Do We Have to Play by Jay Z’s #NewRules?

July 22, 2013  |

Rules were made to be broken. At least that’s Jay Z’s logic. Under the prophetic hashtag #newrules, the rapper and businessman announced that his latest album “Magna Carta Holy Grail” would be given away 72 hours before its officially release date via a free app for Samsung Galaxy customers. Rather than continuing the fight the music industry has waged against free music since the days of Napster, Jay Z embraced technology, to the tune of $5 million.

Everything didn’t go according to plan. But anyone gleefully pointing to the app crashing the night of “Magna Carta”’s early release as a sign of failure misses the point entirely. Samsung spent a few million dollars – a small amount for the telecommunications juggernaut – to bill themselves as the official leakers of Jay-Z’s album. The buzz generated by the deal coupled with Jay Z’s payout makes both parties winners.

The RIAA quickly jumped on the #newrules bandwagon, tweaking its gold and platinum awards program to cover any digital album sales that previously had to wait a month to be qualified in order to allow for “returns” (unsold, but shipped, stock); making Jay Z’s latest album an instant platinum success.

But everyone isn’t excited about the new world order Jay is ushering in. LL Cool J tells Revolt TV:

“Numbers are Numbers. In the numbers is truth, but in terms of touching the people it’s a little different…For me as an artist I still want to be able to touch the people individually…It still matters to me that people individually went out and bought my record. Although I still think a million sold is a million sold, but for me I like to know that a million PEOPLE bought my record, not a company bought a million copies of my record.”

Billboard took a similar old-school stance when they declined Jay-Z’s team request for the million albums sold to be counted on the charts saying, “ever-visionary Jay-Z pulled the nifty coup of getting paid as if he had a platinum album before one fan bought a single copy…But in the context of this promotion, nothing is actually for sale.”

If 1 million copies of an album are paid for, but no one is there to buy them, is the album really platinum? …Does it really matter? Outside of being a handy statistic for stans to bring up during “who’s the best artist” debates, have fans ever really cared about platinum plaques?

The RIAA had a point when it announced the rewriting of its rules: “The reality is that how fans consume music is changing, the music business is changing as labels and artists partner with a breathtaking array of new technology services.”

Individual album sales are a remnant of music industry past.  Magna Carta gives us a peek at the future of music where the industry dances to the tech industry’s tune.

Jay isn’t the first to hand out albums for free (Prince slid his “Planet Earth” album into copies of the Mail, and Radiohead lets fans pay what they wanted for “In Rainbows”), or sell an album as an app (Björk’s released “Biophilia” for the iPad in 2011).

If the fervor generated by Magna Carta’s early release is any indication, the album would have been a success without it. When the app crashed, the leaked album quickly took over radio airwaves and was gobbled up by non-Samsung users. We all may have trouble swallowing the fact that a company paid for Jay to go platinum but at the end of the day, this whole ordeal was nothing more than a well-executed promotional campaign.

Rather than squabble over Jay Z’s well-coordinated success, energy would be better spent figuring out how to leverage these type of business deals to benefit smaller acts rather than the artists who need the money the least.

C. Cleveland covers professional development topics and entrepreneurial rebels who blaze their own career paths. She explores these stories and more on The Red Read, Twitter (@CleveOutLoud) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).

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