Rap Artists Wu-Tang Clan Fight Infinite Goods By Selling One Copy Of Their Next Album… For $1 Million
from the if-you've-got-the-front-rent,-who-cares-about-the-back? dept
There’s a lot of discussion at this site about new business models for artists to combat the tendency of infinite goods (digital files) to bring the market price down to as near zero as possible. Seminal rap act Wu-Tang Clan has gone in the opposite direction. Instead of operating around infinite goods, the group is opting to release its next album in an extremely finite quantity.
Somewhere on the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco, inside a vault housed beneath the shadow of the Atlas Mountains, there sits an engraved silver-and-nickel box with the potential to spawn a shift in the way music is consumed and monetized.
The lustrous container was handcrafted over the course of three months by British-Moroccan artist Yahya, whose works have been commissioned by royal families and business leaders around the world. Soon, it will contain a different sort of art piece: the Wu-Tang Clan’s double-album The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, recorded in secret over the past few years.
Like the work of a master Impressionist, it will truly be one-of-a-kind—in lieu of a traditional major label or independent launch, the iconic hip-hop collective will make and sell just one copy of the album. And similar to a Monet or a Degas, the price tag will be a multimillion-dollar figure.
Rather than allow the market to decide how much the album is worth, the Wu-Tang Clan has circumvented that process by predetermining its going price (which eliminates a whole lot of the “market”). But it’s not a terrible idea, provided it’s able to sell this literally one-of-a-kind album. Securing $1 million up front (and without a label) for an unheard album will allow the group to recoup its costs in short order, rather than having to rely on a slower flow of income. It may work for a group that has achieved nearly legendary status over the course of its career, but it obviously isn’t the sort of thing that would work for many recording artists.
But this isn’t the only revenue stream. The Clan has another offering that will put even more money in its pockets, but it’s also one that could possibly undermine the million-dollar sale.
According to RZA and the album’s main producer Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, a Morocco-based part of Wu-Tang’s extended family, the plan is to first take Once Upon A Time In Shaolin on a “tour” through museums, galleries, festivals and the like. Just like a high-profile exhibit at a major institution, there will be a cost to attend, likely in the $30-$50 range.
Visitors will go through heavy security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in; as an extra precaution, they’ll likely have to listen to the 128-minute album’s 31 songs on headphones provided by the venue. As Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.”
The group says this is an attempt at “reconsidering music as art.” That’s the kind of statement that punches the right buttons for creators who feel the internet has robbed them of the ability to make a living, but it’s ultimately as substance-free as any other justification for charging a steep price for infinite goods. This is the sort of statement you can make when a $1 million payoff assures you of success even without album sales. This won’t force a reconsideration of music by the general public. This will only put the new album into the realm of the unattainable, which makes it a luxury good, rather than an artistic statement.
But all in all, it’s not a terrible plan. If the album leaks beforehand, some well-heeled fan may still pick up the tab to get the only legitimate copy of this album, along with its handcrafted storage case. If, by some miracle, the album is purchased and never leaks, someone out there will own the best-kept musical secret of all time. But chances are, the album will make its way to the internet eventually, even if leaks are prevented. People love sharing art, even if they paid $1 million for it.