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Apple Music, Spotify, Etc.
The End of the Greatest Hits Album & Deluxe Reissues?

July 9, 2015

apple music, spotify, tidal, impact of streaming music

This first paragraph has very little to do with the topic of this post. If you’d like to skip the “Where Have I Been” intro, click here to skip right over it. Don’t worry, my feelings won’t be hurt. I recently ran into a friend at a 4th of July party and he said to me, “I went to your website the other day and it doesn’t look like you’ve done much lately.” To which I exclaimed, “Done much? I haven’t done anything in about 8 months.” Having just checked, it appears that’s not totally accurate, as I did post a couple things earlier this year. That happened to be between semesters…when my 8 month old still slept a little bit each day. Since then, there just hasn’t been much time for writing. Hell, there hasn’t even been much time for listening. It’s hard to write about music when you’re not listening to a whole helluva lot of new music anyway. This should come as no surprise as research published a couple of months ago confirmed what was long suspected; as people age, they tend to stop keeping up with popular music. To make matters worse, the study revealed that “at any age, people with children listen to smaller amounts of currently popular music than the average listener of that age” and that men’s musical tastes “mature” in their early 30s. I’m a small sample of size of one…but that shit is dead on. At almost no point in my life have I listened to less music than in the past 8 months. Even the new stuff that I do get a chance to listen to doesn’t seem to have the same appeal for me that it did for the past 20 years. All that aside, even if I was listening to a ton of new music and loving a decent amount of it, I tell myself I’m going to write at night after my daughter goes to bed…and then she goes to bed and I realize that I’m tired and don’t feel like getting my laptop out and writing. #DadLife

A lot has been written about Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Rdio, and other streaming services as of late. Just yesterday, I saw a story pop up on my Facebook feed about Facebook starting its own streaming service. This post will not be yet another post about the pros and cons of each service. Honestly, I’m not all that concerned with royalty rates paid to artists, high quality streaming, so on and so forth. I’m a self-admitted Apple fanboy, so needless to say, I was most looking forward to Apple Music. I had decided earlier this year that I was going to succumb and get a subscription to a streaming service once Apple Music was released and I had a chance to take each service for a test drive. At this point, I’ll probably be going with Apple Music, simply because it is the most integrated with my existing collection. As far as my opinion about streaming services goes, that’s the extent of it.

Upon Apple Music’s release, I realized there was less that I wanted to listen to because I already own so much of what I want to listen to. I have to keep telling myself that it’s about the future of listening, not the past. A couple days after this realization, I was flipping through a recent issue of Rolling Stone and happened upon that issue’s “Hot Tracks.” Somewhere on this list was a version of The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” featuring Eric Clapton on guitar that was included on the band’s deluxe edition reissue of Sticky Fingers. I thought to myself, “Now here is something that I’d like to hear.” I fired up Apple Music and quickly found the album. Actually, I found that not only had they released a deluxe edition, but also a super deluxe edition. I went for the super deluxe because…well, it’s super. And deluxe. In addition to this version of “Brown Sugar” featuring Eric Clapton, the super deluxe edition also contained a number of alternate versions, as well as two live performances from 1971. The latter of which was a performance at the University of Leeds, which apparently was one of the Rolling Stones most bootlegged concerts. While listening to it in the car, I was telling my girlfriend that this particular version of “Brown Sugar” had Eric Clapton on it, which I’m sure she found to be absolutely vital information. I then went on to explain that it was recently released on a deluxe reissue of the album.

I hadn’t even finished that sentence when a thought struck me. “If streaming is the future of music, is there any place in that future for albums like this?” I’ll explain. I am sure that there are countless think pieces dating back to the initial launch of the iTunes music store about the inevitable extinction of the album. The thinking goes, if you allow consumers to buy songs piecemeal, why would anyone bother to buy an entire album? To a whole generation brought up on CDs, it seemed like a likely scenario. Who hasn’t shelled out $15-$20 on an album only to discover that the one song you heard on the radio or saw on MTV was the only good song on the entire album? However, the album is still around. Granted, albums may not be as important as they once were, but people are still buying albums. This is even more true when factoring in the resurgence of vinyl. The people who still buy albums are the same people who bought albums in the 90s and early 2000s, music lovers. If you’re reading this, you’re probably the person I am talking about.

