5 Things Your Favorite Band Does to Exploit You
Overzealous fans can be an endless source of income for a successful band. Musicians and record labels alike are well aware of this and aren't above exploiting it at every opportunity that presents itself. Whether it's the doing of the actual artist or just corporate music shenanigans that are out of their hands, the fact remains, when the music industry decides to sink their teeth in, the ones who get bled are usually the most loyal supporters. Here are a few ways it happens ...
Fan Club Presale Tickets
Is there a less "cool" group of musicians you can publicly admit to enjoying than Fleetwood Mac? Yes, the Eagles and/or Nickelback, but that's about it. And to that I say, whatever kids, Tusk is the shit, and Lindsey Buckingham is probably the most underrated guitar player on the planet, as you can watch him prove for damn near six solid minutes starting at the 3:23 mark of this video:
So when Fleetwood Mac announced in 2003 that they'd be touring for the first time in years, I wanted to be there. After investigating the matter on Ticketmaster, I found that tickets were available to "fan club" members two days early. With that information in hand, I quickly assembled my stockpile of Fleetwood Mac CDs so I could remove the proof of purchase codes I figured I'd have to mail in to become a member. The last time I'd dealt with a transaction of this nature, G.I. Joe Flag Points were the currency of choice. How much different could this be?
These spent like money in the '80s.
The answer was "a lot different," as it turned out. Joining the Fleetwood Mac fan club required a yearly membership fee of $79.95, an investment that was rewarded with the following:
-Advance news and concert notification
-Advance ticket purchase options
-Audio, video and photo exclusives
In other words, you didn't get shit except the right to buy some of the most expensive concert tickets on earth a couple days early. I didn't sign up, because I'm not stupid, and to their credit, Fleetwood Mac fans revolted so vehemently that the fan club was eliminated altogether.
That doesn't mean shenanigans like this have stopped happening, though. Plenty of bands, like the Who, for example, still offer up absurdly priced fan club memberships to anyone "dedicated" enough to pay the $50 annual fee.
How much is seeing Roger Daltrey's surgery scars in person worth to you?
It's not all bad news for superfans, though. The Internet always seems to find a way to make paying for things you can't hold in your hand (like MP3s or Photoshop) a whole lot cheaper. Concert ticket presales are no exception. Should you ever find a useless fan club membership standing between you and getting tickets to see your favorite band before everyone else, don't take the bait. Instead, direct your browser to one of the countless, quasi-legitimate websites that will sell you the presale password to pretty much any show, usually for less than five bucks. Thanks, Internet!
Deluxe Edition Rereleases
One of the shittiest trends of the past decade or so in music has been the rise of the "Deluxe Edition" album. If you're unfamiliar with the term, it's just a regular CD with a few extra bells and whistles attached in the hope that it will inspire consumers to spend a little extra money. After all, what kind of fan would you be if you didn't buy the version of the album that comes with a faux-leather jewel case and two extra songs the band doesn't even like that much?
Sure, this type of thing has been around forever and isn't limited to the music industry, but in recent years it's become common practice to release albums twice, once as a "Standard" edition and again a few months later as a "Deluxe" or "Expanded" edition. Like this totally worth it deluxe edition of Limp Bizkit's probably terrible 2011 album, Gold Cobra, for example, which will set you back a mere $34.99.
Use it to kill yourself!
One of the more egregious examples from recent memory is Beyonce's stupidly titled I Am ... Sasha Fierce album. She released two versions on the same day, one with 11 songs, the other with 17. However, for "artistic" reasons, both were released as double albums, a move that undoubtedly caused the needless destruction of acres upon acres of whatever tree they kill to produce compact discs.
Not to be outdone by his spouse (especially because it came out years earlier), Jay-Z's The Blueprint 2 was initially released as a double album and then scaled down to a single disc and rereleased when it was revealed that at least half the songs were fucking terrible. Here's a question: Shouldn't people who paid for the original just get the shorter, less awful version for free?
Pictured: a class action lawsuit waiting to happen.
It's not just the rappers and pop singers of the world getting in on the rerelease gold rush. Indie darlings Arcade Fire put out an expanded version of their Grammy award-winning album, The Suburbs, that came with nothing more than two extra songs and the Spike Jonze-directed short film Scenes From the Suburbs. You know what else comes with those things? The Internet.
If we were still living in the days when the technological limitations of cassettes and LPs meant adding a bunch of extra songs could spell the difference between a single and a double album, I could accept that the extra cash may indeed be justified, but that was a long time ago. In the age of 99-cent downloads, asking fans to pay another $10-$20 just to get an extra song or two is highway robbery. You're lucky anyone is paying anything anymore.
By this point at least some of you are reading this and wondering why any of it even matters, because who buys albums or CDs anymore, anyway? Plenty of people, actually. At least for now, they still account for the majority of music sales in the United States.
One tactic the big box retailers of the world commonly use when fighting for what's left of that rapidly dwindling market is the exclusive bonus track, which is exactly what it sounds like, an extra song that's only available when you buy from one specific retailer.
For all your Kid Rock needs!
For those old souls out there who still have moral quandaries about illegal downloading but enjoy the music of a band enough to want every song they release, it can make being a fan an unreasonably expensive proposition.
Say you bought the landmark rock music opus The Music of Glee: Vol. 1 on iTunes, for example. That outlay of cash got you the original album along with a bonus track, a cover of "Say A Little Prayer" by Dionne Warwick. But what if you wanted to hear the cast of Glee tackle "I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd? First of all, I know you do, so by all means, don't let me stand in your way ...
