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Is “Undecided” by a-ha frontman Morten Harket yet another lost opportunity?

21 April 2012 13 Comments
This blog belongs to Radio Creme Brulee – an internet music radio station that broadcasts globally.

Bonus tracks and exclusive tracks have been in existence for decades. In the vinyl era, they manifested themselves as b-sides. B-sides served as a clever avenue to ensure that record labels could sell their artists’ singles (with the b-sides tagged on) AND the album that the single was featured on. The concept of additional tracks has been used as a shrewd sales tactic by record labels to trigger additional consumer purchases of essentially the same musical content with the additional incentive being some incremental content that is of value to the die-hard fans of an artist. Some noteworthy examples of this phenomenon were the last (not the most recent) Beyonce album and British “boyband-turned-manband” Take That’s “Progressed” (a repackaged version of their “Progress” album with 8 new tracks).

In the digital era, the concept of exclusive tracks has assumed a similar flavor. For instance, for certain albums, it is impossible to purchase the bonus tracks as individual tracks off iTunes. A digital music consumer has to purchase the entire album. While some music fans might find this annoying, I can understand why record labels do this. They still want to sell albums as opposed to the digitally unbundled “piece-meal” options that online music stores such as iTunes and Amazon MP3 allow consumers to avail of.

There is a third flavor that has become somewhat commonplace in recent years. This is a phenomenon wherein certain bonus tracks are released as iTunes exclusives in a single country. For instance, an artist’s label might choose to add a few extra tracks for digital purchase only in France. What this means is that as an American resident, if I want those tracks, I have no legal avenue to obtain those songs. US residents cannot purchase music from foreign iTunes or Amazon MP3 stores. Ordering the album from overseas in CD format is not an option since the bonus track is only available in a digital format. It is inevitable that a fan will post that France-only exclusive track on youtube so I will get to hear it but I cannot legally own it. No amount of money can buy me those bonus tracks. I want to pay for my content but the record labels will not let me. In what rational world does this make sense? Record labels are constantly complaining about piracy undermining the music industry and their livelihood and yet they resort to certifiably idiotic strategies like releasing bonus tracks as country-specific exclusives. Using scarcity as a tool to create value for content is an age-old tactic but it is signficantly harder to implement such tools in the internet age wherein stealing music has become very easy and also very difficult to curb through any legal force.

Why would record labels do this? This is almost like dangling candy in a child’s face and telling the child that he or she cannot have it. If the child can get away with stealing the candy, why would he or she hold back? From a business perspective, this is an even worse decision for record labels. By making it impossible to buy songs outside of a certain country, they are encouraging piracy of music and effectively cutting out revenue sources for their artists. It is virtually impossible to monetize those bonus tracks in any other country under the country-specific “exclusive” strategy. In an age where record labels complain about legal sales of music dropping dramatically, why would these labels make decisions that are guaranteed to increase piracy and hurt sales? In my humble opinion, the wisdom of the decisions as well as the decision-makers is questionable at best.

The latest in a series of terrible decisions in this “piracy-encouraging” tradition relates to a brilliant new “iTunes Germany Only Bonus Track” by a-ha frontman Morten Harket. The song is called “Undecided”. It is without a doubt the high point of Morten Harket’s new solo album “Out Of My Hands” – the first album that Morten has released since his former band a-ha called it quits after 25 glorious years in the music business. “Undecided” is a downtempo track with understated and lush electronic embellishments. Morten’s voice effortlessly drifts through the beautiful musical soundscape that defines the song. The song (written by the brilliant Norwegian songwriting team Snowdrop) has the word “hit single” written all over it – and yet Morten Harket’s record label has chosen to limit the “legal” availability of this song to one country. This has angered fans of a-ha and Morten Harket all over the world. It is amazing that 12 years into the digital music world, record labels are still so disconnected with reality and consumer needs and consumption patterns. A part of me wonders what Morten Harket thinks of this decision. He must wonder why his ability to monetize his music is being intentionally limited. Furthermore, this ought to be the shining moment for songwriting team Snowdrop on a global scale. I wonder if they feel denied their inherent right to shine in the global limelight with this brilliant gem that they have written for Morten Harket. For those of you wonder what all the hype about is “Undecided” is, here is the track (below) for you:

A petition has been started by a-ha and Morten Harket fans requesting Universal Music to release “Undecided” globally. CLICK HERE to sign the petition and make your opinions known to the decision makers at Universal Music. It is my sincere hope that better sense will prevail and that Universal Music will make the decision that is beneficial to them as well as to fans around the world.

As a radio broadcaster, I cannot help but be disappointed that I cannot feature “Undecided” on our 24/7 global broadcast – not unless Morten Harket’s record label sends me the track and authorizes us to play it on Radio Creme Brulee.

I thought it might be a good idea to highlight TWO other examples of region-specific digital tracks by high-profile artists. Here they are:

George Michael – For The Love Of You: In late 2005, George Michael recorded a fantastic cover version of the Isley Brothers classic “For the love of you”. This version is hands down better than the original and by far the best rendition of this song to have ever been recorded. The song was featured on George Michael’s “John and Elvis EP”. This was a digital-only 4-track EP that was only made available in European digital music stores. I supposed this is better than releasing these tracks in a single country. Yet, it was impossible for American, Asian, or Australian fans to purchase this song or obtain it legally. Once again, why would someone try to limit the legal availability of music by one of the world’s biggest pop superstars? It is a mind-boggling question to say the least. Here is a full-length clip of “For The Love Of You” by George Michael.

