In the current issue of Music Week, we took an in-depth look at the evolution of physical music in 2019. Perhaps surprisingly, especially given the amount of column inches afforded to the unfurling vinyl revival in recent years, some of the most arresting stories in physical music have concerned the humble CD.
Last year, Taylor Swift released Lover in a variety of CD deluxe editions which included two bonus audio memos from Swift’s songwriting sessions, a unique set of her journal entries, handwritten lyrics, archived photos, a poster, blank journal pages and a lyric book. That’s to say nothing of the box-set which adds in a tote bag, a phone stand, postcards and a temporary tattoo sheet.
Elsewhere, returning metal titans Tool’s album Fear Inoculum was released in a limited CD edition boasting a 4” HD rechargeable screen with exclusive video footage, charging cable, 2 watt speaker, a 36-page booklet and a digital download card retailing for £79.99. Upon release it entered the US Charts at No.1 selling 270,000 units. Suffice to say it became Sony’s biggest-selling release in terms of revenue contribution for the quarter, beating the likes of Lil Nas X and Khalid.
The question, then, is what course physical music might take next. Music Week spoke to a number of key execs on the topic and one key word kept emerging: “artefact”.
“The artwork and packaging are both important to the fan buying a physical release,” said Drew Hill, MD of Proper Music Group. “Often, it is an additional creative dimension to the release, whether it’s been designed by the artist or somebody else, and can be a powerful way to compliment the music. For some fans, it’s as much a part of what they want as the music.”
Hill continued: “I think we’ll see a continued increase in deluxe editions, box sets and bonus content. Vinyl will be just as popular and fans will continue to want to get as close to their idols as possible through ownership of artefacts.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Music For Nations label head Julie Weir, who oversaw Tool’s Fear Inoculum release in the UK.
“The more alternative and niche genres will continue to create and celebrate collectible artefacts, with a strong concentration on high end packaging,” she predicted. “Bring on the inflatable, splatter 10” projection box!”
“The world of the physical becomes more and more the world of the wonderful artefact,” said Cherry Red founder Iain McNay. “People will always pay for something they really want. And the real trick is, and this quote is usually attributed to Steve Jobs, ’We need to make things that people don’t know they want yet.’ It’s that simple, but not exactly easy…”
Subscribers can read the full physical music feature here.