Forget the “Vertigo” iTunes commercial, the black-and-red branded iPod, the appearance at the iPod photo event, the exclusive every-damned-song-they-ever-did compilation at the iTunes Music Store. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest contribution U2 has made to digital music is nudging Apple one step closer to releasing liner notes for the albums it sells.
Look, I’m a music geek — specifically, I’m an album geek. My enthusiasm for the trappings of album covers, liner notes, and CD inserts borders on the fetishistic. While I love the convenience of the iTunes Music Store and some other music services, I’m routinely let down because I have to scour the web to discover who supplied the background vocals on track 2, where the album was mastered, and what the hell the vocalist was singing in the bridge of track 6. There have been times when, price be damned, I’ve purchased the disc simply to get the liner notes that accompany it.
If this liner notes business is news to you, allow me to explain.
Under normal circs, when you purchase an album from the iTunes Music Store you get the music plus a picture of the album cover (the picture is embedded in each song from the album). The latest U2 album works the same way except for this: When you pungle up for How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, a PDF file that contains the material from the CD sleeve downloads right along with the music. This PDF file is listed as HTDAAB Digital Booklet and is tagged in such a way that its associated artist and album are U2 and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, respectively. Double-click this entry and your PDF viewer opens and displays the file. Print it to a decent color printer, whip out some well-honed scissors and a stapler and you’ve got something that closely resembles the commercial audio CD (but without that annoying bit of tape at the top of the case that never, ever comes off in one piece).
Granted, it would be cooler still to be able to view and print liner notes from within iTunes (and I suspect this will happen one day), but I’m pleased enough to see Apple take this important first step.
And I pray that it is a first step rather than an aberration that springs from its exclusivity contract with the boys from Ireland. Given the sometimes creepy devotion people have toward Apple’s products, Jobs and company should understand how serious music enthusiasts might welcome the complete music package.
While we’re waiting, the existences of this PDF booklet demonstrates that it’s possible to access PDF files in iTunes, which means, of course, that should you care to, you can create liner notes of your own. To do so:
1. Find the liner notes material (a CD, cover for vinyl record, cassette J-card).
2. Scan the sucker.
3. Export as PDF (using countless Windows utilities or Mac OS X’s Save as PDF feature within every Print dialog box).
4. Drag the resulting PDF file into iTunes.
5. Select the PDF and choose Get Info from iTunes’ File menu.
6. Click the Info tab and enter a descriptive name for the file in the Name field (White Album Liner Notes, for example) and then the artist’s name in the Artist field and album name in the Album field.
7. Click OK.
The PDF file will now appear next to the album’s music when you sort by artist or album.
Sure, it’s a lot of work. My hope is that until Apple is ready to step up to the plate, some enterprising individual will find a way to create a public database of this kind of material (while staying on the right side of copyright laws) that allows geeks like me to swap liner notes and incorporate them into iTunes. When that individual appears, I’ll shout his or her name from this bully pulpit.