At Ninja Tune, A-sides are the new B-sides

Ninja Tune, the British indie record label, appear to have come up with a smart way to squeeze extra plays from each single released on streaming platforms. It’s pretty simple, tracks that were previously released as what might be called an A-side, i.e. the lead track on a single, later appear as the B-side of another single.

Take for example the latest Floating Points release Del Oro. Its second track, or B-side, is Birth4000, a track that was released as a single last year. More to the point, the B-side on Birth400 is Problems, a track that was released as a single in 2022. Problems had two B-sides, Grammar and Vocoder. Grammar and Vocoder (you guessed it) were also released as singles that year, Grammar included Vocoder as a B-side and Vocoder was released on its own which is where the chain comes to an end.

The question that immediately springs to mind is: why?

I think the answer to this is pretty straightforward. The primary financial model of music is now plays and not purchases, so, if you can grab the attention of your fans with a new track, why not also hit them with something you have evidence of them liking previously? It’s money in the bank, and may well increase the likelihood of that artist appearing in recommendations down the line too.

Extending this further, why not stick a greatest hits on the end of every streaming single and make it an album instead?

Bicep, another British electronic act also on Ninja Tune, released Water in 2022. That single includes Apricots, first released in 2020, and Glue, first released five years earlier. Glue is their most played track on Spotify and Apricots is second. Not quite a best of (it’s considered an EP by the streaming platforms) but certainly heading in that direction.

The strategy reminds me of Vulfpeck’s ‘Sleepify’, an album of complete silence that the band encouraged their fans to listen to while they slept. Like Vulfpeck, Ninja Tune are stretching the platform for the benefit of their artists, and while it’s not as cynical as ten tracks of silence, it certainly feels like a platform specific hack. The vinyl isn’t being pressed with the same tracklist after all.

This kind of dynamic relationship between music and technology is not new. Tracks got shorter because of radio, they are seemingly getting shorter still because of TikTok and B-sides only exist because of the “spare bandwidth” afforded by vinyl and tape. You might think streaming killed the B-side, but at Ninja Tune they are being revived as something new.

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My name is Dan, I'm a product manager and entrepreneur living and working in London. Check out my blog archive or read more about me.