Gracenote’s lyrics service

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Yahoo and Gracenote put another nail in the CD coffin today, providing a free source of lyrics to about half a million songs. It’s a bit of a novelty -- the site lets you search for lyrics by phrase or song, but doesn’t allow you to print the lyrics or move them into a portable player or digital jukebox. Still, it suggests what other digital ventures might do with Gracenote’s lyrics database. For instance, an online music store might offer ‘enhanced’ versions of a digital album that add lyrics to each track’s metadata. Or MP3 players could add a ‘karaoke mode,’ with lyrics scrolling across the screen as songs play with their vocals filtered out. Needless to say, those are more compelling than lyrics printed on a CD insert. They also mirror what’s already happening in the market, with or without the help of songwriters.

Although the Internet is littered with sites offering song lyrics, many legitimate services have avoided using such sources because they probably weren’t authorized by the copyright holders (i.e., songwriters and their publishers). Gracenote appears to be the first authorized aggregator of lyrics from the major publishers, and as such it should unlock a host of interesting applications. The X factor is how much the publishers will demand in royalties for those applications. Given that it’s a double-barreled win for them -- a new revenue stream and a blow to unauthorized sources of lyrics -- one can hope that they’ll set a low bar to encourage authorized services to proliferate.