but this post was given a swift kick into existence by the fact that I was recently a part of creating liner notes for a forthcoming album. A close friend was asked to write these notes for one of his favorite bands, and I was honored when he asked me to be his editor. The experience of getting that first view of the words my friend chose to communicate the essence of the music brought to mind another, rarer connection that can be found in liner notes, that of reading what someone else has written about what you’re listening to and thinking, “Yes! That’s how I feel, too!” (And isn’t that personal resonance the basis for much of our love of music?)

So, musicians, while you’re busy connecting to your audience on an unprecedented personal level, don’t let the actual transmission and digestion aspect of your recorded output grow less personal. What I’m saying is: Give me my fucking liner notes! Junkie needs a fix!


Reposted from Now This Sound Is Brave.

Views: 1535

Tags: liner notes

Comment by Pete on May 1, 2012 at 6:13pm

my favourite liner notes of all time: Alan Ginsberg's on "Blood on the Tracks"...

Comment by Pete on May 1, 2012 at 6:21pm

uh, Pete Hamill, actually...

Comment by Matthew Francis Andersen on May 1, 2012 at 6:34pm

I suppose its just too frickin expensive.

And considering the fact that most cd's will be uploaded to a device and then shelved until one feels compelled to re-read "Bass: John Smith," I don't think anyone other than well-established artists without budget worries are capable or delivering such treats to us. And I say "us" because I share every word of what you wrote. At times I feel I've learned as much about music from reading about it as I did listening to it.

I propose a compromise. Artist's create the best, most cost effective cd they can. Then make only a 2-panel sleeve (and really screw those damn duplication/replication companies), but somewhere inside include a short message: "Liner available at www...blah, blah, blah." This way artists aren't pounded by extra charges for extra pages of  line notes/lyrics and the reader has only to do a tiny-tiny-tiny bit of leg work (which is minimal considering access to laptops, smart phones, etc these days).

I love nothing more than laying in bed with my earphones and pouring through liner notes. But if its all on the artist's budget then I understand the lack of liner notes. Hell, I say skip the liner notes if it means starving any company charging too much money for a cd booklet. And yes...even the cheap mom n pop companies are expensive for some poor dude that writes/records his ass off and simply wants to make a good cd.

Comment by Jack on May 1, 2012 at 7:06pm

Well said, April.  Liner notes were always a source for tips for new music to try, usually unheard before purchasing in the days before the internet.  And yeah, I also read the credits and noticed interconnected names and who played on what else. Reading was kind of a hobby in itself.

Matthew, I don't know how prevalent it is yet, but Kevin Gordon provided a link to the liner notes for Gloryland, and I was glad to download them rather than do without. Not a bad compromise.  By the way, what a record!

Comment by Dirty Roots Radio on May 1, 2012 at 8:22pm

Well said!!  Couldn't agree more!

Comment by Hal Bogerd on May 1, 2012 at 8:26pm

The Clash's "Sandinista": liner notes, lyrics and cartoons all on a wacky oversized fold-out sheet of paper!

Nice rant!

Comment by Hugh MacDonald on May 2, 2012 at 6:39am

I agree100%, at least we can get some of this info on facebook etc.but certainly noot as much fun.


Comment by Easy Ed on May 2, 2012 at 6:56am

Was reading your blog and had a GREAT idea: I'll start a website where musicians could post their liner notes and consumers could either read them online or download a pdf. Seemed like something new and idea I could take to a venture capitalist and get funding for. A business model Wall Street would embrace and would fill my now empty pockets with money, money and more money. And then I did due diligence. It already exists, although the execution is poor and the content is thin.

Comment by steviedal on May 2, 2012 at 10:26am

Good piece April. I'm a big fan of liner notes as well and i'd like to point you in the direction of some superb ones , and they're fiction ! 

In his novel THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE Jonathan Lethem invents a soul singer called Barrett Rude Jr and the second part of the novel "Liner Note" is the made up sleevenotes for Barrett's 2cd , career spanning, anthology. Wonderful stuff and it's obvious that Lethem is a big fan of the ole liner notes himself, worth checking out .

Comment by Matthew Francis Andersen on May 2, 2012 at 11:01am

For those of you who haven't investigated the cost of duplicating/replicating your own album, here is a link for an auto-quot.

Personally, I would never use this company. There are tons of smaller companies with better prices. Also, I dont know where Emmylou Harris gets her cds designed, nor Springsteen, nor Paul Thorn, nor your butcher who also writes and records songs. So use this just to put ya in the ballpark. It will at least give you an idea of what X amount of cds will cost in particular packages. Play around with it. And then imagine a bartender or school teacher trying to figure out a way to produce a kick-ass looking cd for the public. Its no wonder liner notes are (unfortunately) going by the wayside.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.