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From Oasis to Led Zeppelin, Remastered Reissues Are Blockbuster Business

The Beatles go back to mono with a $400 vinyl set as Oasis, Shelby Lynne and others take advantage of new digital technology. Is anyone listening?

In these digital times, when most people hear music through tiny, tinny earbuds, does the average music fan appreciate or even seek out a remastered album? It would appear so, judging from the slate of albums getting the remastering treatment at a young age — Oasis’ 1995 3.9 million-selling (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Shelby Lynne’s 2000 release I Am Shelby Lynne (which won her the best new artist Grammy) and Maroon 5’s catalog among them. And in a twist of 21st century irony, one set is a painstaking return to an old format: The Beatles in Mono, a Capitol/Apple box set with 14 vinyl LPs and a 108-page book that retails for $399.98 (an estimated $290 wholesale).

To fulfill an initial order of more than 1 million Beatles LPs — 11 of the titles will be offered separately — Universal Music is taking over a single pressing plant in Germany for six months. But as streaming becomes a dominant platform for consumption, why is there demand for such reissues?

The most recent remaster blockbuster was Led Zeppelin’s first three albums, which were issued in expanded editions on June 3. All have sold more than 90,000 copies (according to Nielsen SoundScan), with Led Zeppelin selling 100,000 and peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 the week of its release. Led Zeppelin IV, due in October, is likely to outsell the rest of the catalog.

As CDs, the 2009 Beatles in Mono box immediately sold out and a repressing helped sales reach 72,000 units. The stereo edition has sold 307,000 copies, 10,000 of which are the vinyl edition.

“We’re in a whole other age, with high-[resolution] audio being a ­consumer-friendly thing,” says John Jackson, Sony Legacy senior vp content/A&R, whose next major release is an 11-CD Henry Mancini collection. Indeed, the “Mastered for iTunes” marketing slogan “is not just a bunch of marketing baloney,” agrees Paul Blakemore, Concord Music Group’s audio and mastering engineer, whose recent work includes I Am Shelby Lynne and a Miles Davis Prestige box set.

And assuming the demand remains, is there sufficient supply? “Sony owns 66,000 album masters dating back to the late 1950s,” says Jackson, citing just one label group. “Have we made sure we have made as much available as possible? That’s our responsibility.”

This article first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of Billboard.