Kim Wilde – Carry Me Home: In 2010, British pop starlet took released the sequel to her 2006 “rock chick” reinvention (the album “Never Say Never”). On this sequel, Kim Wilde amped up the rock factor and gave fans something fiercely sexier. The sequel album is called “Come Out And Play”. Almost eight months after the album’s release, a deluxe version of the album was released only in France. Once again, this album was available only in digital format (to the best of my knowledge) and it features two new tracks titled “Addicted To You” and “Carry Me Home”. “Carry Me Home” was the brilliant track that should have been released as a single but once again, with it being only released in France, it was practically forced into obscurity. The track is a mid-tempo jam boasting a larger-than-life production and Kim Wilde’s stellar vocals. Once again, Kim Wilde fans outside France could not buy this track for love or money. I wonder if Kim’s label has pondered over the wisdom behind making this track only available in digital format in France. One can only guess that the label has not done so. Here is a full-length clip of “Carry Me Home” by Kim Wilde.

Are there any other examples of this phenomenon that we are missing or ought to know about? Please do let us know via the comments section below. Meanwhile, feel free to give our radio station a spin. You can listen to our 24/7 broadcast from ANYWHERE in the world via the button below:


13 Responses to "Is “Undecided” by a-ha frontman Morten Harket yet another lost opportunity?"

  1. Miranda says:

    I TOTALLY AGREE. As one of the people trying to push this petition it is a shame that songs get left off.
    Obviously you can’t put EVERY song recorded as it’d be a pretty big album but with a cracker like this it’s a shame they’ve put it off the album and put other on that aren’t as good.

  2. @Miranda: I agree that not every song recorded needs to be put on an album. The record label can easily sell a standard version AND a deluxe version with bonus tracks. It is a fairly easy thing to do from an implementation standpoint. The issue is with them not only releasing a sure-fire single as a bonus track but also NOT making it legally available to people outside of Germany. No amount of money can get us “Undecided” legally and that is the sore point. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Maria says:

    Undecided IS legally available outside Germany. It’s available on iTunes in several European countries, and it can be purchased as a single track.

  4. @Maria: Thank you so much for the heads up. I will definitely update this post to reflect that. That being said, getting the track legally is still an issue for those of us that are not in the countries where “Undecided” is available on iTunes – NOT unless a physical deluxe album with the track is released. Thank you once again!

  5. Susie says:

    As an American a-ha fan since 1985, I really can relate to everything in your very well written and quite accurate article. You honestly seem to understand how incredibly annoying and ridiculous it is not to be able to legally obtain certain a-ha or Morten Harket songs simply because of where a very dedicated fan lives. Thank you for bringing more well needed attention to this issue.

  6. @Susie: Thank you so much for your kind words. The truth is, ever since terrestrial radio got taken over by conglomerates in 1996, and DJs got taken out the equation from a playlist programming perspective, the American music scene has become VERY geocentric. A lot of great artists from overseas have been overlooked. It doesn’t help that our award shows pander to the incompetence of terrestrial radio by rarely picking out the pool of music featured there while “distributing” awards among the artists in that limited pool. The digital revolution should have made things much easier. Releasing music digitally worldwide is a very low-cost proposition unlike back in the day when physical CD releases were expensive propositions. Yet, we still see so much “old world” behavior which is irrelevant and archaic by all standards. a-ha is one of MANY artists/bands that have been getting VERY delayed domestic releases in the US. The digital “exclusive” strategy only makes things worse. Last, but not least, our radio station plays plenty of a-ha material so feel free to give it a spin when time permits. Thank you once again for your kind words.

  7. Angie J Howard says:

    Hi from the UK, hope all okay with you at RCB, loving the music played today and a friend tells me you played A~ha’s Driftwood…well done you. The petition has seemed to slow down after a fairly speedy start, currently at 113 signatures. Not long to go now until the UK tour dates for Morten and we’re all very excited at KMKY as for some it will be our first meet up in London. Have a great evening and keep the tunes coming ~ Angie England UK 🙂

  8. @Angie: I am so glad you are enjoying the music on our station. The music of a-ha is a regular staple on our radio station so songs like “Driftwood” are definitely fair game for our daily playlists. The petition has been a success in that now “Undecided” can be bought as an individual track on Amazon UK. I think the slowing down of signatures is more a reflection on the success of the petition in changing the release decisions relating to “Undecided”. Hats off to you for pulling this off. This just might be the most effective music-related petition I have seen so far. It has also triggered action faster than any other petition out there. I am sure you are excited about Morten’s tour dates. It is a shame we here in America do not get to be beneficiaries of these amazing experiences.

  9. yvonne says:

    Wouldn’t you believe it. When I click the link to listen to Morten’s bonus track, I get the message (what a surprise!) “This video contains content from UMG, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.” Like you, I am willing to buy music legally but record labels delight in thwarting me. I’ve never understood why either.

