What's the issue with reissues?

Dominic Sanderson 9 July 2021

Many musicians have reissued their back catalogue recently, but what is the reason behind this?

Reissues are important as they keep alive catalogue titles, often of high quality musicianship and artistry, that would otherwise be lost and confined to the archives forever”. These are the words of Mike Gott, manager of the British independent reissue label BGO Records—and these are indeed wise words.

BGO Records, along with the numerous independent reissue labels scattered across the globe, scour the musical world for hidden gems from lesser known artists and endeavour to resurrect these out of print titles by giving them a much needed reissue. Not only do these reissue labels allow artists of the past to access a wider audience, but they take precise care and effort with how reissues are presented musically and aesthetically, doing justice to the original relic being restored and enjoyed in the modern age.

Mike Gott accredits the current rise in reissue sales to the “power of nostalgia” aiding the nation through national lockdowns by “reminding people of a younger period in their lives when times were good and not weighed down with a global pandemic hanging over us”. The service that BGO and other reissue labels provide, especially in the last year and a half with the COVID pandemic, is undoubtedly a worthwhile one that is fuelled by the pursuit of discovery.

"Mike Gott accredits the current rise in reissue sales to the 'power of nostalgia'"

However, there is a less ethical side to the concept of the reissue that stems, not from the valuable service of the independent reissue labels, but from the mass-market reissues of the well-known major artists. The reissue works differently here: the major artists are less at risk of having their music “lost and confined to the archives forever” and therefore a reissue is not always necessarily needed but merely functions as another bland reminder of an artist’s greatness.

This is obviously not the case for all the major artist reissues; music production is an art form in itself and sometimes an original title can benefit from a remix if the original mix isn’t up to scratch while a remaster can enhance the overall quality of the music and add more clarity. This is all well and good, and I am no expert on mastering, but surely only one remaster is therefore needed? 

Let us look at Pink Floyd—a band that everyone has at least heard of in their lifetime—as an example of how excessive the reissue industry is. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Pink Floyd and will happily open my wallet in order to satisfy my insatiable appetite to complete my Pink Floyd vinyl collection. However, it can be tricky figuring out which version of a Pink Floyd album to buy due to the number of times it has been reissued. Their 1977 album Animals has been remastered multiple times, most recently in 2016, and been re-released on a number of boxsets. The purpose of these reissues then is not to resurrect a previously unknown and out of print title (it is clearly very much in print) but to try and better the music with modern production—the question is how many remasters will it take before the music is definitively “better”?

It was very recently announced that the 2018 stereo remix of the album would be finally released this year following a dispute between Roger Waters and David Gilmour over the reissue’s now redacted liner notes. It seems unnecessary to release another reissue when the previous one was only five years ago.

While this one differs from previous reissues in that it will include a remix, a chance to perhaps reveal the album’s intricacies and nuances, there is arguably very little improvement that can be made from the original mix, which still sounds superb to this day—but I suppose we won’t know until we hear it. Nevertheless, the record company behind this know full well that fans, who likely already own this album, will happily purchase this new remix on various physical formats—an easy way to net a tidy profit.

"While some past bands continue to reissue single albums, many others are re-releasing their entire back-catalogue"

While some past bands continue to reissue single albums, many others are re-releasing their entire back-catalogue. The crippling effect of COVID on the live music scene has obviously forced some bands into a state of reflection…a reflection that has provoked the release of several career-spanning boxsets, each with a hefty price tag.

While some of these boxsets will include unheard takes and demos, physical merchandise and live material to go along with all of their studio output, others simply contain a band’s studio albums, with no remix or remaster, and nothing more. For the price of these boxsets it really isn’t good enough, especially considering the fact that most fans already own these very same albums.

It is reissues such as these that continue to take the focus away from the exciting new music of today; money that could be given to independent artists that truly need it is still being spent on music of the past and it seems this incessant recycling is set to continue. So the next time you think about spending money on a reissue of something that you already own, why not spend it on the fresh music of today or, if you do want a blast from the past to ease those COVID blues, why not discover the hidden gems being reissued on BGO Records and the other fantastic reissue labels.

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