National Post, December 19, 2002
Shania Twain has shipped about 850,000 copies of her new album, Up!, in Canada since its Nov. 12 release. That’s 1.7 million discs, because Up! is a double album, sort of — every copy contains two versions of the same 19-song album.
A red disc offers the pop version — synths, electric guitars, with the drums and bass more prominently mixed.
Then there’s the green disc — the country version — the same 19 songs in the same order, but with banjos, mandolins, fiddles and pedal steel guitars replacing the synths and distorted electric guitars of the pop version.
The red-and-green double-take is available in North America. In Europe and other territories, the second disc is blue, and Ms. Twain describes it as “more rhythmic with an Eastern influence. Way fun!” The blue disc is being released outside North America, but it’s available as an import here. Some of its tracks are accessible through www.shaniatwain.com as streaming audio, or as limited-term perishable Windows Media Player files that self-destruct after 90 days. The Web site offers two blue mix versions, changed frequently.
Up! aims to capitalize on Ms. Twain’s crossover appeal, meet fan demand for alternative versions and discourage unauthorized downloading by making it easier, cheaper and faster to buy the record than try to find its tracks online.
In all cases, the second disc is a surprise. There’s little on the outside of the package to tell consumers they’re getting two versions of the record, or which two. An initial shipment of Up! was recalled because it left a U.S. pressing plant in plastic cases embossed with “2CD.” Price is no indicator, either; Up! is priced as a single disc.
A liner note by Ms. Twain explains why buyers get two different takes on the same material: “While writing and recording Up!, I felt a freedom to explore all my different musical roots. Since I’ve always been comfortable writing and singing many styles of music from the earliest age, I wanted this CD to reflect that versatility. I didn’t feel I could express and have all that fun in less than 19 songs and with only one CD.”
The note also describes her discovery of the breadth and depth of her appeal in seeing the diverse audiences her concerts drew when she toured to support her last record, 1997’s Come On Over, which sold 36 million copies and yielded a dozen singles.
But why not trumpet the double CD as part of the marketing effort? “On this product, there’s been so much anticipation and media coverage — almost saturation — that the second disc was probably going to be discovered anyway,” says Brian Robertson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association.
“There’s the sense of discovery that’s part of this, maybe almost an element of the marketing. The other factor is word of mouth, probably the most attractive marketing tool of all.”
The demand for Come On Over’s singles, many of which offered different mixes than were on the album, probably also helped spawn Up!’s two versions.
“Recrafted” is the term Universal Music Canada uses to describe how the different pop, country and worldbeat versions were assembled. Not, it’s stressed, re-recorded, “just recrafted.” That would explain why all the vocal parts sound exactly the same on every version, even when everything else in the mix is different.
The “recrafting” is presumably the work of Robert John “Mutt” Lange, Ms. Twain’s co-writer, producer, arranger and husband, as well as Kevin Churko, credited in the album’s liner notes with having “recorded, engineered, programmed, edited, tweaked, constructed, deconstructed, numbered, backed up, copied, deleted and saved” the album’s various components, assembled using studios and musicians all over the world.
CRIA’s Mr. Robertson also points out how much the music retailing business has changed in the five years since Ms. Twain’s last release. In 1997, few people even knew that mp3 was a protocol for compressing digital audio, and Napster hadn’t been invented.
In the last year, artists have been trying strategies similar to Ms. Twain’s. Canadian punk band Sum 41’s Does This Look Infected, for example, comes in two versions — a “clean” one with PG-rated lyrics, as well as the foulmouthed original — and both packages include a bonus DVD.
But Up! takes that idea further than any album has before, and Mr. Robertson says the industry is watching it closely for clues about how best to thwart downloading and file-sharing.
“It’s not precedent-setting, but it’s certainly as impressive as you’ll see in terms of the whole value-added element. And it’s probably the general consumer’s first exposure to it,” he says.
“I don’t know if the record company can take credit for that,” says Donna Lidster, director of country music at Universal Music Canada. “That was more of a Shania Twain/Mutt Lange idea. Shania talked about giving the most possible music to her fans. That way they don’t have to go download it. Hopefully, there’s enough value here and the music’s great enough that you’re going to reach into your pocket.”
Ted Kennedy, director of programming at country music video channel CMT Canada, says its programs with Ms. Twain as Up! was released drew its best-ever audiences. The double CD serves to market Ms. Twain to adult contemporary radio station and video channel programmers. “There used to be a lot of dissatisfaction among consumers that the version you fell in love with may or may not have been on the album,” Mr. Kennedy says.
“With this album, no matter which version or style you prefer, it’s going to be included in what you bought.”