The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Broken Promises, Broken Habits

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This is getting ridiculous. Duran Duran’s EMI reissues have suffered yet another delay – the third or fourth this year. The deluxe editions of Duran Duran and Seven and the Ragged Tiger, previously set for March 30 and April 20, have now been bumped to May 18. This complements the recent news that the next wave of reissues – covering Notorious and Big Thing – will hit stores on July 6 instead of the planned June date. (The deluxe reissue of side-project Arcadia’s So Red the Rose is still set for April 20.)

There are a number of problems wrong with this situation – namely, the fact that U.K. audiences are still getting these titles on their intended March release date and the ongoing calendar shuffle scuttles EMI’s paper-thin plans to make these reissues chronological (itself scuttled by the fact that Rio, the band’s second LP, was the first one to be reissued).

But there are bigger problems too – problems that, if left unchecked, could doom the catalogue industry as it stands and hurt any future chances of those old songs being anything close to a sure thing again.

For years, the music industry could always count on financial support from catalogue enthusiasts. Once compact discs were confirmed as a viable format, labels had no trouble putting the classics out on the format. And we had no trouble buying them, especially by the early ’90s, when box sets featuring rare or unreleased content from our favorite older acts started filling store shelves.

The second wave of catalogue titles – those all important reissues, with better mastering for CD, rare or unreleased bonus content and so on – was in full effect by the end of the millennium. At the time, the five labels – Universal, Sony, BMG, Warners and EMI – had devoted teams and labels to making these reissues happen. And they had the money to do it; new acts were selling CDs like crazy. Oh sure, they weren’t all good, but without a singles market in existence, there wasn’t much to be done about it.

Of course, Napster and the rise of illegal downloading changed all of that, at least for the industry and the mainstream consumer. The average teen couldn’t be bothered to put a value on music, particularly after finding their $18 boy band discs weren’t worth nearly that. And the labels, unable to spin the situation in their favor in spite of the fact that they legally owned and distributed the music traded for free online, became the simpering villains. This narrative has played on for the past decade, with the majors (now four of them, after Sony-BMG merged and BMG ultimately sold their stake) trying and failing to master the digital realm.

Now, while all this was going on, it seemed that catalogue fans already had their minds made up about certain things. There was something about owning music on a physical format – it was more or less safer, of better audio quality (provided it was mastered well enough) and just made more sense. So we continued to buy CDs – and labels, surprisingly, continued to put them out. Slowly but surely, even the most seemingly niched stuff could come out thanks to limited pressings or Internet-based mail-orders.

But it’s clearly not enough. Most consider the CD to be obsolete – and now that the technology for lossless downloading isn’t unreachable, maybe it is. Labels will try to capitalize on discs by any means necessary (Universal is planning on slashing the price of a disc to well under $10), but it may not be enough. Perhaps the resources have to go into getting the catalogue fan – the only ones who seem to believe in the sanctity of an album – to go digital.

Meanwhile, though, delaying or canceling reissues (which we’ve seen not only with Duran, but The Cure, My Bloody Valentine and Siouxsie and The Banshees) isn’t going to make fans any less cynical – and EMI, currently buried under several tons of debt, especially can’t afford such ill will. Somehow, a bunch of ’80s pop reissues (seemingly well-crafted ones, too) has managed to expose all the problems the music industry seems to be beset by – as well as the need for real answers, not Band-Aids, to be sought out.

Catalogue fans are intelligent, passionate people – this much is obvious. To that end, what ideas might you have in terms of fixing operations for the music industry?

Written by Mike Duquette

March 25, 2010 at 09:43

9 Responses

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  1. Why not let the bands sell the remasters directly from their website, or sign an exclusive agreement with a US retailer? It would split the cost of advertising, and get the product in the stores. I’m getting tired of paying outrageous shipping costs for some of this stuff. Since these would be two disks, somehow the cost is double.

    If the bands sell them on their website, let them profit from it.


    March 25, 2010 at 10:39

  2. Putting deluxe catalogue material in exclusive situations with retailers might be interesting. The most recent example I could think of like that was the 30th anniversary reissue of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” – Target had a bonus DVD and Best Buy had an extra live EP (I went for the CD, because the DVD content was mostly available elsewhere).

