What is Gracenote?
Recently I went through the process of releasing physical copies of my music for the first time, and in this process I had the joy of learning about Gracenote. What is Gracenote? - I hear you ask. Well... I hope you're strapped in for something that seems incredibly stupid in 2019.
To make it very simple, have you ever wondered how iTunes and other audio players on your computer seem to understand what songs and artists are on that CD you just bought? If you're like me and use Spotify, you might have forgotten about that entirely!
Well, that 'technology' is powered by Gracenote. You probably thought that the information was encoded into the CD, since after all you can literally load any files you want onto a CD! However, the process is a little more complicated (not much, but its a whole lot more stupid).
What actually happens when you put the CD in, is iTunes searches the Gracenote servers for a unique number that represents the CD. This number is determined by the number of tracks, and the length of each track on the album - I would also imagine there is some kind of date associated with when the number was created, just in case two releases have the same number of tracks and lengths. Then iTunes loads that information to the CD, and allows you to burn the tracks and save them inside iTunes as correctly labelled tracks.
Not stupid enough? Well, the information that is entered into the Gracenote servers is actually submitted via iTunes, by whoever submits the data first. Thats right, if you forget to do this to your CD, someone could enter all your track names as shit1, crap 2, poop3, etc, and you'd end up having to contact the company to try and fix it (if they even allow that).
Basically, the entire reason for this whole thing existing, is that back in the day CD players weren't as advanced as they are now. You could encode some title information into the files themselves, but you couldn't fully define all the data for the album and still have the file be in a format readable by CD players of the time. Then, just like most things in the music industry, the act of doing this never died.
I'm not involved in the creation of CD players, but I have to imagine that encoding all this information is entirely possible and has been for the past 15+ years. But when millions of people have CD players that don't support something, record labels don't want to risk betting on new technology when they have something that works. Then at some point they probably realized CD's were on the decline and didn't bother.
Maybe i'm entirely off-base on this and Gracenote is the only possible way for this all to work, but to me this process seems insane in 2019. Is it super easy to do? Yes. Does it work? Yes. But, does it sound completely unnecessary? Yes, absolutely.
So if you weren't aware of this, make sure you submit any new CD's you're having made to Gracenote a few days before you distribute them. This will ensure your fans will be able to import your tracks easily.