Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The case for B-side

'These are dark times...'
(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- J.K Rowling)

Around 10 years ago, when I was 10 or 11 years old, I used to look forward to Monday afternoons. Why? Because I knew there would be two things waiting for me in the car when my mother picked my sisters and I up from school. These were 1)the weekly magazines (Woman's Day, New Idea and NW. Sometimes Who) and 2) the new chart releases i.e the humble CD single. Fast forward to now and I rarely pick up the weeklies (mainly because 80% of their stories are junk journalism) and the CD single is a dying species.

In the digital age, the argument for the (slow) eradication of the physical single has been because of the increase of mp3s (illegal and legal downloads), whereby consumers can have the song that they want instantaneously without having any of the ad-ons.

This is all well and good for casual fans of artists, but what about the uber-fans? By taking away the CD single, there is nothing tangible for them to invest in emotionally. Sure we have the mp3, but that's just a track existing in the murky depths of cyber space and brings up all sorts of meta-physical and existential questions (in the vein of 'if a tree falls in the middle of the forest and no-one hears it, did it really fall?')

The uber-fan needs the physical single as proof of their ingroup status and their identification of their fandom. It's something the can hold up and say 'SEE!!! I DO LOVE THIS ARTIST!'

Sadly, it doesn't look as though the single will ever come back in a big way. Many stores have stopped stocking them and in an ironic sort of fashion, the only place to find them is to order them online.

Which brings me to the idea of the digital single and the uber-fan. For some reason, many artists are now only putting out 1 tracks or digital bundles with a bajillion remixes on them. The 1-tracks are perfect for the casual fan (who actually *GASP* pays for their music) but the lack of b-sides are becoming problematic for uber-fans. Without a b-side on a single, the incentive to buy is withdrawn, thus forcing the fan to question the status of their ingroup membership- it makes them stop and go 'Well, I've already got the album. Why do I need this single?' I know some fans love the remixes, but there are even more who love new material. There are some who don't question their fandom and continue to support the artist and I tip my proverbial hat off to them.

Personally, I believe that a b-side shows us another side to an album's era and is part and parcel of a singles success. It's like ying and yang: the b-side balances out the a-side so it's not all club beats and dubs.

And with that, I think I'll go weep into my jewel cases now.

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