Since I started making records 30-some years ago, we’ve always made a point of mentioning the recording, mixing and mastering engineers along with the musicians, arrangers, songwriters and producers who contribute to the records. ... These days, the nation’s largest retailer of music — the iTunes store — has essentially eliminated credits, liner notes and printed lyrics from their digital packaging. I’m at a loss to explain Apple’s ambivalence about upholding the quality and value of the product that has fueled the success of their hardware.
He goes on to tell the story of how important the liner notes to The Mothers of Invention's Freak Out! were to his budding freakishness in 1966: "The first time I heard of Charles Ives, Willie Dixon, Captain Beefheart, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Eric Dolphy was when I read that list of 150 random notables (titled People Who Have Contributed Materially in Many Ways to Make Our Music What it Is — Please Do Not Hold it Against Them)." In other words, the liner notes were important. "If Zappa released that same music today," Was continues, "we’d browse the 30-second samples on the iTunes store without the benefit of reading those mind-blowing liner notes. There’d be no context or depth to the whole experience. It’s no wonder that kids don’t wanna pay for music anymore ... "
Just yesterday I was importing a CD into iTunes and having related thoughts as I manually typed in the artist and album information, a tedious and pretty unrewarding process (sorry, Uncle Skeleton). I, too, grew up on liner notes, and think they are — or at least can be — fun and informative, especially when you start to get nerdy and connect the dots between albums based on the names of studios, engineers, producers, guest musicians and the like. But there's another way to connect those dots, called the Internet. So it's not that there's "no context or depth" to the experience of consuming music "these days." If you follow Kanye West on Twitter, you know there's such a thing as too much context or, uh, depth.Wikipedia page for Freak Out!, for example, has way more information than the liner notes ever did. I guess what I'm saying is that being thanked in the same liner notes as Jewel never did anything for me, professionally or personally, at least not that I know of, so I do not lament their passing as Mr. Was does.
But seriously, I love albums and album art and liner notes and the whole thing — and I agree that engineers, producers and other personnel should be properly credited in digital formats, and that the current state of digital equivalents to liner notes are quite poor, and that there's something about seeing liner notes presented as the artist wanted them right there in the same package as the music itself for you to gaze at while cranking your new tunes on the hi-fi — I just disagree about the lack of context and depth argument.