The article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Canadian Musician magazine.
By Michael Raine
“I am so pissed off about this,” Garth Richardson says emphatically to kick off our conversation. “Our craft seems to be being put into the back closet.”
What’s riling up Richardson – the famed producer and engineer who’s worked with Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice Cooper, and countless others – is the near total disappearance of album credits in the digital era. “Producers, engineers, second engineers, mastering engineers… The funny thing is, it’s the people that actually get the records made! We spend countless hours and days and months, we work an average of 80 to 90 hours per week – and yet we just get cast off.”
In February 2018, Spotify announced it would begin including songwriter and producer credits for songs on its desktop app under the “show credits” option. Recently, that was extended to the more widely-used mobile app. A simple browse around Spotify, though, makes it clear those credits are, for the most part, included only on songs released in the last couple years, or recent reissues of older albums. “We’re showing information we have from record label-provided metadata, and we’ll also display the source of the credits. We realize some of this may be incomplete or may contain inaccuracies, but this is just a first step,” Spotify said in its 2018 announcement. Two years later, in February 2020, the company said: “Since we began publicly displaying song credits on Spotify in 2018, we’ve seen a 60% increase in how often labels and distributors credit songwriters on their new releases — allowing artists and fans to dig deeper and recognize your work.”
Those credits on Spotify’s platform, though, have never extended beyond songwriters and producers to include recording engineers, mix engineers, mastering engineers, or anyone else involved in the record-making process. Canadian Musician reached out to Spotify about this and was simply told by Chris Macowski, Spotify’s head of music industry communications, “While we don’t have any news to share at this time, we are always evolving existing features.”
Still, Spotify is ahead of its main rival, Apple Music, which only shares composer credits (though, in some cases, that includes producers). Representatives at Apple Canada did not respond to Canadian Musician’s inquiries.
The issue of engineers’ credits being buried or omitted extends beyond Spotify and Apple Music, but because they now dominate music consumption, they are the focal point for many engineers. Still, Richardson points out, if you watch a music video on YouTube, it’s common for a “directed by” credit to feature at the beginning or end. “I say, well, hold on a minute here. If you turned down the sound, that’s what that guy did. When you turn up the volume, that’s what we do. So, how come we’re nowhere to be seen?” he says. “How come it’s not, ‘produced by, engineered by, mixed by’? They still have to add in that [director’s] credit, so why can’t they just add three more lines? It’s that simple.”
The result, Richardson says, is that even accomplished engineers or producers like him, or his friend David Bottrill (Muse, Peter Gabriel, Tool), have to be touting their work on social media so that people know they’re still active. “We have to spend more time social media-ing about who we are, and we’re not about that, but in order to let people know we’ve done something, we have to do this shameless self-promotion,” he laments.
“So, there is sort of a single underlying problem, which is the lack of acknowledgement for the work that you do, and then there’s the reality that we live and die by our credits. People hire you because they like what you work on,” comments recording and mix engineer Ryan McCambridge, who has credits on records by Rush, Metric, Glass Tiger, and others. “I think the problem differs depending on where you are in your career. If you were just starting out, this is not a problem for you because your credits are so insignificant that it doesn’t really matter… It would become an issue, but it wouldn’t be at the time. If it’s, you know, name your A-list producer, it also wouldn’t be [as much of] an issue. The issue is this middle ground where you’re working on stuff that is totally credible and that people are listening to, and yet no one will ever know that you worked on it.”
About this, Richardson adds, “When I was 20 or 25 years old and I began to get my first breaks, if had to go through then what I do now, it would be very difficult to have a career. So, this is about making our craft healthier.” For example, if there’s a young and talented engineer that mixes an exceptional album that makes other artists, producers, and engineers go, “Who mixed this?”, too often, it’s too hard to answer that simple question.
“The way this stuff would work is everybody moves up the totem pole,” continues McCambridge. “The assistant engineer needs those credits to be an engineer, and the engineer needs those credits to become a producer, and so on.”
But maybe the problem doesn’t rest solely with Spotify and Apple Music not featuring thorough credits. After all, Netflix features very minimal credits on its own interface for movies and TV shows. It also often shrinks the credits roll at the end of a movie in favour of showing you something else to watch, making the traditional credits roll pointlessly small on most people’s screens. The big difference, though, is that the film and TV industry has IMDB.com — a well-known, searchable, interactive, and amazingly comprehensive digital database of credits for anyone involved in the making of TV and movies.
If you’re a sound mixer or sound effects editor for TV, IMDB is effectively your business card. There is no equivalent for that in the music industry. The closest comparable is Allmusic.com, but it does not compare to IMDB in its comprehensiveness. To exemplify this, I just checked the credits for Polaris Prize-winner Lido Pimienta’s new album, Miss Colombia. What’s included in the credits on AllMusic? Nothing. Not even the producer.
A newcomer that may offer the answer is an Australia-based company and website called Jaxsta. It’s still in beta mode, but it already claims to be the “world’s most comprehensive resource of official music credits” with 105 million official credits, including 400,000 producers and engineers credits. The company has partnership agreements with all three of the major labels, as well as indie label collective Merlin and a number of other associations, publishers, and royalty agencies. If it gains traction in the industry, it’s a promising music-focused answer to IMDB. (Continuing my test, it told me the producers of Miss Columbia are Pimienta and Prince Nifty, that Nifty was also the engineer, and that Andrés Nusser was the mixer.)
Jaxsta notwithstanding, McCambridge doesn’t let Spotify and Apple Music off the hook. He points out that, crucially, they play a role that no one video service does, even Netflix. The key difference is music streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music each have almost the entire catalog of recorded music in their libraries at all times. As such, music fans typically subscribe to just one service and it becomes their main point of contact with all music. Movie and TV streaming services, on the other hand, do not have overlapping libraries. Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, etc. each have just a small, exclusive, and temporary sliver of history’s filmography.
“So, to me, sure we could do that,” McCambridge says of an IMDB-style database for music credits, “but really and truly it should be the Apple Musics and Spotifys of the world who are figuring out that problem.”
Of course, such a project would be a significant undertaking for any of the streaming services. And as sad as it may be to say, they are not beholden to the interests of music makers. Spotify and Apple Music are beholden to their subscribers and to the music rights holders that license them, which is primarily the labels who own the master recordings, as well as the publishers/PROs.
“They don’t care. How long ago did they stop putting the [producers and engineers] names on the backs of vinyl or CDs?” Richardson says about the record labels’ willingness to take up this fight.
“You know, David Bottrill is an artist. I think I am. I think Mike Fraser is. I think Randy Staub, Bob Rock, Bob Ezrin, all of us are. So, I think you need to start CIRPA back up and go with one voice,”
Richardson adds, referring to the Canadian Independent Record Producers Association, which was co-founded by his father, the legendary producer Jack Richardson, in 1971. CIRPA eventually became CIMA (the Canadian Independent Music Association) and its focused shifted to the interests of independent labels, management companies, and agencies.
Richardson is hopeful that if engineers, producers, and other professionals involved in the music-making process can form a new association and speak with a united voice, it would give them more sway with streaming services, labels, government, and others. In fact, he and Juno-winning engineer/producer John “Beetle” Bailey are currently discussing how to make it happen.
When it comes down to it, this conversation is about two things: giving credit where it’s due, because it’s the right thing to do; and second, it’s about maintaining the health of the music ecosystem for the next generation of engineers and others.
“It’s the inability for people to find you and for them to recognize your contributions to a record,” McCambridge says in closing. “That is the heart of the problem.”
Update: A previous version of this article stated Jaxsta had agreement with two of the three major labels. That has now changed to all three.