Super-Deluxe: Marketing Physical Music Media to MP3-Enthusiasts

In the age of digital music, it takes a little something “extra” to entice consumers to spend their hard-earned cash on physical media.  The enormous convenience and portability of high-bitrate MP3 and lossless FLAC libraries have removed the necessity for dedicating walls (or in some cases, entire rooms) to house and proudly display our favorite albums.

But the beauty of a masterfully-designed and packaged album is one characteristic with which digital audio cannot compete.  The same can be said for the experiential element of removing a vinyl LP from its sleeve, placing it upon one’s turntable, and carefully dropping the needle into the groove.

Record labels are fully aware of this key advantage, and in recent years have funneled an incredible amount of energy, time and resources into developing “super-deluxe” limited editions of albums both old and new to win customers over to buying the real thing.

Compilations, deluxe and limited editions have been an explosive trend in the last 10 years, and albums previously only available as bootlegs are resurfacing as official special releases, all in an effort to earn collector’s patronage.  Official multi-volume Bootleg Series editions are now available featuring live material by Dylan, Miles Davis, and perhaps the kings of the bootleg market – The Grateful Dead, as the classic 36-volumes of Dick’s Picks are being sequentially reissued for the first time on vinyl.

Of course, the concept of deluxe and special editions is nothing new to the media industry.  Deutsche Grammophon produced an impressive 16-volume library of hardbound 5LP sets celebrating Beethoven’s Bicentennial back in 1963.  The complete collection of 80 records and a handsome oversize hardcover book made a perfect gift item for the classical fan in your life… though the set also burdens the recipient with the task of dedicating considerable floor space to accommodate the collection, and is a nightmare should they ever need to move.

Thankfully, the CD era granted increased portability with its more compact format.  DG wasted no time and followed up the Bicentennial Collection with a 111 Year Retrospective of the label’s finest recordings.  The two volumes released in 2009 and 2010 comprised a monumental 111 CDs marketed to completists and obsessive collectors of the finest classical music.

Still, even with all the conveniences of the CD, some deluxe sets take collectability a little too far.  Perhaps the best example is the absurdly-overcomplete 500-disc World’s Greatest Jazz Collection – a compilation of apparently every jazz track that wasn’t nailed down.

These and countless other deluxe releases demonstrate how the market for physical music media has evolved to adapt to the convenience of digital audio.  Listeners have become cultural curators, carefully selecting which recordings they will purchase in physical form to best-fit their personal collections and to tell their own stories.  The act of investing in an LP or CD is now a significant and deliberate decision which serves to contribute to one’s autobiographical library.

In 2014, marketing guru Gene Simmons fully-understood this consumer desire, and produced what is one of the finest implementations of a music product designed for the collector’s market.

This is Kissteria – “The Ultimate Vinyl Road Case.”  Thirty-four LPs, featuring nineteen studio albums, five Alive releases and their four solo albums pressed onto audiophile 180g vinyl.  To further appeal to discerning audiophiles, each of the recordings has been newly remastered in ultra-high definition DSD.  And as an added bonus, the set includes twelve archival posters, a KISS vinyl cleaning cloth, turntable mat, dominoes set, lithographs, and a certificate of authenticity – all of which is housed in an Anvil case weighing in at nearly 50 pounds.

The set was limited to 1000 copies – clearly an exclusive for KISS’ biggest mega-fans.  The set symbolizes the perfect execution of a music product for the digital age.  Listen up record labels – if you want to compete with the convenience of digital audio… this is how its done.

Kissteria Box Set

Brilliant Box Sets and Other Classics

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to explore and enjoy The Complete Liszt Piano Music box set.  After a solid week of digesting the collection I found myself hungry for more classical listening material.

The Complete Liszt Piano Music

For a first-time listener the scope of classical music is daunting.  In which century should I begin?  Other than my Baroque 100-disc set (which is overwhelming both in content and in volume) I had little experience with Early Music, Romantic, and other pre-recording-industry-era musics.

I quickly scanned the classical subreddit, read the sidebar, and perused Rateyourmusic’s classical pages.  It didn’t take long to arrive at a decision – Deutsche Grammophon offers an expansive library of  well-recorded, expertly-pressed, and reasonably-priced compositions from a variety of respected conductors and performers.

As I was not nearly equipped to make individual purchasing selections from their catalog, I opted for the archival collection.  111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon is a two-volume collection of the finest albums in their library.  Each disc is housed in a sleeve featuring the release’s original artwork.

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 1

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 1

111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 2
111 Years of Deutsche Grammophon Vol 2
I am currently on my 8th day of listening, taking in 8 hours of content each day.  My favorite highlight thus far is Claudio Monteverdi’s Magnificat.

And by sheer coincidence, a fellow audiophile visited from out of town this weekend and provided me with another hauntingly beautiful choral recording.  Ondine Records released a Super Audio CD of The Latvian Radio Choir performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s  Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Latvian Radio Choir - The Liturgy

Latvian Radio Choir - The Liturgy SACD

And the great music just kept on coming.  Friday evening, after a month of waiting my copy of the new Miles at the Fillmore, Bootleg Series Vol 3 finally arrived at my local record shop from the Netherlands.

Miles at the Fillmore Bootleg Series Vol 3 Box Set

I had previously purchased the Japan-only issued Black Beauty album – a much abbreviated version of one of Davis’ four Fillmore concerts.  At the time it was the closest I could get to an official vinyl release capturing Mile’s live sound from that era.

When this set was announced, featuring all four performances complete and uncut, and mastered and pressed by Music On Vinyl, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.  This release is the PERFECT gift for the Miles Davis fan who has everything.

Before walking out of the shop, I heard that a stack of used jazz had also come in, and I snatched up a $10 early pressing of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in superb condition.


John Coltrane - A Love Supreme 08-15-14 sm

And to finish off the week in style, I gave myself a challenge.  I decided to teach myself data visualization.  A friend recommended Gephi as a free visualization tool and I got to work building and importing a .CSV.

I chose to visually map my library’s top 550 artists by genre as a preliminary exercise in data visualization.  The result isn’t fantastic, (there is far too much information to represent in this method), but it was fun learning how to make it work.

Click to enlarge.

Innerspace Map of Our Top 550 Artists & Composers of 2014