Singles Going Steady

Some things do in fact come around again. Back in 1999 or so, during the back end of my HMV years, I remember both managers and distributor reps — and numerous music journos — saying that the single was a dying format. No one wanted to buy a cd with only four or five tracks on it (and most of those tracks being a nine-minute danceathon remix of a three-second sample of the song at that point). And certainly no one wanted to buy a cassette with those same tracks because who owns a tape deck anymore?

In the ensuing years, bands continued to release the occasional single, but only as a promo release, or a special to the fans, or a collectible for Record Store Day. It was no longer a major moneymaking format like its original ancestor nearly a century ago.

And yet, over the past five or so years, I’ve been seeing a significant uptick of releases from well-known bands dropping EPs of five or six tracks, or one-track mp3s. And they’re selling quite well. Not as high as back in the day, but well enough for them to make money.

Beck has been using this to exellent effect, having dropped numerous singles in between his album run of Modern Guilt, Morning Phase and Colors. Some of them, like “Dreams”, eventually ended up on albums, but many of them remain single-only releases. His current single “Saw Lightning” is another variation, one that Depeche Mode was known for back in the 80s: the teaser single. The new song that will most definitely be on the new album, which may or may not show up for another few months.

Other bands like Broken Social Scene and Belle & Sebastian have started releasing multi-volume EPs over the course of a year. Many groups have stated that this seems to be a more creative and less stressful way of recording and releasing music, as it affords them the time to work on a smaller batch of songs in between shows, business work, day jobs and family life. Failure did a variation on this last year, recording and releasing a full album as four EPs.

And from a commercial aspect, 2018 has shown that the single-only release has become a working format again. One of that year’s biggest singles — which won four Grammy Awards at that — was Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”…and to date it does not appear on any full album.

Even b-sides, the favorite of many avid collectors like myself, have not exactly fallen by the wayside, either. Instead, they will show up as true b-sides on collectible seven- or twelve-inch singles, rarities compilations for Record Store Day, or extra tracks for Expanded/Deluxe Editions. The latter will often be released on the same day as the regular edition and given a reasonable price point, often for only a few dollars more.

And lastly but QUITE importantly…the single is a perfect platform for the indie band who wants to put themselves out there, either one song at a time or as a calling card for more future music. This has become a career-saving outlet for bands who are not on major labels (or chose not to be, essentially ‘self-publishing’ via bandcamp and other online shopping sites). I can’t tell you how many great new songs and bands I’ve discovered on a single release over the last few years.

The resurgence of the single format in the music business is due to multiple and varying reasons, but I’d say the most important one is that labels and distributors have come to terms with how the average listener buys their music. The casual listener will use a streaming service and, if they’re dedicated enough, will download the single from one of the many online sites. I think they’ve also taken improved release schedules into account as well; we will rarely see multiple non-promotional singles dropping from already-released albums, but a teaser single a few months preceding the album is definitely on the upswing. Services like Amazon Music and iTunes will offer the single as part of the upcoming release, either on its own or as part of a pre-order, letting you buy the rest of the album at a reduced price.

It’s taken a long time for the business to catch up to the changes in collecting and listening over the last twenty years, but they’re finally catching up. And it’s working.

Fly-by: Twenty years on interlude

Hello from a very rainy Oxford Street in London! I have come full circle and stepped foot into an HMV for the first time since probably 2001, when its US stores started closing up. This particular shop I believe is connected to the original first one, if it isn’t THE first one.

I’m glad to say the selection is still fantastic and the prices are great. Found everything I was looking for (which is often a rarity) and the service was aces.

So yeah — glad to be able to hit an HMV one more time for old times sake. ūüėĀ

New Release…Friday?

I’m still getting used to that. ¬†I’m so used to getting my new release emails from AllMusic and elsewhere on Mondays that it seems strange getting them midweek now.

This month signaled the global change of new music release dates to Fridays. ¬†Per Billboard, it’s been Tuesday in the US since April 1989 (coincidentally, my next-to-last month of high school life and right about the time I really started paying closer attention to album releases for my beloved college music). ¬†Before that, Mondays were the default release day for years. It was moved in ’89 due to the fact that most retailers were not receiving their product until later in the day, thus losing most of their first-day sales. Moving the release date one day leveled the playing fields.

I’m a bit surprised that this is a global thing; it wasn’t just the US moving the standard drop date, but labels and distributors worldwide, finally aligning. ¬†That’s pretty big news, considering the UK has always been Monday (the start of the retail week, natch) and other countries have had similar setups.

