You Call It A Bonus Track, I Call It Track 13

First off, the title paraphrases a quote from Eddie Spaghetti from the fantastic band Supersuckers.  I believe in giving credit where credit is due.

There has been a rash of exclusive releases and deluxe editions from artists of all sorts these last few years.  It seems any album which sells more than 22 copies has to be re-released six months later with a few bonus tracks and an unimpressive DVD.  Way to go, bands!  Make sure to milk your fans and your one summer of being “big” for all you can!

Aside from the overdone re-releases, bands like Weezer, Wolfmother, and other bands whose names don’t begin with a “W” have adopted the philosophy of releasing their CD’s with a standard dozen or so songs for about ten bucks alongside a “deluxe” edition with another handful of songs tacked on to the end of the album and charging another few bucks for it.  My thinking is if these extra songs were really that good, they would have been in the original dozen.  At least separate them on another CD to distinguish them from the standard album in a minimal way.  I actually fell for this back in June 2008.  I bought yet another self-titled Weezer album (under the assumption they were still making good music, of course) and paid an extra few bucks for the deluxe edition with about five more songs on it because I’m a music fan and a collector of any special edition releases from artists I like.  Not only did the album itself suck, the “deluxe edition” tracks were far worse than the regular album, thus proving my theory.  Once again, if the songs weren’t good enough to be considered part of the album in its most basic form, keep them for something else.

Another recent trend has been CD releases being exclusive to certain retailers.  One band I’ll give a partial pass for this is Collective Soul, who released their 2007 album, Afterwords, exclusively on CD at Target stores.  In this instance, the band begun releasing music on its own label and getting it distributed in one chain to start with makes sense, especially since they weren’t a household name like other bands I’ll mention later.  With CD sales on the decline, it wouldn’t make as much sense to put your CD in every store if you’re approaching sales from a new angle.  About a year later, however, it was available everywhere with…wait for it…bonus tracks.

Out of the big international acts, the first ones I noticed releasing new albums at a single retailer under an exclusive deal were The Eagles and Journey.  Both released CDs on their own label and sold them through Walmart.  These bands are household names and could release their CDs everywhere and they move large numbers of them.  Next in line was AC/DC with their 2008 album Black Ice.  This one made less sense to me because AC/DC is on Epic Records, a major label.  You would think their CD would be sold anywhere there was a cash register.  Not so.  In an interview with singer Brian Johnson around the time of the album’s release, he said the exclusive deal was not about money but more about merchandising and carrying a whole line of AC/DC products including clothing and accessories as part of an overall merchandising deal, and Walmart was the only national retailer willing to accept it.  So, in other words, it’s about…MONEY.  Selling merchandise equals money.  It’s not like AC/DC is some new band trying to get their name out there.  You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know who AC/DC is.  One must consider, though, that this is a band who as of this post has yet to license their music for digital purchase because they don’t like the idea of their albums being broken up into single songs, since they consider each album to be an individual work.  Let me just say I own most of AC/DC’s albums (not Black Ice though) and if you put their entire back catalogue on shuffle, I would hardly be able to tell you what songs are from different albums.  Their sound hasn’t evolved which, while it is part of their charm, doesn’t really lend itself to making an album representative of a particular period in their history.  Get over yourselves, guys.

Many bands follow suit with exclusive releases through Walmart.  KISS and Foreigner put their most recent CDs out only in Walmart (KISS opted to not release their latest album digitally, leaving one to only buy it through Walmart).  The chain also carried an exclusive EP of a few new songs by that southern guy who played Hannah Montana.  The disaster that is Chinese Democracy by The Axl Rose Ego Project was the CD Best Buy agreed to carrying exclusively.  Sounds to me like someone in charge at Best Buy lost a bet on that one. [3/28/11: sure enough, only a week after I wrote that, the CD is $1.99 at BestBuy.com]

One final attack will be on multi-formatting.  Some of the older readers who remember the days of vinyl singles may have a nerve touched by this section.  In the 80’s and 90’s, bands would put separate songs on their CD and vinyl singles so you had to buy multiple copies of the single, a ploy to get the song to go higher in the charts, I’m sure.  Now it’s all about what stores get an extra bonus track or two.  I fell for this one in 2006 with Def Leppard’s covers album Yeah! which had two exclusive bonus tracks on releases at both Target and Best Buy PLUS a bonus CD with a few more songs and interview snippets if you bought the album at Walmart.  Stupid dedicated me bought the Best Buy and Target versions, as well as the standalone Walmart bonus CD.  The songs are good but it really seems like a ripoff to fans who want everything their favorite bands release.  In another instance, Eric Clapton’s latest CD, Clapton, had separate bonus tracks from iTunes and Amazon’s digital stores, as well as a bonus track only available on the CD carried by Barnes & Noble and yet another track on a super deluxe version of the album sold through Clapton’s online store.  To someone’s credit, both the iTunes and Amazon exclusive tracks are available to purchases individually and not with the caveat of buying the whole album download.  Sadly, most bands who give iTunes exclusive tracks require a purchase of the full album to get the bonus track, as opposed to offering it as an individual download like the standard album tracks.

I realize I’ve dumped a lot of information and opinions here so I’ll sum this up briefly.  In an era when the music industry is struggling and piracy is rampant and anyone can steal music online with almost no backlash, wouldn’t it make sense to give your fans the most you can and not limit your releases?  Hell, make these tracks available as digital singles.  You’ll get a lot more 99¢ downloads for one song than you will extra CD sales from some diehard plunking down an extra $12 for another copy of your CD with one extra song.  Make your output available to your fans and give them something worth paying for.  Those are the people who will keep your music alive and support you.  Otherwise, many music buyers, like myself, will not bother with your exclusives and just buy the CD where ever they happen to be when it comes out and not bother paying extra for your throwaway songs.