American East Coast rappers the Wu-Tang Clan have developed a revolutionary model for musicians to make money from their work. They are about to sell a copy of their new album, but in doing so they will also be able to say that they have shifted their entire stock.
They have made just one copy of the album, which is currently locked safely in a vault, and which they expect to sell for a multi-million dollar price tag. When it’s gone, it’s gone. And for those of us who don’t have a couple of million lying around in order to create the world’s most exclusive music library, there will instead be a series of exhibits in galleries and the like: after paying an entry fee, visitors will go through heavy security and have the opportunity to listen via dedicated headphones (so don’t bother bringing along your James Bond style “headphones with hidden microphone”).
Perhaps it’s just a publicity stunt. But if other musicians adopted the same business model, what other possibilities would this open up? Is this the future of music in which businesses buy the single copy that exists of all future music and then use it for marketing? For instance, if you can only hear the new album by an artist by going to a particular shop then will supermarkets become the new concert halls (with a much wider range of food and drink available at the interval)?
If you can instead only hear the new album by buying a particular brand of smartphone then will the available music repertoire over-ride the range of apps or the operating system as the main driver of sales?
And as the relationship between musicians and the single purchasers of their music grows closer, does it mean that music returns to a patronage system reminiscent of the renaissance, in which business replaces the Borgias?
If so what impact will this have on the music that results? Will the music become more sanitised, so as to avoid damaging the brand of the patronising business, or will it become more risk-taking, as musicians take advantage of the reduced need to reach a mass market in order to continue making the loan payments on the private jet?
You can work out for yourself the implications of the Wu-Tang Clan’s business model for the tolerance of bootlegging of live performances, so that the entrance lobby may end up with better scanning for hidden electronic devices than your average airport.
Does it also create a two-tier music market, in which well-known musicians work with patrons, whereas less-established musicians are forced to chase the mass market? And since it is the top end artists who make the money for record companies, we can assume that the latter would all go bust too.
You can use the comments section below to say how you think this would play out if it became a standard industry practice.