Is it RIP for the CD single?
October 27, 2001 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Is it RIP for the CD single? Slumping sales have reportedly prompted Target, the 4th largest music retailer in the United States, to stop selling CD singles at 200 of its stores.
posted by Bag Man (33 comments total)
The record industry is trying to fight the move claiming the sales drop is due to the release of fewer singles and also a lesser quality of product than for the previous year.
posted by Bag Man at 1:44 PM on October 27, 2001

Wow, it's amazing how Napster continues to affect sales even after it's been completely neutered by the music industry.
posted by zztzed at 1:49 PM on October 27, 2001

CD Singles make up roughly 1/25th of total cd sales. 200 Target stores (including SuperTarget) comprise 1/5 of the company's retail. That means we can't buy 0.8% of existing music at Target. Shit! Who shops there anyway?
posted by bloggboy at 1:49 PM on October 27, 2001

I've rarely (read: never) been able to find singles in stores. I end up ordering them over the net. Same with EPs (by EPs I mean CDs, called "EP"s).
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:53 PM on October 27, 2001

I've rarely (read: never) been able to form my words without using parentheses (by parentheses, I also mean other quirky syntax to refer to the antecedent of the sentence, called "read:") to describe the focus of my sentence (in this case: "EP"s) without elaborating on what the hell that has to do with anything.

Oh.. and (sorry, I couldn't help myself).
posted by bloggboy at 2:32 PM on October 27, 2001

I've never actually purchased a cd single. Never bought singles on cassette either. I always felt that they were a bit of a scam.... not really worth it for the cost.
posted by Darke at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2001

The "single" should be free, a teaser used to promote sale of the entire album. More and more bands are posting their singles as free MP3s, and the single has always been free to listen to on the radio. Selling singles has never made a lot of sense to me. But then, I tend to listen to bands that release more than one good song per album, so I'm rarely in the "just-want-that-one-song" boat.

Anyway, bloggboy needs to switch to decaf (and other parenthetically tendered, cliche admonitions).
posted by scarabic at 2:51 PM on October 27, 2001

I've never actually purchased a cd single (...) not really worth it for the cost.

A lot of CD's are just a couple of good tracks with a lot of mediocre stuff as filler that you might listen to once or twice at most....from that POV, singles are a good buy.

Ok, ok, I realise there are a lot of excellent CD's which have a majority of good tracks on them, and that some genres of music seem to be more consistent quality-wise than others (as scarabic mentioned) However these are still comparatively rare finds.
posted by lucien at 3:02 PM on October 27, 2001

The myth of the "single" is perpetuated by the music industry, when the "singles chart" is sustained not by people buying records, but by payola, PR, and the squealing masses begging for the latest teen band on MTV Select. It's about time that it died. I forgot about it ages ago.
posted by holgate at 3:18 PM on October 27, 2001

I have a personal agenda practically tatooed to my ass, so this is admittedly said with bias. In the past several years I find I check out local bands and if I like the majority of what they play on the stage, I buy their independently produced CD right there at the gig. The only RIAA supported artist whose albums I still buy are Billy Joel's. And after listening to his attempt at classical piano (which he didn't even perform himself - he just wrote it) I will probably refrain from supporting even his efforts in the future.

I don't think the masses have stopped buying CDs. They've simply evolved into more intelligent consumers, and not as many fall for commercial scamtography. The RIAA no longer has the pseudo-monopolitic strangle-hold that it once did, but independently produced CD sales don't show up on any charts or lists, since most of those charts and lists are monitored by RIAA supporting companies. So no one sees the growing success of non-RIAA music.

Napster and other music-swapping systems are not the cause of RIAA's downfall. It's a symptom of the cancer that's eating RIAA alive. The corporate record industry has not provided the masses what they want for many years now, opting instead to try spoonfeeding the more ignorant consumers - and that's just no longer cutting it. The RIAA is an annoying, bloated zombie that doesn't have the brains to know it's already dead.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:22 PM on October 27, 2001

holgate: But it would be good to see bands and performers practicing some of the discipline found during the days of the single, even if they're over. It's a discipline that serves the pop format -- which is what, oh, at least 85 percent of all CDs sold feature -- more than well. (Listen to at least one of the three Stax/Volt collections sometime. It's Exhibit A for the Wonders of the Single case.) Most bands can't make it through two or three halfway memorable songs on a $16 CD, much less an entire album. Asking for that amount of money for so much of nothing is shameful.