    But as someone who works for a national retailer, I’ve seen firsthand how some exclusive discs can languish on the shelves. Prince’s “LotusFlow3r,” a three-disc set, is at most $5, and that’s not enough to keep it from rotting. (Of course, it’s no “Purple Rain,” so maybe that’s the problem.)

    Mike Duquette

    March 25, 2010 at 10:54

  3. How about record labels realize that there is an audiance for remasters and back catalogue releases.

    It seems the few record stores/departments I go into consist of 50 copies of some newer fill in the blank band that anyone who might have had an interest in was downloaded 2 months before its release illegally, and sitting there collecting dust.

    Don’t they want my money??


    March 25, 2010 at 12:45

  4. I had another thought about this. The Duran discs were already remastered; Is there some trepidation on issuing another remastered version so close the first set of remasters?

    I bought the recently remastered Exile on Main Street, only to find out that there Iis going to be deluxe version of that. Maybe the companies are waiting to see how the close release dates/multiple sets are going to go over with the paying public.


    March 25, 2010 at 13:58

    • EMI’s last releases of any Duran Duran albums was between 2001-2006 – just the first three studio albums and Arena (the only one with any bonus tracks). There were the singles box sets in 2003 and 2004, which shares some content with these reissues. But I think there’s enough for fans to want to go back to the well again, particularly on the Arcadia, Notorious and Big Thing reissues, which never got any remastering in the past decade.

      I’m not saying that waiting under ten years is enough time, but there have been smaller gaps (think the 2001 remaster of Thriller in 2001 and the abysmal Thriller 25 in 2008).

      Mike Duquette

      March 25, 2010 at 16:14

  5. My big question with these delays, especially with regard to the Duran Duran sets and The Cure’s Disintegration, is WHY???? The remastering is already done, it’s not like there are production delays or anything. If the Duran Duran sets are available in the UK in March, what possible benefit could it be to EMI to delay them here… especially after they’ve already announced an earlier release date? I feel like there MUST be a reason for this in the mind of the record companies, but I’m mystified as to what it could be. Maybe to create more pent-up demand? You know, like dangling the carrot in front of us and then yanking it out of the way.

    One more thing that plays into this: more and more, US editions of these albums are simply the UK/EU editions with a different barcode. The 2-Disc version of Duran Duran’s “Rio” in the US was just the UK version with a new barcode on the outer plastic. Ditto for Mute’s recent 2CD/1DVD reissue of Erasure’s “The Innocents” in the US. And the Pet Shop Boys’ new live CD/DVD was just released in the US this week (a few weeks ago in Europe). It’s all printed and manufactured in the EU, and distributed on Parlaphone (PSB’s EU label) rather than Astralwerks, their US label. So it’s basically an “import” but priced and marketed for the US as a domestic release.


    March 25, 2010 at 14:18

    • “Why” is exactly the question on my mind, especially since EMI could fail to exist in its current form by the end of the year.

      Matter of fact, maybe that’s one of the label’s biggest problems right now. The Rio reissue was announced the same day as the Beatles remasters (I remember it vividly, I couldn’t pay attention in class at all because it was music geek Christmas) – and Rio was given a late June release date (which was even better, as my birthday was about a week away). And of course, it didn’t come out until October.

      EMI should think of it this way: if they were going on a date with someone and kept changing the time to meet/pick up their partner, there might not be a second date…

      Mike Duquette

      March 25, 2010 at 16:18

  6. These kind of reissues are not tied to anything in the “real world”, so their release date can be changed without causing the artist to have to change when they’re playing on David Letterman, for example. So they are more easily pushed around the schedule, to accommodate the economic needs of the company, or pressing plant availability, or shipping container considerations, etc. I’d love to know what the factors are, but, I accept the delays since we’ve waiting many years for expanded editions so what’s another year, or another few months?


    March 25, 2010 at 16:29

    • I agree. While the decline of the compact disc is, unfortunately, well documented, these types of reissue delays were happening long before the dawn of Napster. I don’t claim to know the exact reason for such fine-tuned marketing of the Duran Duran catalog, but pushing a release date back a month (or even two months) is relatively insignificant. I remember the Legacy Edition of Janis Joplin’s “Pearl” ultimately arriving in 2005 after well over a year of delays; 1999’s “The Life And Crimes Of Alice Cooper” box set was released nearly five years after it’s initial announcement; and people waited well over a decade for Volume One of Neil Young’s “Archives” to be released last year–with no date set for any other volumes.


      March 29, 2010 at 10:23

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