Robert Rauschenberg's 1983 design for The Talking Heads.

The 7th annual independent MUSEXPO kicked off this week at the W Hotel in Hollywood.  The event unites creative music executives scrambling to shape the future of the business worldwide.  An unexpected ray of hope for photographers and photography appeared at the keynote panel moderated by Nic Harcourt.  The visionary at the table was Ty Roberts, Co-founder, Senior VP and CTO of Gracenote, who spoke of restoring graphics, photography, and liner notes into the systems we now use to listen to music.  In other words, when a 15 year old sat down with an LP in 1970, they could listen to music, sing along with the lyrics and look at photographs all at the same time.  Gracenote will restore and enhance that experience.

The largest, most comprehensive music database in the world featuring music and video metadata and licensed cover art images, Gracenote is not a household name because it’s tucked inside a lot of other companies’ products (like iTunes, for example).  Gracenote’s metatagging assists in locating music that might interest a listener beyond their original music selection.

In a March interview with Kelli Richards on blogtalkradio Gracenote’s Roberts stated “The reality on the internet now is I can start thinking about rich visuals, photographic information and other things and bring that back to the music experience.  That stuff, it does exist on the internet right now, but unfortunately it exists on the website, which is typically very separate from the recorded music product.  It’s not bundled together into something that really (works), they kind of almost compete with one another in a certain way.  So, to some degree I think that’s really an exciting direction for the future, which is really to create what I’ll call the next generation of what a record album really should be, with all these great tools that are available now.  The richness of the photography that was associated with music is endless.  There are amazingly talented people who’ve shot amazing stuff and all this stuff is sitting in a paper book or a in a vault somewhere and so… Getty Images, we’ve been working with them to sort of unlock the potential of… imagine, actual photographs.  It turns out that how people look is half of who they are.  Twenty years later it’s really interesting to look at that stuff.”

Herman Leonard's photograph from the 1956 Savoy Records release.

He goes on to say “The second you play an artist on the stereo system in your living room, you have this massive panel with incredible high res graphics.  When you play a dvd or a game you have surround sound with the graphics all moving around. When you play music, you get the album cover.  Okay?  So it seems like maybe we could put the lyrics on there, maybe we could put some photographs on there, video clips.  Who knows?  That ability to connect the music with the visuals and do it in an intelligent way is I think the kind of stuff that Gracenote will do.”

As attribution and subscription technologies become more sophisticated, Gracenote’s potential could open financial streams both for photographers and for syndication houses with vintage and new photography.  In an ideal world both would benefit, but certainly photographers need to be cautious about retaining their rights in the face of far reaching contracts.  With any luck, there will once again be both a means for musicians to be paid for their work and photographers to share in the opportunity.