Of course, this is why I love the former Napster, LimeWire, Morpheus/Kazaa, etc., which have threatened to bring back the single, at least in regard to single songs.
posted by raysmj at 3:56 PM on October 27, 2001

I buy singles for the remixes and the b-sides. I feel that a lot of times, a remix can be much better than the album version, cause the artist is free to experiment. However, these days, I find that remixes are being done more and more by people that have no artistic connection to the original creator, which turns me off. It seems like they're just trying to push their own style, even if it means completely destroying the intent of the original piece. That's why I've mostly stopped buying singles.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 4:12 PM on October 27, 2001

I hope singles don't go away. I don't buy them that often, but I often get exposed to new music through promo singles that are given out with or without purchases. Though there are better ways to find new music, I've always liked this token incentive from the industry. When will they realize that not all profits are directly traceable?
posted by holycola at 4:33 PM on October 27, 2001

I would be happy to see CD singles go away, though I would be equally happy to see them stay for those of you who like them. It doesn't affect me either way, since I wouldn't buy one with someone ELSE'S money.

But then, I also dislike remixes. :::shrug:::
posted by rushmc at 4:45 PM on October 27, 2001

When I worked for "in-the-RIAA's-back-pocket Music Retail Conglomerate, Inc." years ago, I was actually amazed at the number of singles we were selling. I even saw people buy the CD and the single off the CD during the same trip to the store.

I asked a few people about them, and they said it was "for the remixes." But really... paying 5 dollars for remixes of songs that you've already got, why didn't they just put the remixes on the CD in the first place. My thought was, if a band meant to write a song a certain way, why would they "remix" it? Let's do this, but add a techno beat... but doesn't that kill the song, it starts to lose meaning for the artist.

But then, of course, that's the problem. People aren't artists anymore. They're employees of the recording industry, happy to put out whatever they like, and a slew of singles as well, and people will buy them "for the remixes."

I will admit, there are RIAA-operated machines that I do like. Groups like Dave Matthews Band, Matchbox 20, etc... but for the most part, some of what they are putting out is horrible.

(hmm... did that lack focus? sorry if it did...)
posted by benjh at 4:50 PM on October 27, 2001

Many remixes are done well-after the album is released, and are often not commissioned by the band. A DJ, or another band / group, will come forward and ask permission to do the remix, and possible for access to the various tracks (guitars, bass, drums, etc).

Remixes are often cool, by the way. I love hearing techno remixes of metal songs. Fear Factory have an entire album of theirs that has been remixed and released—courtesy of the boys in Front Line Asembly. It's a great interperetation (sp?) of the disc. "Remanufacture" and "Demanufacture" (guess which one's the remix, though you won't get a prize) are two of my favourite albums. Remixes can be cool, though they can also suck.
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:00 PM on October 27, 2001

A lot of CD's are just a couple of good tracks with a lot of mediocre stuff as filler that you might listen to once or twice at most....from that POV, singles are a good buy.

I've matured my listening tastes a lot of the past few years, so I only go for entire albums. I don't listen to the radio, don't watch MTV, so I don't get pulled in by the commercial "3 good singles and the rest is filler" mindset of most mainstream musicians out there.
posted by Darke at 5:40 PM on October 27, 2001

For those who collect CD singles, go through your collection, realise just how many cool b-sides you have, and then shed a tear for their future loss. Yes, they can be pricey, but if it's a band you love and the songs are available nowhere else, then what the hell.
posted by spinifex at 5:42 PM on October 27, 2001

And about the remixes..... The NIN remix album "Further Down the Spiral" is my favorite Nine Inch Nails album. Go figure. For the most part though, remixing means putting a few trance(garage/techno/current flavor of the moment) samples into a song.
posted by Darke at 5:43 PM on October 27, 2001

The "closer" remix album is still in my top ten discs, a complete album unto itself.
NIN had fun with the whole CD single concept. If more bands did this, they would have evolved into something more worthwhile.
posted by Hima Otsubusu at 6:02 PM on October 27, 2001

You'll still get B-sides when you go out and buy the 12".
posted by MarkO at 7:36 PM on October 27, 2001

MarkO: it's hard to find vinyls. I am absolutely in love with vinyls, and I've only got a small collection. Due to limited supply, and the fact that I have to order over the internet, so I am paying a mid-to-high price for the vinyl, plus shipping / handling, plus the conversion to US dollars.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:37 PM on October 27, 2001

Plus how many people still own record players? Mine went years ago much to my regret.
posted by spinifex at 9:26 PM on October 27, 2001

Plus how many people still own record players? Mine went years ago much to my regret.