I’ll be honest, I loved working Mondays when I was at HMV. ¬†That meant that I got to unpack all the new titles and slap security tags, price tags, and sale stickers on them, all while listening to them a day before everyone else. ¬†I discovered way too many great albums that way, and it’s part of the reason my music collection is so ridiculously large. But back then it was also perfect for when I was on the sales floor, as I could upsell new titles to customers and back it up with actual listening.

Nowadays, (again per Billboard), in this digital age, more active fans and listeners prefer listening to new titles on Fridays and Saturdays, and would rather not have to wait that extra day or so in their own country for a title to drop.¬† Granted, it’s gotten a mixed reaction from some of the labels and distributors — some feel this will continue to let the majors to oversaturate the stores, leaving the indies in the lurch — and that’s frustrating yet understandable, given that that’s been pretty much the norm for decades anyway.

I imagine this would have come in handy during my years at Yankee Candle, when I’d get paid at the end of the week and would have to wait four or five days before I could do my music shopping. ¬†Then again, I most likely would have been in much deeper financial straits in the process. ¬†So it’s a toss-up there. ¬†Still, I’m curious if we’ll see an uptick in sales, given that some of us still get paid just before the weekend.

How do I feel about this now, though? ¬†Well, I’ll admit I didn’t notice the change right away, at least not until I looked at my shopping list and saw all the new stuff this week with the drop date of 7/10. ¬†[Yes, I have a shopping list. ¬†It’s a spreadsheet, showing prices from multiple purchase sites. I am such a sad and pathetic man.] [On the plus side, said spreadsheet comes in mighty handy because I can access it via Dropbox on my phone while I’m at Amoeba!] [ANYWAY] ¬†I suppose this makes things a bit more exciting if I happen to be heading towards a brick and mortar shop, because it’ll be something to look forward to on the weekend, which is when we usually head over to the Haight for anything in particular.

It’s too early for me to say how I feel about it, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be totally fine with it. As a good portion of my purchases are downloads nowadays, I think it’s something I’ll have to get used to. ¬†For a good few years there, I had a solid schedule of checking out all the new release streams on Monday so I would know what to expect the next day…now I have more time to do that. ¬†I follow a number of music blogs on Twitter, and they’re more than happy to let us all know when something new is streaming.

I’ll just have to learn to start saving up for Fridays then.

London never sleeps, it just sucks the life out of me and the money from my pocket

Warning: May Contain High Amounts of Britpop.

Warning: May Contain High Amounts of Classic Ska and Britpop.

We have returned home, albeit about six hours later than expected, due to missing our connecting flight, the illogical checking through US Customs while in Toronto, and an incredibly frustrating and nonsensical argument at one of the help desks. ¬†But I won’t go into that. ¬†I will mention, however, that we finally got back to the apartment at 1am PT this morning (after waking in London at around 7:30am UTC), so that means we’d been up and awake for…um…20 hours? ¬†Maybe? ¬†Either way, we both decided to stay awake instead of attempting to sleep for six or so hours. ¬†So yeah…not quite loopy (yet), but my inner clock has no idea what time or day it is right now.

That said… As you can see above, our London trip was a success on many levels…many sights seen, a few great friends met up with, many beers and pub food had, and way too many pictures taken. ¬†The above cd stash is courtesy of Sister Ray¬†in Soho and Rough Trade in Notting Hill, two great music stores well worth searching out. ¬†Sister Ray is probably my favorite — it’s not huge, but it’s got an excellent selection, very well kept, and the workers there are quite friendly and knowledgeable.

My main goal for import shopping, as is evident, was cheaply-priced reissues. ¬†I believe the average price for the Catatonia and Specials cds were ¬£12, and the Wedding Present cds were slightly more — translating to about $18 and $20 USD each. ¬†Not bad, considering they’re all two or three cd sets costing about six dollars more before tax on Amazon. ¬†I’m still missing 3 Weddoes titles, but I think I can find those relatively easily on Amazon UK. ¬†Still — it added up rather quickly, so I may have to tighten my belt for a little while!

[Noted, London didn’t so much suck the life out of me as it drained me of energy. ¬†It’s a very walkable city and OH BOY did we walk all over creation! ¬†I shall be posting pictures of our trip eventually over at my Tumblr blog, and may post some music-related pictures here.]

Any Day is Record Store Day


John Cusack in ‘High Fidelity’


As you’ve probably figured out (or remembered from last year’s LJ missive), I’ve decided to give Record Store Day a pass from here on in, as it’s pretty much become the antithesis of what I feel about record stores. ¬†I bring this up because it’s about that time of year, and the online music blogs are starting to talk about it again.

