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From B-sides to bonus tracks, music stars offer more to connect with fans

In this era of shorter-is-better, 16 songs sounds like a lot for one album. Ellie Goulding thought otherwise.

"It was very, very tough for me to take songs off," the British singer said of her 2015 album Delirium. "We didn't want it to be a long album, but it ended up being a long album, because I thought all the songs were meant to be together."

So she turned to the one place pop artists know more music is always welcome: Target.

The big-box retailer made Goulding an offer. In addition to a 16-song standard edition sold everywhere, she could release Delirium as a double album available exclusively in Target stores and online. The bonus disc offers nine additional tracks, including collaborations with Calvin Harris and Major Lazer. It is, in effect, a whole new Ellie Goulding album.

"People would say, 'Oh, why don't you just save them for the next album?' " she said. "I just wanted to put everything out there."

Delirium's bonus tracks occupy a curious place in the pop music landscape. The album, long considered the standard form for artistic expression in pop and rock, is morphing by the minute. Surprise releases, exclusive streaming deals and multimedia events have blurred how we consume and consider complete collections of music, whether it's U2 dumping songs into our cloud or Beyoncé debuting her latest via audiovisual tone poem.

Yet year after year, the biggest stars in music — Adele, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Luke Bryan, Justin Bieber, Coldplay — still deliver thousands of exclusive, unreleased songs to giant retailers like Target, Walmart, Best Buy and iTunes in hopes of (get this!) selling actual albums.

These often overlooked bonus tracks represent links between the album's robust past and uncertain future. And with artists and retailers scrapping for every sale, they're increasingly valuable chips in the war on streaming sites like Tidal and Spotify.

"Digital has definitely changed the way that we approach music," said Target spokesman Lee Henderson. "We know that from our guests' perspective, they're listening to both the physical and digital options. For us, it's about finding that meaningful way to connect with those artists' fans in a deeper way."

• • •

Bonus tracks have been around for decades — we just used to call them B-sides.

Sometimes a B-side would pad the back of a single sent to radio stations or fan clubs. Other times it would head to Japan, where expanded editions of U.S. albums are common due to production costs and consumer demand. Diehard fans and collectors would track them down, and some even became hits. Led Zeppelin's Hey, Hey, What Can I Do, the Smiths' How Soon Is Now? and Pearl Jam's Yellow Ledbetter all started out as B-sides.

In the '90s, retailers like Target, Circuit City and Barnes & Noble saw an opportunity to enhance exclusive editions of popular albums with exactly those types of songs. Artists lined up to participate, eager for free publicity and the promise of a prominent retail display.

"If somebody like Target or Amazon or whoever it is says, 'Hey, we're also going to really make sure that you have excellent visibility if we get an exclusive on those songs,' then it's just a no-brainer," said singer Josh Groban, who has long offered extended editions of his albums through various retailers. "It winds up being a win-win."

Except for one wrinkle: the whole digital revolution.

File-sharing programs like Napster and digital storefronts like iTunes had a disastrous effect on sales of full albums, no matter how many extra bells and whistles were included. Streaming sites like Tidal and Spotify have changed the game even more. In April, Kanye West's The Life of Pablo became the first album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart on the strength of streams, not sales.

Across all platforms, album sales fell from 785.1 million in 2000 to 241.4 million in 2015, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"We are, as a retailer, well aware that people are getting their music from a lot of different sources, be it streaming or digital downloads," said Target's Henderson. "But there is still something special about having that physical CD."

He's not wrong. While physical music sales have plummeted, the CD is still the dominant format for sales of full albums. (Individual songs are a different story.) Mass-market stores like Target and Walmart still account for more than a third of all physical album sales in America, and part of the reason is these stores' continued push for exclusive content.

Each year, Target produces upwards of 100 albums augmented with bonus tracks as part of a campaigned dubbed #MoreMusic. In some cases, Target has built entire ad campaigns around such an album, filming commercials starring Swift or Timberlake or sponsoring high-profile Grammy Awards performances with Imagine Dragons and Gwen Stefani.

Sometimes, the payoff is huge. Last fall, Target struck a deal with Adele to sell a version of her blockbuster 25 featuring three more all-new songs. Within 10 days, Target sold about a million copies.

"We're in constant conversations with labels about what's coming up, who's working on what," Henderson said. "We know there are some artists who will resonate more with a Target guest, or whether our guests will have an appetite for that additional content. We want to sell great music, but we also want to work with great artists who are able to collaborate with us."

For example: Tori Kelly. Not only does the Target edition of her album Unbreakable Smile contain two exclusive bonus tracks, the singer visited the company's Minnesota headquarters to perform an acoustic set for employees and film another for a set of Web videos.

"Rather than my label kind of throwing my album onto the shelves, it felt like I was actually putting it there myself," Kelly said. "It's one of the perks of having a major label, is them being able to distribute the album in bigger places like that, which was totally new for me as this little indie artist."

Target's bonus-track program benefited Kelly in one other, unexpected way. A cover of her hit Should've Been Us is a featured bonus track on the Target edition of the latest Kidz Bop collection.

"I did hear that," she laughed. "That's awesome."

• • •

For many artists, these partnerships offer more than just a marketing platform. They're also a good way to get music they're proud of to the masses.

Groban wanted every song he recorded for Stages, his 2015 collection of show tunes, to see the light of day. Instead, he and his label agreed to a 13-track standard edition, with four more tunes, including songs from Les Misérables and Man of La Mancha, going to Target.

