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This is Pop Download-o-rama

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

RE: To Buy, Or Not to Buy: That Is the Question:

Tuesdays have always held a certain degree of affection for me as a music lover. It is that day after all, at least in North America when new CD’s and DVD’s are released for consumption by the masses. And consume I do, my appetite for all things shiny and new could best be quantified as healthy. (Just ask my financial planner…) Apparently though, I am a quickly vanishing breed; Sales of new, physical media, save for various gaming platforms and software has seen a huge decline for several years now. Hardly new news as they say, but today as I perused the shelves of a local record store I was struck by a phenomenon that has clearly gotten way out of hand. Dear reader, I’m talking about the ubiquitous “remaster”- That beloved disc(s) which has been dutifully reconstituted, re-recorded, reproduced, re-imagined, reinvented, recycled, rejuvenated in one form or another and all packaged for immediate re-consumption. Two recent examples that underscore my point; the first three Radiohead CD’s and Pearl Jam’s debut Ten all being sold in spiffy new multidisc, vari-formats to replace those sadly inferior discs that we all purchased so many years ago. But what started as mild curiosity on my Tuesday lunch sojourn quickly grew into resentment. This just didn't feel like musical 'comfort food' anymore. It felt more like someone was trying to pick my pocket.

When is this going to end though? Is the record industry really offering us anything special or just selling us the same thing time and time again? (They’re sure not giving them away either. Pricey would be an understatement.)

I was reminded of U2’s strategy last Fall. The band had just launched new remastered versions of their first three classic albums: Boy, October and War.

The albums are available in basic one-disc editions priced at €12.99, a "deluxe" two-disc set with "b-sides, live tracks and rarities" for €29.99, and a 'Boy' box set, which contains a "deluxe" CD and a t-shirt and costs €49.99.

The three re-released U2 albums are also available on vinyl. And some of the "rarities" on the deluxe, second CDs are re-worked versions of old fan favourites.
Yikes! Beginning to see my point? Ooooh, a t-shirt! Have large record companies simply lost a creative vision and are so devoid of fresh ideas? This is not new stuff at all. If you are a fan you have it. You bought it on those pricey imports the first time around. Have the major labels and artists simply lost their direction? Frankly, I just feel insulted when I see this stuff now. Such obvious cash grabs for an industry all but floundering to stay alive. Perhaps, thats the point. Maybe it is all about survival. I just think its wrongheaded and greedy.

I say, give me something special, something I have not purchased before in another form. Show me something new! Do fans really need to purchase the same product time and time again whenever some record company or artist decides that its time to make a buck? In fairness, my previous example, Radiohead have come out recently in the press as being against these opportunistic endeavours and publicly admonished their former record company.

Maybe that’s what it going to take. Maybe its time we all just stopped catering to these unoriginal forays and simply supported independent music artists, producers and distributors. I don't think I want to help Bono pay for another castle.

Is it just me? I know I felt a lot better paying for that WAVVES CD today and putting down the deluxe edition of OK Computer.

What are your thoughts? Comments are very welcome.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

You are quite right when you say that the long time fans will already have all that stuff, and I personally do not believe that they will be buying (or buying into) these. Unless they are serious completionists.

That said, if there are some rarities or b-sides on the reissues that I don't already have, I would be really tempted.

Allison said...

Its stuff like this that doesn't make me feel the slightest bit bad for downloading the majority of my music. I really don't want to help Bono buy another pair of sunglasses. I cannot afford to by into this 'new/old' sales pitch. And you're spot on - where have all the fresh ideas gone?

I still purchase music from independent artists, and bigger bands that I have loved for years (mainly for the cover booklets). If every artist did what Andrew Bird did this time around with his latest album, I think you'd get a lot more people shelling out their dosh.

Blair Whatmore said...

Great post, Sean.
I thought many of the same thoughts yesterday morning as I received and priced the third (yes, third) re-issues of the same Radiohead albums in less than two years (!!). It truly is getting out of hand, and in the case of Radiohead in particular, it's rather sad, as it is a record company cash-in in the true sense of the term.

Like any fan of music collector, I am always tempted by the neverending re-issue campaign, and I'll admit, there are some excellent re-issue collections out there (London Calling legacy edition springs to mind right away, re-issues by The Band and The Byrds have also added excellent outakes and liner notes to already stellar albums).

