On Wednesday I noticed an unfamiliar album in the slop bin that is my iTunes library — Songs of Innocence by a little Irish collective called U2.
The album was made available to half a billion iTunes users fo’ free, just for keeping it real with Apple. Public response was tepid. Actually, icy. First, it’s not very good. Second, users couldn’t remove it from their cherished iPhone 6-Pluses if they wanted to.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen music bundled with a new product. Remember when Samsung bought a million copies of Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail to give away to customers?
What we’re wrestling with is an album’s market value. I subscribe to the Nipsey Hussle theory of musical economics: music is now free.
U2’s Bono disagrees: “I don’t believe in free music,” Bono said. Okay then.
The right of the artist — emcee, DJ, conductor, singer, guitarist, drummer, — to get paid is unassailable. Everybody wants to eat well. But music is now a loss-leader, a way to get people to buy other things: merch, show tickets, VIP packages, etc.
The thing about this Apple/U2 arrangement is really that so few artists can do this. Few acts gain entree into a world where brand consultants and bands and power brokers mingle freely, conspiring over deals that make everyone tidy stacks of money.
For classical musicians, small-time indie bands, and hardscrabble rappers, the jig is up. You won’t make money selling records.
The new game is about selling the experience, locking in return visits, arranging whole-evening encounters with orchestras and players, getting your app on your audience’s iPhone 6 and respectfully, occasionally nudging them with cool new shit.
Or at least, that’s the way it’s looking.
Here’s Bono, sounding wiser: “Music is a sacrament.”
Agreed. Now, who’s paying the tithes to support it?