Ever since deluxe, super deluxe, and more deluxe than deluxe biggest fan ever box within a box reissues became a thing, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with them. On one hand, it’s great to have access to never-before-heard demos, alternate takes, outtakes, and live tracks. On the other hand, it really sucked having to buy the same album a second time…or a third time…or a fourth time depending on the age of the album and the buyer. The thing that bothered me the most about these reissues is that it seemed to hurt the biggest fans the most. More than likely, someone who would want to hear outtake, demos, etc…already owns a copy of the original album. The worst example of this in recent memory was High Violet by The National. I consider myself a fairly big fan of the band and generally pre-order each of their albums. High Violet was no exception to this. The album was originally released on May 11, 2010. On November 22, 2010, barely six months later, an expanded edition of High Violet was released. I don’t know what the reasoning behind this was, but as a fan who already had purchased the album and also wanted to hear the b-sides, unreleased tracks, alternate versions, and live recording, I couldn’t help but feel cheated.

Although I didn’t quite understand the reasoning behind an expanded edition of High Violet being released about six months after its original release, I do understand why these albums exist…money. As much as I would like to think that musician’s are so deeply concerned with my wants and wishes as a fan, I know it all comes down to the mighty dollar. Maybe it had to do with the decline in CD sales or maybe it has to do with the stage in a musician’s career, but rereleasing albums with bonus material is an easy way to make money. Listen, I get it. It’s called the music business for a reason. The same reasoning applies to greatest hits albums. As a teenager, greatest hits albums were fantastic. Yes, maybe they were an easy way to make money, but they also happened to be an introduction to a musician’s vast body of work. That ceased to be the case when people with three albums started released greatest hits albums.

Assuming that reissues and greatest hits exist solely as an easy way to sell records and make money, is there any incentive for musician’s to release these types of albums in a world where streaming is the dominant form of music consumption? The super deluxe edition of Sticky Fingers is the perfect example. I have already played the album a handful of times and think it’s a great release. That being said, would I have bought it? Probably not. I already own the original release and don’t think the bonus material would be enough incentive to purchase the album. Add to that the fact that the regular album is $9.99 in the iTunes music store. The deluxe edition is $12.99 and the super deluxe edition is $19.99. Did I mention that they also released a Sticky Fingers Live album? I don’t imagine I’m alone in happily streaming it while having absolutely no interest in purchasing the album…again. If that’s the case, will bands bother to release albums like this in the immediate future? If they can’t make money off releases like this, what’s the point? I suppose there is making the fans happy, but that would be naive to believe that’s the case.

If you’ve yet to try out Apple Music, you can type in the name of many artists and in addition to being shown tracks and albums, you will often be shown a mix curated by Apple Music employees that serve as that artist’s “introduction.” Essentially, a greatest hits mix. I don’t know if other streaming services offer the same types of mixes or playlists, but I imagine they already do or will soon if they don’t already. Not only will artists no longer be able to sell massive amounts of greatest hits albums, but streaming services are already compiling what essentially are nothing more than unofficial greatest hits playlists. I know that many music fans abhor greatest hits albums. Like I said, I have enjoyed many greatest hits albums over the years, but I can see both sides of this argument. Personal feelings aside, there is no denying that greatest hits collections sell. According the Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) top 100 selling albums of all-time, 5 of the top 20 best-selling albums are greatest hits collections. 2 out of top 5 are greatest hits. Out of the top 100, 21 are greatest hits albums. Based on these numbers, there is no denying that since the advent of the LP, greatest hits albums sell. But what happens when music is no longer sold?

As we’ve witnessed over the past 15 years or so, technology is moving at such a rapid pace that the word “future” may only apply to the next 2-3 years. At this moment, streaming is clearly the present and the “future” of music, but there’s no way to tell what is just over the horizon. In the present, while we all bicker about which streaming service is the best, one thing is clear, streaming will (and already has) change the way we listen to and consume music. Does part of this change involve the extinction of greatest hits albums and album reissues chock full of bonus material? I suppose only time will tell, but given the history of music labels, I’m guessing I’ve paid for my last album…twice.

 

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