  10. @Yvonne: Some folks have complained about the geo-blocking.Interestingly enough, here in the US, we are able to listen to it just fine on youtube. Where are you based?

  11. Mark says:

    Brilliant analysis and I’m so glad the great Kim Wilde is being made an example here cos it seems to be that NO OTHER ARTIST EVER is being so badly treated like her, or has her fans all round the world being given equally shoddy contemptible disregard. The rot stared once MCA was swallowed up by Universal in 1998 and they would not release the album she finished that year and it STILL remains locked away now by these sicko gits! But you forgot that the French only release includes 4 tracks not two, and those other two are the excellent ‘Snakes & Ladders’ and ‘Party On The Brink’ but I couldn’t agree with you more about the beautiful ‘Carry Me Home’ and ‘Addicted To You’-both have single written all over them, but then Kim never gets more than 3 off an album-not allowed whereas all the female trash of today started by Madonna the vile get about 8/10 of EVERY album.

    I just want to kill Kim’s labels. It’s bad enough the US don’t care about her anyway, yet they receive the overrated Annie Lennox and UK acts today that are rubbish. Sickening. But I expect that from the wretched elitist US. What’s the worst is Kim’s own home country-and mine-the UK-we don’t get ANY releases of hers anymore. Most recent crime is the magically found ‘When A Woman Loves’ demo Kim did in 1996-uploaded on youtube. Thankfully the poster got in touch with Kim’s label manager jerk and said he talked her into redoing the song now. We’ll see. Kim’s label Sony need shooting. Stupidest thing of all (and final proof these record exec’s couldn’t run a stocking) is that this French only album with the 4 bonus tracks sold less than her ‘Never Say Never’ album that had NO such specialties but also no digital releases, it had actual CD ones! Germany and other European countries sold many copies of ‘Come Out And lay’ did that stop Sony being losers, no! Even worse, sod all singles came off it and only one in CD single form-so NO b-side outlet for any but one! Yet her covers album gets ALL CD single releases a year later. Just sodding die Sony! Kim, change label before I believe you hate your fans too!

  12. Mark says:

    Can’t say I’m sorry about the George Michael one. It’s only a cover and as a “superstar” whether deserved or not, he’ll never have any execs locking away HIS albums or having them released in just two countries, and then have just one country getting all bonus tracks like all 3 of these things happen entirely to Kim and no doubt will carry on too! Imagine telling awful Madonna what she can’t do! Even US stars that haven’t sold in the UK for ever like Chaka Khan, Pat Benatar and Cyndi Lauper STILL get physical releases over here even though no one wants them! Though typcially the far better Bangles haven’t had a UK release for their last album. Ohh deearrr! Good on you for bigging up Morten though, he does deserve the help. We even got Stevie Nick’s last album over here easily in stores and her latest is dreadful! One rule for the sodding US! Stuff them. Beautiful aritcle though, but you just had to have a pic of hag Madonna didn’t you?! Even HERE I can’t get away from that cancer! AAGGGHHH! Go Kim, you’re the best, but please wrestle back some control!

  13. Bob says:

    A late comment: Thanks for the heads-up about the additional Morten/Kim Wilde tracks (now off to see if I can find them).

    In relation to your article… I am curious as to whether artists have any control over these stupid record company games of excluding tracks. Here in Australia we often see a Standard vs Deluxe release of the same album. However, it is galling that paying the extra for the Deluxe version will often not get you all the songs associated with the album. So they do appear to be encouraging piracy for no real justifiable reason. Japanese releases often get bonus tracks, so do CD’s sold in the US in BestBuy or Target, iTunes often has bonus download-only tracks, and there are can be different European market releases, etc.

    I shouldn’t have to go hunting to see if every album I buy has additional tracks that record companies don’t feel Australians should get.

    DuranDuran’s excellent 2011 AllYouNeedIsNow album apparently had 20 different tracklisting configurations available. (4 songs spread over those other ‘Deluxe’ versions that we Australian’s didn’t get; and our Deluxe had more than some other countries).

    It gets more annoying when the same ‘Deluxe’ albums are re-issued later with the missing bonus tracks, or with newer bonus tracks tacked on. (For example Adam Lambert’s For Your Entertainment had 4 tracks excluded from our Deluxe set. However they were later included within the year in a ‘Tour Edition’).

    This practice of re-issuing albums with bonus tracks is starting to happen so much I am now beginning to delay the purchase of some albums so that I am not left feeling ripped off, or that they feel my money is not good enough to be worth the full album. Skylar Grey’s recent 2013 ‘Dont Look Down’ is just one example of an album that I haven’t bought yet. The only available Australian version has 12 tracks. However I have downloaded various versions to amass 20 tracks in total. I am not purchasing the album until I can get one with the vast majority of tracks (especially as I really like 5 of the missing tracks, and am not fussed with the majority that made the standard album). So that is currently a lost sale, instead of what would have been a guaranteed immediate purchase had the CD featured all the songs. Which is stupid as I want to support the artist and their songs/albums that I enjoy.

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