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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Fresh Idea - A Digital B-Side
Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Most Hip-Hop heads that are of a certain age remember buying singles on vinyl, cassette, or CD. All of these types of singles had something in common that is sorely lacking in today’s digital world – a B-side. With slumping album sales and record labels still struggling to harness the power and usability of the internet, there are a number of reasons why a digital B-Side is a great idea that needs to see the light of day.

Let’s start with the most obvious reason to include a B-side, which is to get more of an artist’s music to a person who is obviously interested in hearing it. If a person buys a single and only gets one song they will enjoy that song for a certain amount of time and then move on to the next artist. By including a B-side you potentially double the life of your artist in a person’s playlist and create much more of a potential for the buyer to purchase the entire album.

Think about it this way, how many times have you heard a person say “the single’s hot, but I want to hear more before I go out and buy the album.” A lot, right? People have been burned too many times by one hit wonders and albums that are all filler, no killer. A digital B-side would go a long way to curing the questioning of whether an album is worthy of someone’s hard earned money. Record labels never had problems doing this when singles were in every other format, so they shouldn’t have a problem doing it now.

As a Hip-Hop head there was sometimes another reason to pick up a single, even if you already had the album it was from, because a lot of artists would make the B-side to their single a song unavailable anywhere else. Rare B-sides are still some of a crate digger’s most treasured finds. The rarity aspect is part of it, but the fact that a lot of these songs were really dope is equally important. Using Busta Rhymes as an example, I bought The Coming, but I also went out and copped the maxi-single for “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check” because it had the remix with ODB. That maxi-single also had a remix done by Jay-Dee. Busta and Dilla… hells yeah! Then there was the single for Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" which included the classic remix that featured, again, ODB (I think I just inadvertently created a theme here) that you could only get if you copped the single.

One more feature singles had that digital downloads are still lacking are instrumentals. I can remember back in the day everyone rhymed off of the Wu-Tang instrumentals that were on the “C.R.E.A.M.” maxi-single (again, just like with “Woo Hah!!” we all also owned the album it was from). Heck, in some cases the instrumentals were more sought after than the actual songs (and remember, if you’re a label all you really care about is making money and a sale is a sale no matter what part of the single the person is buying it for).

If record labels start treating digital singles like they did vinyl, cassette and CD singles by including either another track from the album, a track not on the album, an instrumental, or a remix or two, their sales might start to perk up a bit and artists would have a much better chance at having some real staying power. I’m not saying it’s the cure all for what ails the music industry, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to incorporate something they know worked in the past to their present day format.

I can honestly say that even though I get most of my music for free by virtue of being on press lists, if I knew a single had a dope B-Side that I couldn’t get anywhere else I’d pick it up. That was always one of the biggest selling points of singles for me and why I have a fairly large collection of them today.

What does everyone else think about this?


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:35 AM  
  • At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    No denying it, Adam. The industry needs to return to those ideals days of vinyl and cassette if they want their customers to really dig their musician's craft and talent. Because the digital media has clearly taken over the market, the B-side is of no value in this age. For one, digital files are not physical: they have no sides.

    If they want to bring B-sides to the digital world (no offense, Digimon fans), technology is gonna need to grow a bigger brain. MP3 retailers like Amazon, Apple iTunes and Napster sell each song individually. This means the consumer has the option of buying only the hit single/one hit wonder, and not having to worry about the rest of the album and the artist. B-sides should be given a new tag. How about making it a free download, if and only if, the hit single is purchased. That should get the ball rolling.

    On a side note, who made the B-sides famous? Was it the Da Brat/Biggie song released for the Bad Boys Soundtrack? Or was it a completely unrelated incident that we music experts might have never considered in the first place?

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