Last month, the Wu-Tang Clan announced an interesting distribution idea for their next album, which I find very intriguing (as do a lot of people as can be witnessed by countless comments on blogs that have discussed it).
If you haven’t heard about it, here’s a description from the LA Times:
RZA’s vision for “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” is to create a true, one-of-a-kind music experience.
Instead of rolling the album out via a record label and endless promotion, RZA is treating the 31-track album like a fine painting or sculpture. The album is housed inside an engraved silver-and-nickle box crafted by British-Moroccan artist Yahya. Just like a Monet or a Picasso, the plan is to display the album at museums and galleries, and take the album on a “tour.”
According to Forbes, tickets for the exhibit would be sold (in the $30 to $50 range) and visitors would go through heavy security and listen to the 128-minute album on headphones provided by the venue.
It’s such an interesting time. I find it inspiring. Nine Inch Nails had some innovative ideas for promotion years ago, like putting an album on a flash drive planted in a bathroom at one of their shows, and picking a few fans to be flown to a secret location for a private concert. And John Frusciante just mounted his new album onto a satellite that was then blasted off into space to be beamed down to fans to listen to via an app.
I brainstorm a lot about ways to release music. I’ve decided that putting it out there for the world to sample on iTunes and the like is not the way to go. I recently removed all but one of my EPs from digital distribution, and will probably eventually remove everything from everywhere. It doesn’t do any good to flood the market with yourself. It just makes you ordinary and boring, and it removes the value from your work – especially if you aren’t a celebrity. People sample it and move on for the most part.
This Wu-Tang idea is something that eventually needed to happen; kind of like John Cage’s 4’33”, the famous piano piece where the performer sits at the piano in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds. It’s more of a statement than anything else. What I don’t look forward to is the flood of copycat releases that are bound to come out in the next couple years. I’m already bored, but happy Wu-Tang is doing it because it is a profound statement about what technology has done to music. And why not have a work of audio art be presented as something unique and special, like a painting or sculpture? It shouldn’t be so revolutionary, but it is.
I know people who talk about their thousands of music files that they hoard. They often brag about how they haven’t even listened to most of it and likely never will. They dump the contents of hard drives onto each others’ computers. Eventually everyone will own everything in the cloud, anyway. It’s nice to have it all at your fingertips, but I still try to buy albums when they come out, whether it’s a corporate band or an independent unknown group like Cyanide Pills – who I have come to regard as my favorite band of all time.
Maybe this will lead to something more than a bunch of copycats. I hope so. Maybe people will come to appreciate music a little more because of this. I do like the idea of going to a museum to listen to a new album. Album releases used to be super exciting. I still remember seeing Ace Frehley’s first solo album for the first time, holding it in my hands, sliding my fingernail along the insert to get access to the inner sleeve, and the poster inside the album that fit together with all the other KISS members’ solo album posters, like a puzzle. And I’ll always remember the delicious smell of new vinyl. Buying new records are some of the most cherished memories of my life.
If Cyanide Pills charged $30 to go to a museum and listen to their new record, I’d do it. Wu Tang – probably not. But it’s inspiring, and reading about it made my night tonight. Creativity is a beautiful thing, especially when it is multi-dimensional like their new album is.
John Dissed is a rock and roll singer-songwriter from Los Angeles who has embarked on a new way to distribute his music via a free subscription. Enter your name and email in the form under the red arrow above to find out more.