Back in the late 00’s, RSD was conceived as a way to celebrate the then-struggling record industry, a day for everyone to head over to their local shop, peruse the aisles and come home with some nifty deals and some sweet music.¬† I was on board for that, considering my own spending habits.¬† [Hell, just recently I was going through some old bank paperwork and found my checkbook register from 2003-4 — the number of times I hit Newbury Comics during that time was astounding.] ¬†You can still find my 2008 comment in the Public Quotes section of the website (I’m the third quote down here).

Nowadays, I feel this celebration is less about remembering how cool record stores are, and more about that really cool collector’s edition 7″ (only 1000 printed!) of songs I have already but DUDE IT’S RED VINYL. ¬†Really, I’m not kidding — check out the ‘special releases’ for this year. ¬†And that’s just the US listing…other participating countries have even more, sometimes bigger lists. ¬†Not to mention that it’s no secret that many of these end up on eBay at inflated prices before the sun goes down.

Now, I really hate to be cynical about this, I really do.¬† But last year when I went over to Amoeba to enjoy perusing the bins like I always do, I realized there was no way in hell I’d be able to do so.¬† The reason was that many of the outer aisles were blocked by an insanely long line of about four hundred people, arms full to bursting with the same collector’s edition purchases and not a single item from the bins.¬†Others not in line were blocking the inner aisles, chatting away and comparing collector’s edition finds and other rarities they’d found over the years. ¬†I gave it about twenty minutes before I walked out of the store, pissed off and emptyhanded.

I never do that.¬† Not at a record store.¬† I’ll at least have one or two items in hand when I leave.

SO.  I submit this:  Any day can be Record Store Day if you want it.

Heading to the local shop shouldn’t just be about getting the collector’s edition…not that I’m dismissing those, but I’m of the mind that music shopping isn’t just about getting that rare item. ¬†It’s about finding that cd in the dollar bin that you’d completely forgotten about for a decade or so, with all the memories of that release flooding back to you from out of nowhere. ¬†It’s about seeing what’s hot and what’s not. ¬†It’s about putting those beat-up headphones over your ears to sample a few songs before you buy. ¬†It’s about finding a nifty present for your sister or your husband or your mom or whoever. ¬†It’s even about buying that tee-shirt of that band you’ve just fallen in love with.

And you can do that any time. ¬†Hell, even if you don’t have a local record store you can get to (which, in all honesty needs to be rectified STAT!), head to the band’s or the label’s website and order the cd direct. ¬†Donate to a PledgeMusic or a Kickstarter or a Patreon event, watch the band in the process of recording that album, and get a copy in your hands when it’s all done. ¬†Check out some of the great no-label indie releases on BandCamp. ¬†There’s a shitload of great sounds out there, if you’re willing to search for them.

Because really–it’s about the bands, when you get down to it. ¬†The record store is where they sell their wares. ¬†It’s where you’ll find what you want and need. ¬†And you can do that any day of the week.


We’re s-h-o-pp-i-n-g, we’re shopping

I was doing really great with my writing schedule over the last three weeks.  So what happened?  Why did I miss a music blog yesterday?

Well, simple: it was my birthday.¬† I’m now the grand old age of 44.¬† In New Englandese, I’m an old faht.¬† A. said her present to me is letting me spend even more money at Amoeba today with no strings or guilt trip attached.¬† Heh.

We spent most of the day¬†going to a restaurant on Divisadero called Brenda’s Meat & Three, where I had a ridiculously large breakfast po-boy with a side of cheddar grits.¬† We drove over to the Mission where we hung out at ImagiKnit, Borderlands and Dog Eared Books, and took pictures of the local scenery.¬† On the way back we stopped at the Bi-Rite on Divisadero for my cake (after a brief one-block walk up Hayes to Alamo Square, where, after 9 years of living in the city, we finally saw the famous Painted Ladies houses).¬† And ended the day watching nine consecutive episodes of Azumanga Daioh and having sushi for dinner.¬† And cake, of course.

Anyhoo!¬† This means that I don’t have too much have to say musically today.¬† At least not at the moment, as I am being the Biggest Slacker in Town, considering I so rarely take personal days off.¬† I didn’t even shower until after 8am!¬† The shock and horror!¬† Well…all this is due to the fact that Amoeba doesn’t open until 11am, so I have a bit of time to kill.¬† I have a few more cds and dvds I can gather to sell to the store so I can get credit.

And A. is supplying me with WetNaps, as I will likely be spending most of my time in the dirty and dusty dollar bins.  Once I return I will report on my purchases and any other silliness that goes on in the Haight.

See you on the flipside, kids!