Bonus Round: Here's Why Artists Keep Adding Tracks to Old Albums

Chris Brown
Jake Miosge

Chris Brown

Adding extra tracks to deluxe albums is nothing new, but they’ve taken on a different meaning in the streaming era

In October, when Chris Brown decided to release 10 new songs, RCA Records decided not to make them available as a new collection of tracks. Instead, the label added them to the beginning of his June album Indigo and called the new, 42-song work Extended (Indigo). One of the new tracks, "Overtime," drew 10 million Spotify plays, boosting the deluxe album from No. 13 to No. 6 on Billboard 200.

Artists tacking bonus tracks to old albums is hardly a new trend — Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Rod Stewart, Lady Gaga and a slew of others have done this for years, on CDs and iTunes. But in the streaming world, the old-school "deluxe album" technique has a new benefit of extending the life of a hit release, even if it came out relatively recently.

Lizzo's "Truth Hurts," originally released in 2017, did not appear on her album Cuz I Love You last April, but she added it to a deluxe version a month later and the song rose to No. 1 on the Hot 100, picking up record and song of the year Grammy nominations. Shawn Mendes, Young Thug and Kane Brown have followed a similar strategy; by adding bonus tracks to 2018’s Experiment last year, Brown was able to return the album to Spotify's New Releases playlist in early November.

"It helps refresh and maintain interest in a current project," says RCA co-president John Fleckenstein. "While Chris Brown is touring and promoting Indigo, it makes sense to expand the offering vs. starting a whole new enterprise and a new title and marketing position."

Adding songs to an existing album has another benefit, too: If the bonus tracks take off, they count towards streaming numbers for both the song and the parent album. In the case of "Truth Hurts," Lizzo earned a new smash single and rejuvenated Cuz I Love You; after she performed the song on MTV's Video Music Awards in August, the album surged from No. 6 to No. 4 on the Billboard 200. "This is another way of keeping it front of mind," says Mark Mulligan, MiDiA Research managing director. "It's audience behavior accentuated by record-label marketing behavior to extend how long songs last."

The deluxe-album trick doesn't work for everybody. Fleckenstein says RCA’s Khalid is going into an "in-between phase" after his 2019 album Free Spirit, and released "Up All Night" as a single in mid-November rather than attaching it to a deluxe album. "This track is a new creative start, so he chose to go the route of new artwork and a new direction," Fleckenstein says.

Veteran record executives remember the days they tacked on tracks to new versions of CDs and prompted fans to buy the album multiple times, and deluxe albums on streaming services are an outgrowth of this technique.  "At the end of the day, everybody's always looking for that one little gimmicky idea," says Jim McDermott, a former Sony and Universal new-media exec who is now a digital-marketing consultant. "What it's about now is reigniting conversation and just giving the inertia a bump."

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.

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