Why Are Some Classical Works Split Into Multiple Tracks on CDs These Days?

I’ve noticed recently that on some classical CDs – yes, I still buy CDs – long works are split into shorter tracks. Here’s an example: a recent CD release of a recording of Morton Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus, a work which, in this CD, lasts just under 68 minutes.

Multi track cd

I’ve trimmed the screenshot a bit, because there are a total of 22 tracks.

So why is this? Well, it’s all about music streaming. If you stream this album and it’s a single track, the record label only gets a fraction of a penny. But if its split into 22 tracks, they get 22 times that fraction.

You won’t see this with all classical works; if a work has, say, four movements, you won’t see the movements broken up. But for very long works, record labels have realized that it makes financial sense to split the work.

This, of course, highlights one problem with streaming services: they pay by track, not by duration. A track counts as a paid stream if it is 30 seconds or longer, but an hour-long track would earn the same amount of money as a half-minute track. So rather than tempt record labels to split their works, it would be better if the streaming services could figure out a fairer way to compensate them for longer tracks.

Oh, and if you want to rip a CD like this, you can join the tracks, at least in iTunes. Insert the CD, select all the tracks, and then click Options, and choose Join CD Tracks. The work will be imported as a single track, as it should be.

5 thoughts on “Why Are Some Classical Works Split Into Multiple Tracks on CDs These Days?

  1. And whatever you do, don’t leave a Morton Feldman work divided into 22 tracks (NOT “songs,” Steve!), and then shuffle play them!

  2. If you join them, though, iTunes Match will not recognize them or “match” them. This would bug me, for reasons both reasonable and unreasonable.

  3. The worst example of this I’ve seen is the recent DG CD by pianist Daniil Trifonov entitled “Rachmaninov Variations”. This album contains 4 pieces, each in a Theme-and-Variations format. Each work plays continuously, without pause, but the album, which lasts for 79 minutes, has been divided into 73 tracks, which obviously must be played without any gaps during each work.
    How well do the various streaming services support gapless playback?

    • Apple Music is gapless; I don’t know about the others. I think Spotify is, but wasn’t for a long time.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.