Bonus tracks are a magical thing for most music fans. We love getting a new album from our favorite artist, and most of us are eager for as much music as we can get our hands on. I myself have already expressed my love for songs, and in my opinion, the more the merrier. I can never get too many songs from my favorite singers and bands, and bonus tracks are a terrific way to give hardcore fans a little something extra.
Bonus tracks will usually appear on a deluxe edition of an album, but they can also be limited to certain territories or retailers. Many of you are probably familiar with special editions exclusive to stores like iTunes, Target, or Best Buy, or only available in certain regions like Japan or the UK.
And this is where my relationship with bonus tracks gets complicated.
I love getting these extra songs – they’re often better than many of the standard album tracks! – but it can be hard to keep up with the many different versions with exclusive song offerings. Many times I have bought two or three versions of an album just to get all the goodies that are included in the different stores’ exclusive versions of the record.
Back in 2007, Kelly Clarkson’s album My December had four bonus tracks (two of which were all-new songs) only available on iTunes, while the physical Japanese version came with a different exclusive track called “Fading.” I ended up getting “Fading” as a b-side on an imported German “Don’t Waste Your Time” single. Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness released his self-titled debut album in October 2014, but only his Japanese fans were lucky enough to get the four bonus tracks – three of which were all-new songs. The album was later re-released digitally with three of those bonus tracks, luckily; better late than never!
Last week, Gwen Stefani released This Is What The Truth Feels Like, her first solo album in 10 years. Four bonus tracks are exclusive to Target for those of us in the United States; those four tracks are also available on the international deluxe and Japanese versions, except those territories also get additional bonus tracks on top of that: International and Japanese versions include a track called “Loveable,” and Japan also gets a track called “War Paint.” These last two songs are not available in the US.
Like most hardcare fans, I did manage to get the two extra songs. The international-only track, “Loveable,” appears on both standard and deluxe editions of This Is What The Truth Feels Like worldwide – but is not available in the US. In a rare stroke of luck, my sister happens to be in Europe currently and was able to buy the international CD, rip the track, and send it to me. (Thank you to Rachel and her roommate Jan!)
Unfortunately, the other unavailable track, “War Paint,” is exclusive to Japanese editions of the album. With no contacts in Japan, I was forced to scour the internet for the elusive track, avoiding buggy sites and eventually obtaining a low-quality rip from YouTube (the video has since been taken down). I’d like a better quality version of “War Paint,” but Universal has really cracked down on the file sharing and all sites with the track seem to come with viruses. Good luck finding any of the bonus tracks on YouTube.
So the question stands: Why are certain songs available internationally, but not in the US? Why does the US get certain bonus tracks that are not available anywhere else? Of course, there are reasons for this bonus track situation. In Japan CDs tend to cost more, so in order to prevent people there from importing cheaper albums from the US or elsewhere, they have to throw in special bonus tracks to give those in Japan a reason to buy their expensive editions.
But why treat Japan so specially? Japan represents only a small percentage of the world, though it is among the top 3 consumers of music. Why treat any one country so specially? Wouldn’t the labels, artists, and songwriters earn more money if they made these songs available to everyone rather than just those in one country?
People who don’t live in Japan or the UK or the US – wherever the exclusive songs are – end up needing to import expensive CDs from that country if they want to get those bonus tracks. Or download them illegally, which is far more economical for the vast majority of us. And that, of course, means loss of sales for those in the music industry.
In the digital age – 16 years into the 21st century – we should be beyond this by now. Many people just end up pirating the extra tracks, unless they’re hardcore fans that are desperate enough to scour ebay for the various editions. This means the artists, songwriters, and record labels are actually losing out on money. If more songs were available to fans in all parts of the world, many of those fans would be willing to pay for them or stream them on Spotify. Instead, we’re trading songs online for free.
Any songs available in Japan, the UK, or specific retailers in the US should be available the world over. Why have country restrictions at this point? It’s not fair to anyone, and it makes no sense financially or in light of the digital world in which we live. I love bonus tracks – who doesn’t? – but with these country restrictions in place, it takes away the joy of getting new songs and replaces it with frustration and illegal downloading. If only the record labels would improve the system so all fans can enjoy all released songs freely. At this point in time and digital music, it’s high time these songs were unrestricted so all can enjoy them.