What is a Deluxe Album (and How To Release One)

What is a Deluxe Album (and How To Release One)

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If you’re a purchaser of box sets, you’re familiar with the concept of the deluxe album. For those not in the know, a deluxe album is an extended version of a standard release. It contains unreleased tracks, live performances, alternate takes/versions, and whatever else the artist chooses to include. Often deluxe albums in physical form have special packaging and/or different artwork than their standard counterparts. Some artists have deluxe albums and super-deluxe albums with even more extras. For artists with a steady fan base, deluxe albums can be a profitable higher-end product to sell and a great way to release more music.

A brief history of deluxe albums

Deluxe albums started appearing with the rise of CDs. When David Bowie re-released his albums on CD beginning in 1990, he included four or five extra unreleased tracks on each one as an incentive for fans to purchase them. Deluxe albums have expanded since to include entire live concerts; Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours deluxe album has three extra discs of material. By the 2000s, bands began to release deluxe albums at the same time as their standard versions. This way fans had a choice of which to buy and avoided the frustration of purchasing the same album twice in a short period of time. Currently though, the trend is to delay release of the deluxe album and release it asynchronously with the standard version; whether it’s one week or a year later, streaming has allowed artists more flexibility, as people don’t always have to pay to hear the extra tracks and new versions.

The value of deluxe albums

Benefits for artists and fans

Hardcore fans — or what Kevin Kelly calls “true fans” in his piece 1000 True Fans — love deluxe albums. Anyone who wants to hear more from you will love a sprawling set of your music. Conversely, artists love to have their full body of work appreciated; often artists will be surprised to find that tracks they considered throwaways are some of their audience’s favorites. Not only can artists sell deluxe albums for premium prices to increase profits, but having the same music on the streaming services twice will boost streams (a pleasant side effect). So when you’re answering the question, “what does deluxe mean in music,” partially it means a gift to your fans! The ones who want more of you will be delighted. That being said, you want to make sure you have enough of a fanbase to warrant the expense of pressing and creating a deluxe edition album.

Marketing and branding opportunities

These days, record companies and artists might use a deluxe album to reinvigorate interest in an album during what is called the “album cycle”. This refers to the standard 2 to 3 year period after an album release where artists promote the record with touring, festival performances, and single releases. Releasing a deluxe album in the middle of the cycle could definitely stimulate album sales of and attention to the original project. But with more and more artists eschewing traditional album cycles and releasing music on their own timetable, it becomes a matter of knowing how much music your audience is prepared to handle. A band like Phish has the luxury of releasing pretty much anything anytime it wants due to audience demand, but a band with a smaller fanbase and perhaps less variation in its song list might not have the same reaction.

Planning your deluxe album

Selecting additional tracks

When creating a deluxe album, you’ll want to select a solid group of outtakes and alternate versions. Some decisions will be easy, as you might have wished you included certain tracks on your original record. Some decisions might be tricky, or you might not want to air your dirty laundry with your audience. When there aren’t enough outtakes, consider demos, live recordings, and even just alternate mixes of your album tracks. Be happy with whatever you put on there, because it will be sitting side by side with your album tracks on an even playing field (especially on streaming services).

Creating new cover art and packaging

You don’t necessarily need to change your cover art. In fact, for branding purposes it is a good idea to keep it similar and just make small adjustments. Since you’ll have more tracks, you’ll have more discs or LPs, and the deluxe edition album will require different packaging than the initial release. Depending on your budget, creative packaging will make your audience feel like they are purchasing something special.

Finalizing your tracklist

Most deluxe albums present the original album as-is and then mix up the extras. One disc might be a live concert, the next a series of demos for the album, and so forth. When you physically separate the different kinds of tracks by type, it almost makes the extra discs stand alone as a separate listening experience, and even potentially at some point allows them to be sold separately.

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Producing and releasing your deluxe album

Recording and mastering extra songs

Sometimes artists will record new songs for their deluxe releases if they have something they’re burning to release. Mick Jagger recorded entirely new vocals on top of old recordings for the Exile on Main Street deluxe album, creating basically brand new songs. You may choose to do this, but don’t bury something new and great on a deluxe album if it’s truly great! Use your quality control barometer.

If you’re using either unreleased tracks that didn’t make the standard album or alternate versions/mixes/demos of album tracks, you’ll want to have use professional audio mastering services — even (and maybe especially) for a digital-only release. Mastering will ensure tracks recorded at different times and in different places have a consistent volume and sound to them, and it will provide the highest-quality audio for your deluxe album (since you will be charging a premium price). If you’re including extra tracks on the disc with the original album, the whole disc might need remastering — albeit only minor tweaks — but you’ll want the extra tracks not to be jarring or at a different volume than the original album.

Duplication and distribution

A deluxe album is the highest-quality product you can provide for your audience, and this means sparing no expense when it comes to pressing physical products. If you can afford it, press replicated CDs instead of duplicated ones, and if you are making vinyl, go for the 180g. As always, allow plenty of extra time for manufacturing delays and make sure to check your physical products thoroughly after receipt. For those considering disc duplication, ensure that the quality meets your expectations and reflects the premium nature of a deluxe album.

Promoting your deluxe album

Do you know how to promote a song after release? You’ll want to apply the same efforts of music promotion to your deluxe album as you did to the original release. Social media campaigns, exclusive previews, releasing an outtake or extra track as a single, and selling limited-edition merchandise are just some of the possible promo ideas.

Remember, you won’t necessarily sell as many of them as you did the previous release, but if you’ve built your audience to the point of having superfans, they’re your target market, and you should make sure they all know it’s available. Using our music promotion services can help make this process smoother.

Extra fan engagement is one of the purposes of the deluxe album, so you’ll want to make sure you offer plenty of opportunities for two-way interaction on social media. Events like group listening parties and live performances will make your audience feel involved. Remember that deluxe albums, especially in physical form, can be expensive, so this is only something you want to do if you have the money AND if you have the fanbase to support it, using the concept of 1000 True Fans as a guidepost.

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Chris Huff

About Chris Huff

Chris Huff has been a professional singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer for over 25 years. He has worked as a sideman with Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary), Echo and the Bunnymen, Chuck Hammer (David Bowie, Lou Reed), and Tom Kitt (Broadway composer of Next To Normal). Chris also wrote liner notes for David Bowie’s Live And Well CD, and his full-length album, 'bout Time is available on iTunes.

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