iTunes, digital and music’s missing words

I remember the days when you and your mate would get back from the record shop with a new slice of vinyl, and get a kick out of listening to the music while singing along, reading the lyrics printed on the record sleeve. It was an exuberant experience that I for one have missed since the dawn of the CD.

Things have got worse – digital music means you rarely get lyrics with your purchase, and music publishers have made no significant effort to resolve this, other than to pursue unauthorised lyrics websites.

Clearly, rights holders aren’t planning a future business model that’s at all relevant to the digital age. Why, for example, aren’t lyrics attached to song downloads through iTunes? It’s a classic case of rights holders ignoring the audience, but most of us are used to that now.

But the impact is worse than that. A new UK study informs us that the public is now “struggling to fully appreciate music” because they can’t access accurate lyrics. 90 per cent of respondents feel that reading lyrics helped them fully appreciation music and 50 per cent felt that lyrics were less accessible than just five years ago.

Why? Because you won’t find them on CD covers, most downloads don’t include them, those horrible Flash-soaked artist websites that take an age to access don’t always offer them, and online lyrics websites are frequently inaccurate. Who do you blame|?

Clearly, the rights holders for publishing are having an oppressive effect on music fans, it’s a Kafka-esque scenario in which you can buy and listen to the music, but can’t access the words so you can sing along. And it means the artist’s message isn’t coming across.

It’s not just me who feels that way – 77 per cent of people feel download sites should be offering definitive and accurate lyrics as part of the download experience.

Honor Wilson-Fletcher, Director of the National Year of Reading (the people behind the study) said: “The artists who write lyrics have something to say and our survey shows that audiences want to be able to read and appreciate them properly. This is great news! The Year of Reading is all about making the most of every form of reading – and lyrics are clearly pretty high up the list of desired ‘reads’ – so the least we can do is try and make sure they are as widely available as possible.

Publishers are depriving music fans of fundamental experiences, the survey suggests. An astonishing 51 per cent of the people surveyed also said that reading lyrics had the power to change moods and inspire memories.

– 47% found being in love brought the words to life
– 39% said reading lyrics meant more to them when falling love
– 29% found they meant more when breaking up with a loved one
– 23% saw wisdom in words at weddings.

A familiarity with lyrics also proved to offer solace at times of bereavement (36%), when people need motivation (33%) and celebration (32%).

I understand the split system between artist publishing and recording rights, but I completely fail to understand why almost ten years since the birth of the original Napster, publishing companies have done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING OF ANY CONSEQUENCE to make lyrics part of the digital music value chain.

Music fans already pay these publishing companies whenever they walk into a PRS or MCPS licensed public place, as those venues are charged for their licenses, a charge that’s passed onto their customers, who are also music fans.

Or is this just another hatching plot by the usual suspects to persuade music fans to pay twice for their music?

It really needs to be sorted out. There’s no excuse I’m willing to understand.

3 thoughts on “iTunes, digital and music’s missing words

  1. Density of Sound

    Jarvis Cocker is quoted in this article about the same survey. I tend to think it’s one of those things that will start to matter increasingly as the ability of mp3 players to display as well as play becomes the standard.

    Yer old ipod or off the shelf budget player had no real powers of display to speak of but since color screens and larger interfaces have become the norm the digital artwork has become more important. Hopefully the lyrics will follow. In fact, hopefully one download service will make it the norm, prompting others to follow.

  2. Douglas Shirlaw

    Posted something similar on my blog last year, and again based on an article in the Guardian at the time iTunes Plus was launching. It looked like at the time that the lyrics would follow suit – but given the music companies dislike of the digital medium they’ll no doubt want an extra cut.

  3. Affiliate

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