Deletion (music industry)
Deletion can be for a variety of reasons, but usually reflects a decline in sales so that distributing the record is no longer profitable. Singles are routinely deleted after a period of weeks, but an album by a major artist may remain in the catalog indefinitely.
When titles are deleted in the US, the remaining stock would be defaced with a cut-out through the sleeve or case. Cut-out records formed a grey market outside the major distribution channels. In the 1993 book Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia Bill Knoedelseder wrote of how MCA Records became the subject of a federal investigation of its cut-out sales practices after a deal allegedly involving organized crime.
Effect of deletions
Deletion in the music industry differs from print publishing in that recording contracts generally do not return the rights to the artist when a title ceases to be manufactured. When PolyGram took over JMT Records, a small jazz label, in 1995, it was understood to have announced that the entire JMT catalogue would be deleted, shocking dozens of artists. According to Tim Berne, "this means that the majority of my work simply vanishes."
According to Louis Barfe, "many deleted gems are locked in archives, unheard and quite possibly deteriorating." Although he recommends that they digitize this music and offer it for download, he notes that "niche labels have sprung up specialising in reissuing out-of-copyright recordings". Some bootlegs have been issued just so fans can obtain deleted recordings without having to search the second hand market for them.
Deletions and digital media
More recently, the rise of digital media has eliminated much of the cost of music distribution, and companies have begun to see deleted records for their long tail potential, selling via iTunes and other online means. A single company, ArkivMusic, has struck deals with all four major publishers (and numerous minor ones) of classical music recordings to make their deleted records available via a burn-on-demand service.
Exception to deletion practice
A prominent exception to the practice was the label Folkways Records, whose founder Moe Asch "never deleted a single title from the ... catalogue". According to Asch, "Just because the letter J is less popular than the letter S, you don't take it out of the dictionary." When the label was disbanded, Asch enlisted the Smithsonian Institution to maintain the catalogue "in perpetuity".
In July 1972 British music paper Melody Maker reported that a cutprice LP issued by Virgin Records was facing deletion because, ironically, it was too popular. Faust's The Faust Tapes, then at number 18 in Melody Maker's chart, actually cost more to produce than its selling price (49p) and so Virgin lost supposedly £2,000 on sales of 60,000. It has since been argued that this move was merely a publicity stunt by Virgin's owner, Richard Branson.
The British duo The KLF summarily deleted their entire back catalogue when they 'retired' from the music industry in 1992.
Manic Street Preachers' 2000 single "The Masses Against The Classes" was deleted on day of release as a promotional gimmick. This allowed it to reach Number 1 in the charts and remained in the charts for 7 weeks. However, copies of the single continued to be available until supplies ran out, making second hand copies plentiful.
The 2006 Gnarls Barkley single "Crazy" was deleted by Warner Music  after six weeks at #1 in the UK as a deliberate move to protect it from overexposure. Deleted records cannot remain on music charts, so the physical single no longer charted after two weeks. However, it remained as a high-selling download single and has continued to receive heavy airplay well after the single was deleted.
On 20 April 2013, Dutch composer John Ewbank deleted his song Koningslied (The King's song) only two days after its initial release, citing an overload of criticism aimed at him personally and at the song itself from the general public and the media. The song had been commissioned to act as the official song of Willem Alexander, Prince of Orange's upcoming investiture as the new King of the Netherlands on 30 April 2013. The song, already at number one in the iTunes download charts on the day of its release, was performed by a large number of well known Dutch artists.
- Andrew Druckenbrod (June 3, 2007). "PSO discs see light of day again". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
The recording industry employs the harsh term "deleted" to describe CDs no longer being pressed. If demand for a certain title falls beneath a profitable standard, the label typically removes it from its catalog. The disc becomes unavailable except through second-hand sources.
- Owen Gibson (January 19, 2006). "Long-lost tunes dug up for jukebox of the net". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
Records are normally deleted once they cease to sell in sufficient numbers to justify shelf space in stores. It is also not economical for firms to produce low-selling records. No such constraints exist on the net, and both record companies and Hollywood have recognised the advantages of digital content's "long tail" - they can market a huge back catalogue even if they sell only in small quantities.
- Bruce Haring (January 21, 1993). "'Stiffed' delves into controversial MCA cutout deal". Variety. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
Knoedelseder, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, spent the middle '80s tracking a story that bound up MCA in a media feeding frenzy concerning its ties to reputed organized crime figure Sal Pisello. He was the broker on a soured deal involving cut-outs (records deleted from regular industry catalogs, often noted with a corner of the jacket cut out) that soon expanded to include a government investigation of independent radio promotion and eventually reached into the highest corridors of power in both the entertainment industry and Washington, D.C. "Stiffed" tracks a load of cut-outs from MCA's warehouse to Pennsylvania dealer John LaMonte, who winds up in a complicated deal involving the late Roulette Records president Morris Levy and a host of reputed organized crime figures including Gaetano "Corky" Vastola, Frederico "Fritzy" Giovanelli and Pisello.
- Peter Watrous (December 30, 1995). "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK;Jazz Label Finds That Innovation Isn't Enough". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
Mr. Winter said -- and this is disputed by Chris Roberts, the president of Polygram's classical and jazz departments -- that the company planned to delete the label's back catalogue, taking the artists' work out of circulation. And record companies rarely return music rights to the creators. "It's like being erased," said Mr. Berne. "It's different in book publishing, where it's common to get the rights back. In music you don't have leverage, and this means that the majority of my work simply vanishes."
- Louis Barfe (10 August 2004). "Head to head: Music copyright". BBC News Online. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
... certain staples have been in print from the day they were released, but many deleted gems are locked in archives, unheard and quite possibly deteriorating, while original vinyl copies change hands for obscene money. Their entire archives could and should be digitised and sold as downloads. Unfortunately, that's unlikely as it involves vision and effort. In the meantime, niche labels have sprung up specialising in reissuing out-of-copyright recordings, providing the majors with healthy competition.
- Heylin, Clinton (2004). Bootleg: The Rise & Fall of the Secret Recording History. Music Sales Group. p. 76. ISBN 9781844491513.
- Andrew Druckenberg (2007-10-04). "ArkivMusik now has all four major labels". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
- "A Sound Legacy: 20 Years of Folkways Records at the Smithsonian". The Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2007-12-25.
By the early 1980s, Asch began to consider Folkways' future and legacy. He wanted to find an enterprise that would continue to maintain the catalogue as he had, making every Folkways record available in perpetuity. Asch never deleted a single title from the Folkways catalogue. As he said, "Just because the letter J is less popular than the letter S, you don't take it out of the dictionary." He wanted the new director to continue to produce recordings regardless of sales. He also expected this entity to appreciate and make use of the volumes of unexplored master tapes that he had yet to turn into recordings.[dead link]
- BBC News, 20 April 2013