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Interactive as Hell - The Special Edition

by Sargon the Terrible

This is two rants in one, so you’ll get your money’s worth today kids. (What? I’m not getting paid for this?) Especially since you bought this rant in the limited edition digipack with the special interactive content. Just put the CD in your computer and play it, what? Well, your software must be old, just play the music. What? What do you mean it wont play?

Am I the only one tired of this? Every new CD from an established act (one with a known fan base) is released first in a ‘special edition’ digipack, usually with ‘special interactive content’. THEN we get the regular ‘edition’ later on, and maybe a ‘re-issue’ with bonus tracks several years down the line. I blame Hollywood for this. Once upon a time record companies put out albums, period. But the age of DVD showed them what they were missing out on. With even crappy movies being released on ‘Special Edition DVD’ (doesn’t there have to be a normal edition before you can have a ‘Special Edition’?) Record labels saw how stupid they were being, and now we have this crap on CDs too. The metal community, with its denizens accustomed to mail-order and fanatic band loyalties, has proven an especially rich vein for mining of this sort.

Bad enough we have three or four different versions of each album; what with euro release, US version, and often a Japanese edition as well, all with different bonus tracks. Now we have successive releases of the same album all in one market. Example: Dimmu Borgir released "Enthrone Darkness Triumphant" in 1997, then a re-issue was done by Nuclear Blast in 2001, okay. Now there is a "Premium Edition" supposedly with new bonus material. That’s three releases in 6 years, a bit much in my opinion.

And let’s talk about these bonus tracks, hmm? If they are released with the original album and are just tracks recorded during the sessions and not put on the regular release of the CD, they usually aren’t that bad. (Though there is usually a reason why they aren’t on the main track list – they suck.) But the adding of ‘bonus tracks’ that are really just demo recordings, early versions, or cover songs, all with lousy sound quality and nothing to do with the album as a whole is pointless. It is just an attempt to make the package sound worth getting even if you already have the album, which it isn’t. Bonus tracks are rarely worth the money.

Digipacks. Why are all these ‘special editions’ in digipacks? It sounds cool, doesn’t it? "SPECIAL EDITION-4 BONUS TRACKS-DIGIPACK ONLY". Only no one says that digipack means ‘cardboard’. Digipacks allow the band more freedom with their layout and design of the CD package that a jewel case. They also provide all the durability of a comic book, or a cassingle. "Digipack Edition" sounds cool, but what it means is ‘the same album in a cardboard flap for the same price’. Ahhhh, but you see, digipacks are cheaper to produce than jewel cases, and a short run of a ‘Special Edition’ in a digipack – especially of a CD from a band with proven fans who will buy them as soon as they are out – puts more money in the label’s pocket faster. It’s all about the long green, folks. Some smaller labels are run by real fans who really care about what they do: Dark Symphonies, Sentinel Steel, Miskatonic Foundation, and The End are a few. Other labels seem only to care about how deep in your pocket they can cram their greedy little hands.

It’s insulting to be asked to lay out $14 (plus shipping!) for a product that only costs about 25 cents to manufacture. If most of the profit was going into the band’s pockets I wouldn’t mind so much, but I know the labels eat most of it. Even the big bands barely make enough to live on, and most have other jobs they have to keep to pay the rent. Everybody wonders why Seasons of the Wolf aren’t signed to a label: maybe they don’t want to sign. They sell their CDs through their own website, and whatever they make off it, they can keep. I bet they do OK.

Which brings me to what I actually started out to rave about: interactive content. I don’t mind getting a CD with video tracks on it, it’s kind of cool. But I hate how often it renders the CD unlistenable on my DVD-ROM drive. I know I’m not the only one who listens to most of my music on my computer – mostly because it has better speakers than my stereo – and a lot of these ‘interactive’ CDs are anything but. You put them in and nothing happens. You can play the videos from the drive, but there isn’t a button that says ‘play the damned CD!’ Let’s list off some recent ones that are essentially unplayable on a computer drive: Arch Enemy "Wages of Sin", Kamelot’s "Epica", Runemagick’s "Requiem of the Apocalypse", Black Steel’s "Destructor". I could go on, but you get the idea. I’m sure these labels think if the software prevents the album from being played on a computer that it’s just one more obstacle in the way of file-sharing, but the truth is, it just pisses me off. Put the videos on a separate CD if you want, but otherwise ditch them, I don’t want them that bad.

In this age of CD burners and Kazaa record labels had better stop thinking they can keep gouging. I’ll support acts I believe in and want to stay around, but I object to being screwed. I’m glad to see CD prices are slowly being dragged down, but sad to know the first belts to be tightened won’t be at the labels, but in the recording studio.

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