Music Article

Life In The Fast-Food Lane

Music's marketing techniques -- The strange ways that record labels are releasing new albums like "The Hits," "Vitalogy," and "The Black Album"

Expect to see the continued deployment of three of last year's most unusual marketing trends in 1995. Why? Simple: They move product.

Limited-Time-Only Releases: By selling Garth Brooks' recent best-of collection, The Hits, for only a few months — through early '95 — Liberty Records hopes to catalyze sales of the singer's back catalog. ''Doing this for new artists wouldn't make sense,'' explains Charles Koppelman, CEO of EMI Records Group, Liberty's parent company. ''But it's appropriate for a greatest hits, or for a live album.'' Or for something collectible, which is the rationale behind Warner Bros.' two-month-only release of Prince's widely bootlegged The Black Album — which sold 129,000 copies its first month. ''Because so many people already had it,'' explains Warner Bros. VP Bill Bentley, ''you can only create a furor by making it available for a limited time.''

Selling Through Food Chains: When EMI sold albums by Garth Brooks, Tina Turner, and Roxette at the nation's 9,800 McDonald's last September, the result was more than 9 million served. Two months later, Taco Bell added to its menu a rock sampler, which included previously released tracks from Spin Doctors and Cracker, among others. ''Everybody was taking shots at me for the McDonald's deal,'' laughs Koppelman. ''Now every label is scrambling to do one of their own.''

Releasing Vinyl Before CDs: What began as a badge of indie credibility may become de rigueur now that the vinyl edition of Pearl Jam'Vitalogy — released 14 days before the CD and cassette — sold 35,000 copies its first week. Says Epic VP Dan Beck: ''Putting vinyl out in front is a great way to get some excitement going.'' Perhaps, but alterna-godfather Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fears the ''multiple purchase'' trend has more to do with exploiting fans. ''Major labels know that if vinyl comes out first lots of kids will buy both formats,'' he says, ''so they're raking in double profit. That's gross.''

Originally posted Jan 13, 1995 Published in issue #257 Jan 13, 1995 Order article reprints