Liner notes are additional information and text provided with a music album. This information has been provided in different ways as music mediums have changed. Originally, these notes were provided on the inner liner for a vinyl album, from which they continue to take their name. With the development of audio cassettes and compact discs (CDs), these notes were provided with a tape or CD on a small folding booklet that contained pictures and text. As music formats have become increasingly digital, however, the need for physical liner notes is diminishing and many artists have begun providing such notes as digital files and on websites.
The origins of liner notes, though not necessarily the name, stems from 78 revolutions per minute (rpm) vinyl recordings. These records were typically singles that could be purchased individually or as collections, and such collections consisted of an “album” of recordings with notes and information between some of the records. The term “liner notes,” however, comes from the move from 78 rpm records to 33-1/3 rpm records that could have an entire album contained on both sides of one record. These records were available in sleeves, in which thin liners would protect the record itself, and notes on these liners often included information about the musicians or advertisements for other albums.
As music transferred from 33-1/3 vinyl recordings to audio cassettes and CDs, liner notes continued to be provided. These notes were often available as a small booklet folded into the inside of the front cover for a cassette or CD case. Since these booklets provided much more room for information, however, record companies and musicians could provide lyrics, comments from artists, and other information in the liner notes. Additional information was often provided as well, as incentive to persuade people to repurchase an album they already had on vinyl as a CD.
Music mediums have continued to develop and change, however, so liner notes have also begun to evolve and be provided in different ways. Digital files can be provided with an audio CD or as a download that provides all of the information that would accompany a physical disc. Many artists and record companies have also begun providing liner notes on their websites, either through file downloads or simply as a webpage. There are also some websites that have been created as collections of notes from a variety of artists and albums over many decades of music.