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Headbangers Brawl: Are reissues of albums a ripoff?

Posted by on July 3, 2014

This week’s Headbangers Brawl come from a Facebook post from freelance writer Phil Freeman that we saw last week. It was a bit of a rant talking about Mastodon. Not Once More ‘Round the Sun, but the fact that the same week that album was released, Relapse announced that they’re reissuing the band’s first album, Remission. However, the album was already reissued, so this is kind of a re-reissue, but has no new audio content. In summation, Phil wrote “The same record in a new sleeve, no matter how fancy, is not a deluxe reissue, sorry. Others in the industry weighed in on his remarks with pros and cons about reissues and special editions of albums – or the perfect topic to debate. So with that in mind, we’ll start with Phil himself, asking the question “are reissues and special editions worth it, or just a ripoff?”

 

Phil: I love a well-put-together reissue. Take an album I already like, add some contemporaneous live material or genuinely interesting outtakes and bonus tracks, beef up the booklet, and you’ve got my money. It doesn’t have to be overly lavish (like the five discs someone thinks Soundgarden’s Superunknown deserves), but there’s gotta be SOMETHING new to listen to to make it worthwhile. Some great recent examples: expanding Deep Purple’s Made In Japan to a 6CD box, turning Humble Pie’s Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore into a 4CD set, adding two bonus tracks to The Obsessed’s long-out-of-print The Church Within. But if all you’re doing is putting the exact same music out one more time, maybe “remastering” it (or, as I call it, putting it through the Louder-izer) and altering the cover art, that’s when we enter the realm of scammery. What bugs me about the latest reissue of Mastodon’s Remission (the one that sparked this discussion) is that Relapse HAS a complete live show from 2003 in the can that they could have added to this edition…and if they’d done so, I’d happily have ponied up! But instead, we get an extra-thick booklet. Sorry, 24 never-before-seen images from Paul Romano are not sufficient justification for a whole new product. Relapse could have posted those on Tumblr. The way I see it, they put this thing out solely because Mastodon had a new album coming, and they wanted one more bite from their cash cow.

 

Bram: It’s pretty easy to get pissed at the labels here. It’s no secret that not as many people are buying music any more. Physical and digital, sales are on the decline as streaming becomes the preferred way for people to experience music. So the people that still do buy music, either by habit of by principle, are passionate about it, and are collectors in the first place. To throw an extra song or a live set on a special edition or reissue is kind of a cheap shot to the people that supported the band in the first place. A special edition of an album a year later isn’t likely to get a casual fan to pick up an album – basically, it’s just gouging the fan.

When Relapse reissued Remission in 2003 a year after it first came out, that might have been somewhat of a gyp for fans that had the original, but considering they were still building, there probably weren’t a ton of people that had it in the first place. 11 years later, Mastodon are vastly more popular than they were with their first album. Relapse are just capitalizing on this to reach a new generation of Mastodon fans that might not have their Relapse albums. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them re-re-reissue Remission (try saying that three times fast!) a few years from now.

However, like Phil said, there are some reissues that are worth buying. Nostalgia is a strong emotion, and if one of your favorite albums comes out in a deluxe edition with more material and liner notes that put the album in context, that’s worth picking up for that alone. Hell, Rhino Records has made a career out of smartly repurposing and repackaging albums and music.

 

Matt: Bram hit the nail on the head regarding the collecting aspect of music; there’s always going to be some draw for a landmark album with new content, new packaging, or a remastering. In addition, and this goes for outside the music industry as well, there’s the whole aspect of a product being marketed as newer or the latest edition that’s going to make die-fans feel like they have to have it. That’s likely what the goal is with the latest reissue of Remission, but the timing is just too suspect with just too little content to be a convincing buy. Like Phil said, Relapse could have added live tracks or some bonus reissue content to attract fans, but a few new pictures isn’t going to do that. If Relapse had opted to re-reissue the album in 2012 to mark its 10-year anniversary, that would be a bit more acceptable. As it stands, this is only worth something to the Mastodon fan who already has everything or a newer fan who doesn’t have the album yet.

 

Chip: Iron Maiden was a band that killed my bank account for years with reissue after reissue.  (Oh, now all those albums I already own multiple copies of come in a light-up Eddie head?  Sure!)  I finally had to just say, enough is enough with reissues.  Nowadays I’m so particular with reissues I won’t even purchase it if all that’s on there is demo material.  Why am I dropping another $15-20 to hear versions of the song that weren’t good enough takes to make the final product?!?  With that said, a well done reissue can be a great way to either replace an album (for example back in the day when I was switching from tapes to CDs I would often buy the reissued versions to get a little extra back for my buck) or if you have that one band that you absolutely need to be a “complete-ist” over.  All told though, I’m with everyone else that most reissues are sadly a money grab.  Certainly the label’s/band’s right to go for it but I’d rather purchase brand new music if I had my druthers.

 

Chris: For me personally, there is one surefire way to get my attention with a reissue: include something in the package that I know exists, but that is also very rare and difficult to find for a reasonable price (without resorting to piracy, which we do not condone). A perfect example of this would be Soilwork’s recent reissue of their album A Predator’s Portrait. As I said when the album was released, the big draw of the album was the track “Asylum Dance,” which was previously only available on the Japanese version of the album. Even if the reissue didn’t feature new artwork and two new live tracks, I still would have bought it because of the fact that “Asylum Dance” was finally available to me through legitimate means that wouldn’t cost a fortune. Any reissue that has something like that will always be worth it for me.

In my opinion, what Relapse is doing with Remission is a pretty cheap stunt, designed solely to capitalize on the fame of a band that has grown to the height of popularity. Relapse is not the only label guilty of this, of course, as most labels nowadays have to release reissues to try and maximize profits with minimal expense. The worst offender in this case is Solid State Records, due to their “Triple Pack” releases back in 2010 and 2011. These Triple Packs were 3-CD packages containing three complete albums from a particular artist, with no additional material whatsoever. Not only was it a cash grab for the label, but it also reduced the profits that the artists would have made from sales of the albums individually, rather than as a single item.

The whole culture of reissues and remasters needs to shift. I understand that labels need to do these things in order to stay afloat, but if they don’t at least make it worth our while to buy these things, then they’re wasting time and money that could be put elsewhere.

 

Anthony: Phil and Bram summed up my feelings on reissues already for the most part. If a reissue is packaged well, it’s awesome. When I buy a reissue, I’m looking for cool stuff. If things like never-released-before demos, or a live concert/live tracks are put on the reissue, then to me, it’d be worth the money. The best thing a band could do, if at all possible, to me, is actually add an original track or two with a reissue. I’d even say a reissue might be worth it if they got an interview with the band discussing the album, and answering questions about it.

As long as something fresh, new and exciting is on a reissue, I think they’re worth it. However, there are plenty of reissues that come out that are nothing more than a slightly louder version of the same album, with maybe one already released live track thrown on, in nice packaging with some pictures and liner notes. These are not worth it, in my opinion. If I’m going to buy a reissue of an album, it needs to have a worthwhile reason to do so.

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Categorised in: Columns, Headbangers Brawl