If you were hoping for a physical copy though, you're out of luck unless you bought the CD at Target.
One of my favorite retailer-exclusive debacles involved the Bloc Party album A Weekend in the City. It was released with exclusive bonus tracks scattered everywhere from Target to eMusic to Napster. Not only did the official album receive mixed reviews, but many agreed that a fan-compiled collection of the various exclusive bonus tracks, cleverly titled Another Weekend In the City, was actually the better album of the two. To get all of those songs through legal means, you'd have to buy the legitimate release at least eight times.
Nope x 8!
No band is worth that kind of financial excess, but plenty of them think they are. If that wasn't true, there wouldn't be so many ...
"Artsy" Box Sets
When it comes time to really bleed the fanbase of every expendable dime they have, nothing works quite as well as the limited edition box set. After all, what kind of fan would you be if you just bought the $80 version of The Pixies' Minotaur collection when you could buy the version that comes with five LPs and a book with a doodle of a dick on it for just over $400 more?
It weighs less than most really large house pets!
Ridiculously adorned box sets are an industry standard. From Metallica's coffin-shaped edition of their last album (you know, the one that sounded like shit compared to the video game version) to the White Stripes' adorable USB sticks, record labels never run out of fancy box ideas, and the completists and collectors of the world pay dearly for it.
Inevitably, when a box set hits store shelves with a price tag that's outside the financial reach of most fans, the artist or band in question issues an angry statement denouncing it as nothing more than record company greed that's completely out of their hands. No one wants to believe their favorite band would gouge the pocketbooks of its most loyal fans, so it's the kind of controversy that tends to blow over without much notice. That doesn't mean it's an excuse you should believe every time though.
Take the case of Motorhead's Complete Early Years box set. When news broke that it would set die-hard supporters back more than $500, Lemmy Kilmister himself asked fans not to buy it, claiming the band has no control over what their old record label does with their early recordings. Do I believe that? Sure, as much as I believe a glowing skull full of Motorhead albums is worth a half-thousand dollars.
Look at it!
In other words, of course I do. The very same excuse struck me as a little less credible when Elvis Costello used it recently to rant against his $225 The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook box set, though. He described the price as "a misprint or satire" on his official website, but this is far different from the aforementioned Motorhead set. For one thing, no glowing skull.
Seriously! Just look at it!
Beyond that, we're not talking about old recordings being repackaged by a greedy ex-record label. This is a soundboard recording of a concert that happened in 2011 being released by the record label that Elvis Costello is still signed to. He signed each set by hand. Yet we're somehow expected to believe that not once during the creation of this document of the last year or so of his life as an artist did Elvis Costello ask how much it would sell for? I believe that like I believe a box full of one Elvis Costello concert is worth 10 times more cash because it has a paper wheel on it.
It spins just like a real wheel!
In other words ... maybe? Elvis Costello is no glowing skullful o'Motorhead, but he's still pretty great.
Milking the Vaults
Making fun of bands that a lot of people tend to enjoy has been my shtick for a long time. As I've explained previously, though, I'm just doing my job. Sometimes, I like the band in question just as much as you do. I'm obviously a fan of Motorhead, for example, but I included them in an article about why your favorite band sucks a few weeks ago. Whatever, a lot of the things we love aren't perfect.
With that in mind, let's talk about Nirvana. They're probably my favorite band ever. Back when CDs were a thing I thought I needed, I'd spend stupid money on bootleg CDs featuring all of those unreleased songs and B-sides and all the other good stuff that was so hard to compile in one place before file sharing took off. Once that happened, I had fucking everything. Everything that was out there, at least. There were always those rumored recordings that never surfaced on the illicit MP3 market. The most famous of them all was a song that most fans called "Autopilot" after it surfaced in the form of a super rough live recording on a bootleg called A Season in Hell.
While that particular version never struck me as all that compelling, legend had it that a studio recording existed and that it was amazing. Over the years, talk of a box set featuring that song and all sorts of other wonderful things would come and go. Eventually, fans got the song they wanted (which was called "You Know You're Right," as it turns out) ...
... but instead of being served on a delicious bed of B-sides and rarities like everyone hoped and/or expected, it was tacked onto one of the most questionably track-listed "best of" collections of all-time. Why? Because, like most everything Courtney Love-related, the law got involved. As the story goes, one side wanted to put the song on a box set as planned, the other side wanted to cash in with the greatest hits strategy.
When that box set, With the Lights Out, did finally arrive ... it was kind of a disappointment. Sure, there were some fun things included, like this insane Leadbelly cover about the virtues of not beating your wife on Sunday when there are so many other days in the week you could do it, instead.
There was also plenty of stuff missing, though. A fine example is the unfortunately titled but otherwise pretty great "I Hate Myself and Want to Die," which was going to be the title track of the band's final album, In Utero, but ended up on the The Beavis and Butthead Experience album instead, which is fine, too.
It shows up on the box set, but only in the form of a lesser-quality demo. Why leave something like that out? Is it because so many fans still have their Beavis and Butthead CDs in the 10-disc car changer? Is it because, by now, every fan must have gotten their hands on the "Pennyroyal Tea" single, which featured "I Hate Myself and Want to Die" as a B-side and was therefore immediately recalled seeing as how it came out a few days after Kurt Cobain died? Probably not, those routinely sell for hundreds online, if you can even find one that's legit. It's not because of any of that. It's so you don't feel swindled when you buy In Utero again, except for $125 this time.
How about that wacky poster!
Teenage angst never stops paying off well, it seems.