Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bonus Tracks Are Ruining Music

As a rule, I hate to borrow from the strategy of The Source, who seem to accuse a different person or trend each month of ruining hip-hop or black culture in general. As in "Are Republicans Trying to Shut Down Hip-Hop?" But for once, I think there's a trend in music that is hurting the art form--hip-hop, rock, whatever--overall, and a headline this dire and dramatic is warranted.

That trend is the ever-more-popular bonus track. Just this week, if one were to buy Fergie's new album on iTunes, he would get two bonus iTunes tracks; if one were to buy her contemporary classic Dutchess at Best Buy, he would get one exclusive download, which is separate and inequal from the bonus tracks on iTunes. If he were to buy a copy of the CD at a local, independent record store, he would be just as dumb for having bought a Fergie album, he would just pay more and not get any additional songs.


You listen to me, Fergie: This will never get old. You could prove me wrong and sprout musical talent one day. You might even get me to stop doing double-takes to make sure you're not really a dude. But none of it will change the fact that about a year ago you pissed your pants on stage. Have a nice life.

Surely we cannot hold the first lady of Black Eyed Peas to high standards in this regard. Let's try it with someone I actually respect and admire, Lupe Fiasco. When Food & Liquor was released yesterday, it had one standard version no matter where you bought it...except for Best Buy, which offers three downloads you can't get anywhere else.

What I'm saying isn't that corporate giants like them or Circuit City are evil for being able to sell products at bargain prices or offering their customers extra goodies. Clearly, that's a point for which you probably have an opinion by now. It's irrelevant to this argument. This time, it's the artists' collective fault for acquiescing to the marketing demands these companies ask of them.

Obviously, an artist like Lupe Fiasco stands to gain financially for leasing these three album outtakes to Best Buy. But what does he lose in that exchange? What this means, that some people get seventeen songs and some get twenty, is that there is no one, definitive version of Food & Liquor. He's weakening the impact of his work by filtering in weaker songs that may or may not be part of the album as a whole. What people have been saying for years about the death of the album is true, but it isn't because of illegal downloading, it's because of exclusive downloading. This plays right into the hands of everyone arguing that current music is disposable and only exists as an extension of marketing. After all, how many versions of Pet Sounds are there? Okay, don't answer that.

Because that's exactly what these bonus tracks are: disposable. If they were actually any good, they would have made the album in the first place. In that way, they're no different from B-sides or rarities, or the odds and sods that have been around for decades. The difference is that those were understood as specialty items. You don't have tour-only EPs or rappers' mixtapes unless you're a real fan. In those cases, independent record shops used to actually have an advantage because large stores didn't bother carrying such specialized music.

The content of those extra songs has not changed. They're still only for fans, but now they're portrayed as optional extensions of goodwill, a little something for brand loyalty instead of music you need to have. Who would have thought that the most sinister development in advertising would be to make songs seem less essential? As if Best Buy were opening its coat to you and saying, "Hey there, young man. If you buy Continuum from me, I'll give you this live cut."

I haven't heard the bonus tracks from Lupe or Fergie or even that new Chingy all the kids are coppin', and I probably don't want to. For that matter, I don't care if I ever hear Justin Timberlake's "Pose" (The song featuring Snoop Dogg didn't make the final cut? What?) again. However, if I want to, I should be able to, no matter where I bought the album.


Gettin' byzizzle solely on reputizzle. (And The Shocker?)

I know. I know. More on the future of music. One of these days I have to write a post on why Andres Nocioni is in my top five active players.

-Tank

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