Yet there is a line, and more and more often it is being crossed. As someone involved in the retail side of the business, it's becoming impossible to keep up with. (2007 "Deluxe 180 Gram Vinyl" pressing of Pearl Jam's TEN. Now, a year and a half later, ANOTHER re-issue of the same album?!?!)

However, the problem will remain as long as people continue to buy. And I can't tell you how many dozens of copies of "The Best Of Radiohead" I've sold to true Radiohead fans that already own the album!

And yet the major labels continue to boggle my mind, as world class artists like Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young's back catologues remain largely untouched from their original late 1980's CD pressings, which in comparison to today's standards have remarkably inferior sound quality, not to mention lazy, uninformative artwork and liner notes. I know legions of Springsteen fans that have been eagerly awaiting remastered albums for well over a decade, and yet Sony has yet to throw the Boss on the re-issue wagon.

Let's stick to re-issues that make sense. I've got nothing against remastered albums with nice liner notes and proper bonus tracks. But why not get it right the first time, and quit confusing poor record store clerks across the country.

How's that for a rant?

Blair Whatmore said...

Our cost on the Radiohead re-issues is 26.95. They're retailing for 29.99. Take a wild guess at who's getting the lion's share of that price tag!

Sean Wraight said...

Barb - Exactly my point... Just give me something I haven't paid for all already. Trust me, I am all about radio sessions, b-sides and live tracks. And as tempting as the Radiohead stuff is, with only one or two new offerings on the OK Computer discs for example it hardly seems worth. it. Mind you the Bends seems to have yielded more obscurities; So that may be the one that gets my sheckels.

Allison - Fine example, that Andrew Bird deluxe edition is terrific. From the enhanced artwork to the extra disc it represents good value for its money. Did I buy it? Absolutely. I gotta support when its done right. I wonder though, if sunglasses are Bono's weakness what is Andrew's? Perhaps we can support his trombone fixations.


Sean Wraight said...

Blair- A man of few words you are my friend... ;)

Thank you for the insight you bring to this little debate my friend. You make some valid points as well that I completely agree with. The Legacy Editions that came out from the Clash/London Calling and the Byrds/Sweethearts of the Rodeo are textbook examples of doing it right. These compendiums should be a part of evey music students tool kit. Talk about doing it right, these things offer true insight into the creative process. They show us exactly from whence the originating sources come from. That is what makes them great. They fill in the gaps.

Still haven't figured out the Springsteen/ Neil Young thing yet. Now that would be a musical education. And trust me, I would be first in line to purchase them.

Lastly, that is pricey but man oh man I am sure it will sell. As for your question what does an average artist get when it comes to royalties. Heck with their jetsetting ways they must what, get 95% of that? ;) HA!

Now I know why you are following the musicians calling. It's all about those royalties, castles and sunglasses right? Er no? :)

Keep up the great work with the Collective Blair. Can't wait to see your first Deluxe Edition. At least you will know how to do it up right!


Westcoast Walker said...

I have a love/hate relationship with the whole "deluxe reissue" phenomena of late.

On one hand I share some disdain for the major labels and the bottomless pit of greed and endless desire to milk as much from those of us who gave a damn about music, before CDs go the way of the Dodo.

Having said that, being a HUGE music fan I have seen some decent reissues that have been worthwhile. It is very evident that many of the original analogue to digital transfers that were done when CDs first came out were awful, and you do really notice the difference when you here some of the recently remastered CDs. Also, what true blooded music geek doesn't appreciate a few good b-sides and obscurities being thrown in for good measure.

So I guess my threshold is based on relevance and necessity - if it improves the listening experience for me for some beloved classic albums I am sold.

What I don't like is the recent trend of having 4 or 5 different versions of the same album, especially for a brand new release, or having the deluxe reissues come out a mere 6 months after the original, sort of like a slap in the face to fans who ran out and bought an album when it first came out.

A good post btw! I also share your strong association with "new release Tuesdays" and have found myself in recent years still showing up nice and early on a Tuesday waiting to get my hands on an anticipated new release.

Phronk said...

I think they gotta do something to stay alive. Digital downloads are currently just a better product for most people; you don't need to leave the house for them, they're cheaper, and there's no need to rip the songs from the CD before listening. I still buy CDs from artists I really care about, for stuff like the album art and a permanent high-quality backup, but more and more, downloads are winning out. So to sell CDs they gotta somehow come across as a better product. I don't think t-shirts and re-issuing the same music accomplishes that, but at least they're trying.