Music Marketing's Little Extras [09/04/01]

If you've been buying albums for any amount of time, you've probably seen a number of "Side albums" in the bins just begging for you to purchase them. The music industry, in their infinite Capitalist wisdom, have found a number of ways to market popular, and even not-so-popular, bands by creating a number of album types which don't immediately constitute a new album by your favorite acts. Often, the lure of something new by your favorite artists will land you an album that, once you're through with, leaves you feeling cheated and ripped-off. Feel free to use the following comments as a guide when going to the record store and looking at a group of albums with your favorite band included that you don't own but are thinking about owning.

Tribute - Very rarely have Tribute albums been even remotely decent. Often, these kind of albums are littered with bands most listeners have never heard of. Pick up a tribute album of your favorite band and listen in horror as these no-name bands manage to mangle and rape some of your favorite tracks. Even worse, sometimes the songs you may consider to be the best of said band are left off of these compilations (or maybe that's just to spare the listener the suffering). Only on a few occasions have these Tribute albums been even remotely decent. Both the Led Zeppelin (Encomium) and Black Sabbath (Nativity in Black) albums were decent, only because they packed a number of famous bands. Other tributes have been neither good nor bad (Ministry), but most have been horrid at best (Slayer, Metallica, etc.).

Cover Album (Other Bands' Songs) - This genre of album is often a mixed bag. If the band performing sticks to a genre they can handle well, this kind of album is fairly good. Don't make a mistake in thinking that these albums can replace new material from these acts, but if they're done well, they can act as a fine augment. A few good albums in this genre are: Slayer's Undisputed Attitude and Metallica's Garage Days Revisited EP. Most everything else, including Metallica's mangling of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" on Garage Inc. is just an insult to the bands that came before.

Greatest Hits - If you are any kind of fan of these bands, why would you need a Greatest Hits Album? You should already have all the albums with these songs. The only way these albums are even feasible as a purchase is if you're new to the band's works and would like something comprehensive. The worst kind of Greatest Hits Album is one that provides mostly old tracks, but adds new or remixed tracks just to entice fans to purchase the album for those "previously unreleased" songs.

Live Album - There are only rare instances where the live album sounds anywhere close to the original studio tracks. For the most part, live albums and tracks in general sound like poor cousins next to the original works. Now, if the live album is all new material or a theme (Frank Kappa comes to mind), feel free to look into it.

Unplugged - This series of albums produced from the TV series on MTV is hard to place. While some of the performances were good, I would say that only a handful of the albums are worth purchasing on their own. A few standouts include Nirvana (one of my personal favorites), Paul McCartney and Neil Young.

Re-edition/Digi-pak - On numerous occasions, record labels have decided to re-release albums (especially in Digi-pak version) with a few unreleased tracks tacked onto the end as a means to have people purchase the same album they already own. Now, those fans who were diligent enough to get the album the first time are left trying to decide whether a few throwaway and often live or remixed tracks are worth paying more for another copy of the same album they already own. Those less diligent, most often casual listeners, are often rewarded for not rushing out the first day to get the album. It's this kind of rehashing that leaves some fans wondering if they should just wait a few months before making a purchase.

Gold Discs - Another of the re-editioning genre, but the cost alone puts this price-gouging item into another section all it's own. Touting "remastering the album from the original recordings" these gold discs are often something you already own and purchased for half the price (@ $25-$30). Casual listeners will most likely balk at this outrageous price and buy a cheaper copy of the original release.

DVD Discs - I have yet to understand this movement. Some bands are re-releasing older albums on DVD because it supposedly has even better sound quality. Since I, and most of the music buying world, don't own a DVD music player, there seems to be no reason for these purchases. Hell, some people still refuse to buy CDs and even others still buy records. Unless a DVD/CD combo player comes out, I doubt this market will take off any time soon.

The EP - Also known as the sampler album, this mini-album is often short with only a few tracks. More times than not, the tracks are previously unreleased, remixes or live tracks just thrown together to tide fans over until the next full album comes out. Rarely are these of any decent quality or length. Collection completists will of course buy these up.

The Single - I groan at the thought of purchasing a single with one "commercially viable" track and a B-side that wasn't good enough to get on the album. These singles are never a good indicator of whether an album is good or not. If you buy the single, then get the album only to discover you don't like the album, it's your own fault.

Remix Albums - This is one of those genre's that's a mixed bag. You either love them or hate them (I, personally enjoy some remix albums). Instead of just covering songs by a single band, DJs and other artists re-mix the order and sound of tracks, providing different viewpoints of an original track. Remix albums are a hard sell, as they often ride a line between sounding too much like the original track and sounding too little like the original track. A purchase of this kind really depends on if you're a music purist or an experimental kind of listener. Also, a good idea of who the mixers are and their body and quality of work helps in deciding whether the album will be good or not.

Compilations - While this kind of album is sure to turn up as the height of money making Capitalism, I have to say that these kind of albums, if you can get them cheap, are actually good for finding new bands that you wouldn't normally have radio-play access to. For certain record labels, like Possible Records (Sonics Everywhere) and Release (Release Your Mind), albums like these sell records that wouldn't see the light of day otherwise.

- - Vane

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