"These are not songs that I viewed as table scraps," he said. "I would've just done a double record if I could get away with it."

Does that mean the Target version of Stages is somehow a more definitive representation of his artistic vision than the "standard" album?

"Part of me wants to say yes," he said. "If a reviewer wants to review all 17 or 18 songs, I welcome that. That is absolutely fine. I'm proud of each and every one of those songs."

Other artists aren't so sure. Claudio Sanchez of the alternative rock band Coheed and Cambria, whose new album The Color Before the Sun featured two tracks exclusive to Best Buy, said there's a difference between an overstuffed compilation and a proper "canon" album.

"The record is the record," he said. "That collection of 10 songs is the statement we're trying to make. But if you want more, if you want the paragraph, well, here's the deluxe edition. This gives you all the blemishes, so to speak, and the dirt that we had to dig up to create this piece."

For Goulding, the most important thing about her Target partnership was the opportunity to get as much Delirium-era material into the world as quickly as possible, as a document of this creative period in her life.

"When I start an album, it's a different world," she said. "I can't just replicate what I've been through for this album for another album. My next album, I don't even know when it's going to be, next year or a few years."

Whenever it drops, retailers will line up to sell it. The more songs, the better.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Worth the effort

When did purchasing new music become so complicated? Physical albums, Tidal exclusives, iTunes and Target editions fattened with demos and remixes — why do we need so many variations of the same work of art? As a consumer, sorting through the morass of new music can feel exhausting, especially when certain songs are only available from certain sources — and not all of them are worth the extra cost or effort. Every now and then, however, an artist will drop an exclusive track that feels like an interesting and natural addition to their body of work. Here are 10 recent songs that began (and in some cases still exist) as iTunes or Target exclusives, and are worth checking out.

The Punch Brothers

Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box (2010)

Chris Thile, the frontman of bluegrass innovators the Punch Brothers, is a genius — no, seriously, he actually received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2012 — and this mind-bendy Radiohead cover, released as an iTunes bonus to their 2010 album Antifogmatic, shows why.

Lady Antebellum

Learning to Fly (2010)

While technically not bonus tracks, Apple's iTunes Sessions offer some wonderful exclusive covers — Vampire Weekend tackling Bruce Springsteen's I'm Going Down, Natalie Merchant singing Randy Newman's Political Science, Jimmy Eat World completely reinventing Taylor Swift's We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. Lady Antebellum took on Tom Petty's anthemic Learning to Fly, and with an aching piano-centric version, managed to make it their own.

Beyoncé

Lay Up Under Me (2011)

Target struck a deal with Beyoncé to release her album 4 with a bonus disc of six additional tracks. Dance for You later became a single and video, but Lay Up Under Me — which is still difficult to track down — remains an enjoyably breezy blast of summer disco spirit. (Sadly, the romance soured in 2013, when Beyoncé surprise-released her self-titled album as an iTunes exclusive. For a while, Target refused to carry it.)

Zedd featuring Hayley Williams

Stay the Night (2013)

Stay the Night was a huge dance hit for the DJ-producer and Paramore singer. But the single was produced over email; they'd never actually met in person before coming together for Zedd's iTunes Session. The six-track Apple exclusive allowed Zedd to show off his musicianship, stripping his electronic compositions into warm, mostly acoustic ballads. For fans of both Zedd and Paramore, this sparse piano-and-vocal cut is essential.

Jennifer Nettles

His Hands (2014)

Originally a bonus track on deluxe editions of That Girl, including one exclusive to Target, this powerful track co-written by Hillary Lindsey (Little Big Town's Girl Crush) tackled domestic abuse head-on. ("His hands felt like thunder on my skin.") It became a live standout, often performed as a duet with Brandy Clark.

Lady Gaga

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) (2014)

While this smoky cover is part of an iTunes deluxe package for Gaga and Tony Bennett's Cheek to Cheek, Bennett is nowhere to be found. Instead it's a solo showcase for Gaga, channeling Cher in all her torchy glory.

Taylor Swift

New Romantics (2014)

It's not like Taylor Swift's 1989 needed any more hits — but after this infectious electro-pop anthem, originally a Target exclusive, was released to other outlets, it began to rise up the charts. Now officially 1989's seventh single, it's closing in on Billboard's Top 40.

Carly Rae Jepsen

Never Get to Hold You (2015)

Every song on Carly Rae Jepsen's '80s pastiche Emotion is so good, it's worth seeking out every deluxe cut you can find. This Target exclusive, a glistening, sparkling nighttime cruise down roads of wobbly bass and glassy finger-snaps, is no exception.

Nicki Minaj featuring Drake

and Lil Wayne

Truffle Butter (2014)

Truffle Butter wasn't Nicki Minaj's first hit bonus track; Super Bass began as a deluxe-edition cut from 2010's Pink Friday. But her collaboration with Drake and Lil Wayne debuted as an iTunes exclusive from 2014's The Pinkprint. It rose to No. 14 and has sold nearly a million copies.

Don Henley and Alison Krauss

Here Come Those Tears Again (2015)

Henley's country-rock album Cass County features a slew of all-star collaborations (Mick Jagger, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard). A deluxe edition adds voices like Alison Krauss and Jamey Johnson. And an 18-track Target whopper ices the cake with Henley and Krauss' sweet, dusty take on Jackson Browne's 1976 single.

From B-sides to bonus tracks, music stars offer more to connect with fans 05/05/16 [Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2016 11:00am]
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