I have around sixty records, and still buy second hand stuff from time to time, not new releases, because I can't be bothered sourcing them.

Obviously, CD's sound better overall, are a much better investment, and don't degrade over time...but records have a certain quality that CD's lack, which makes them nice to listen to from time to time.

Perhaps it's the scratchiness (heh) or perhaps analogue recordings really do provide a warmer, more realistic sound.

There are a lot of singles that I wish I had brought new. Oh well.
posted by lucien at 11:52 PM on October 27, 2001

It's not just remixes that will be tossed into the dustbin. Yello put out their "How How" single with a load of break beats, samples and loops that Boris Blank had been using over the years. Sort of a friendly nod to Yello listeners and Acid Pro tinkers towards how the songs were constructed. If singles go by the wayside, I'll miss those little olive branches.
posted by ed at 12:27 AM on October 28, 2001

ed: pitchshifter did the same on their album. There's no reason why this sort of thing should be limited to singles.
posted by signal at 1:58 AM on October 28, 2001

Good riddance. If CD singles were priced reasonably, down toward impulse-buy levels, I might actually have a few. But if I like the music well enough to buy the single, I'm probably going to end up buying the whole album, so I might as well just save money and skip the single.

Also, what are you really supposed to *do* with a single? They're too short to play as background music. I certainly don't want to sit around flipping CDs back and forth every few minutes.

posted by Mars Saxman at 6:06 PM on October 28, 2001

Mars: ever heard of multiple-disc changers? Just a thought...
posted by Dark Messiah at 6:23 PM on October 28, 2001

This is one of the many reasons why I have embraced local music and independent artists. Up and coming artists trying to make an album that will get purchased in the local arena cannot afford to make two or three good cuts and then a bunch of fluff. They're trying to scream to the world that they exist with every guitar riff. Every beat of the drum. Every note of melody and harmony. Good music is not dead. It's simply not getting any airplay. It's just a little harder to find.

If you don't want to continue buying albums and then singles with remixes, and tolerate the crap that gets mushed into what passes as art in today's pop culture, stop supporting it. Stop buying music from RIAA supported artists and bands. Find music that really matters.

It's right under your nose. It's in your backyard.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:50 PM on October 28, 2001

I only ever bought CD singles for the B sides. And even then, there are very few bands who put out singles which are worth getting for the B sides. Oasis were one such band - the B sides were generally so good that they were able to put out an entire album's worth of them - and that B sides album is one of their best. I stopped buying singles when the BPI reduced the maximum permissable length of a single from 26 to 21 minutes.

In this day and age, is there any justification for charging for singles? Their role, as far as I can make out is to promote the album, which is where the real money is made for the record company and the artist. CDs themselves are dirt cheap to produce, ask AOL. Why would it not be possible to stick the single itself on a CD with no B sides and give it away like you see ISPs give away CDs? Or you could have the singles available for free download in mp3 format.
posted by salmacis at 2:28 AM on October 29, 2001

I used to buy a lot of CD singles here in the UK. But then the music industry got worried about the amount of remixes that they carried and that this was causing an over-dominance of dance music in the charts, so they reduced the maximum length of a CD single from 40 minutes to 25 minutes and a maximum number of tracks to 4 (or is it 5?).

Almost instantly the number of CD singles released went down, with only singles that had a chance of making it into the top forty being released on that format. Music that was previously released on CD single with the expectation that it would get into the dance or independent charts, but not the main top forty, was now almost all confined to vinyl only for DJs.

To make matters worse, the record companies would still continue to commission large numbers of remixes, often filling any CD singles that were released with those, rather than the original mix that had got the track noticed in the first place anyway. Alternatively, if they did include it, it would only be a three and a half minute radio edit, so they could fit in all the other mixes into the now rather short maximum CD length.

As a result of all that, and with no desire to buy vinyl, I've moved from spending approximately thirty quid a week on singles to now only buying them once in a blue moon.
posted by kerplunk at 6:08 AM on October 29, 2001

... wait. They still make CD singles???
posted by kindall at 7:51 AM on October 29, 2001

Also, what are you really supposed to *do* with a single?

Well, you can always make your own compilation CD's of your favorite music.

You can keep a good quality recording of a track that you would not otherwise have purchased, because it was sold on a CD that contained mostly rubbish tracks, and one good one....

I equate memories and time to music very often, so I enjoy keeping such things. Also, singles offer marketing possibilities that other music formats don't.
posted by lucien at 2:09 PM on October 31, 2001

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