If you know me either in real life or on the internet, you would probably know that I like collecting things, from action figures to print media. One thing I tried to collect, and still wish I can get my hands on, are mini CD singles.
Well, before I get into the specifics of what is a mini CD single, let’s first tackle how did this format ever came to be in the first place.
In this article from The Los Angeles Daily News on August 06, 1988, it was, in a way, intended to replace the 45-rpm vinyl single but the first labels to adapt the 3 inch CD format for singles are independent labels such as Delos Records, a jazz-based company, and Rykodisc, who dealt with pop and rock genres.
Unlike a regular audio CD, these minis can only hold 20 minutes worth of music which would fit a single release compared to a full album regular CDs usually come out of. Said mini CD singles were priced from $4 to $6 which, adjusted for inflation, would net you $9.15 in 2020 money.
Unfortunately, the mini CD format didn’t catch on with American and European audiences as time went on however one country embraced the format as it’s own son: Japan.
While Frank Zappa and some jazz musicians were the first people to latch on to the format in the west, a re-recording of Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi’s “Kanpai” was the first piece of music to be released under the mini CD single format on February 21, 1988, if Japanese Wikipedia is to be trusted.
The difference between Western and Japanese mini CD releases is the packaging the CDs come with. Whereas releases in the western hemisphere were packaged using cardboard slipcases with the same size as the CDs themselves, Japanese mini CD singles are packaged in 5 x 17 inch tanzaku flip covers which can not only be folded into a 3 inch case but, for record stores in the 80s, also for storage purposes as you can fit two of these mini CD singles in place of one vinyl single thus more options for customers.
Speaking of the popularity of the format, although released in the late 80s, CD singles reached it’s peak in popularity in 1996 with ￥23 million in sales compared to the ￥18 million in sales the record companies get from selling albums according to this study from Tae Takagi of Chuo Gakuin University.
With the history lesson out of the way, let’s get into the “techincals”.
Aside from the differences in packaging, the contents of each mini CD single tanzaku can greatly differ from your average audio CD and, sometimes, it can even be different from each tanzaku release.
Unlike standard audio CD releases wherein lyrics, promotional art and liner notes are packaged in a mini book format, mini CD singles don’t have any of those, save for the lyrics.
Depending on the recording company who released the singles, some singles may come with a jewel case, in tanzaku format of course while other companies are satisfied with protecting their merchandise with plastic covers.
As mentioned earlier, each mini CD single can contain from two to four tracks: the single itself, sometimes another song serving as a B-side to the single usually something that cannot be found on any CD release as of that point, and one or two karaoke tracks of the previous songs.
Recording companies also have a different way of cataloging these releases. Album and single CD releases usually have different catalog codes. JVC, for instance, has mini CD singles tagged under the VIDL code whilst regular sized CDs, singles or otherwise, are tagged under VICL.
I guess, as a baka gaijin, the appeal of these mini CD singles, aside from the songs that were included in it, is the tanzaku packaging format as it gave way to the novelty of the packaging to be as creative as possible in terms of visual quality.
Sure, visuals aren’t the main reason you buy CDs (in this day and age, that’s something that has gone the way of the dodo even in Japan little by little, thanks Spotify, Recochaku and The Pirate Bay.) but just like video game covers, it also plays a part in driving people into buying these singles. That is why it enjoyed the popularity it had in the land of the rising sun from 1988 to the format’s demise when it got replaced by maxi CDs sometime in late 1999-early 2000.
8-inch CDs themselves aren’t discontinued but their use in the music world aren’t as dime-a-dozen as it was back then as people either got tired of the novelty or just download music off the internet..
You can still buy these mini CD singles on Japan based surplus shops for Php. 100 a piece or get these online either individually on Amazon, Yahoo Auctions or Tsutaya/Tower Records or by bulk thanks to people who sell these items on Shoppee or Lazada.
This is something I’ve been wanting to write about because of these things:
- This is something that what I would consider an oddity here in the Philippines because this format, or releasing singles on CDs isn’t something that PH record companies are known for so this should give them an idea as a novelty to stand out from the pack.
- English language material is as sparse as you can get and I have to use Wikipedia to do some research plus I have to use Google Translate to read through the material that I used for “research” if you can call it that.
- I wanted to share my love for CD cover art with everybody else because it’s good to look at these things sometimes.
Well, that’s it then. See you tomorrow or next Wednesday.
8 cm of fun by Hiroyuki Suzuki – a story in seven parts