Some critics are saying that only a whiny baby would complain about Apple’s “gift” of U2's latest recording Songs of Innocence to anybody with an iTunes account. That if you’re going to complain about getting a new album put on your $300 toy, you’re being silly.
Thing is, there are a few legitimate reasons to be annoyed.
We’re Smart Enough To See A Stunt
U2 used to matter, .mp3 files used to be king, but those truths have fallen by the wayside in the five years it took U2 to produce what masochists everywhere are calling one of the band’s worst albums ever.
While still wed to the iTunes File Sales distribution method, Apple has been the polar opposite of U2, by repeatedly offered quality products in annual releases.
If Apple just wanted to give iTunes users a gift, they would have made U2's album free-to-download. When artists want to gain goodwill with their fans, that’s how they do it. Or they would have let fans stream it for free on iTunes Radio or the Beats app.
The Beats app that’s supposed to be their Spotify competitor, something to get Apple involved in the fight for the future of music. A future currently being spent Streaming instead of Downloading.
Again, I bring this chart of the last 30 years of music sales:
Instead, Apple placed the giant dud U2 named Songs of Innocence in users purchase history, like they knew better. Knowing full well that most users have automatic iTunes downloads enabled on every device, and that this would drop it down through the digital ether, and onto our hard drives.
Because Apple wanted their buddies Bono, The Edge, And Those Other Two Old Dudes, to break a sales record, even if Tim Cook was the only real customer buying the album. Tim Cook wanted to do something to help Apple’s relationship with the most rapidly aging big band on the planet. Maybe he thought it’s what noted-Bono-buddy Steve Jobs would have wanted.
Wait What? You Put What On My Phone?
So that explainer I put up there about how/why the album was silently put onto most iOS devices? The average person doesn’t know about Automatic Downloads, nor should they. The average person didn’t even watch or know about the uber-awkward prepared banter between Apple CEO Tim Cook and Sunglasses Hut mannequin Bono used to launch this offer. Nor should they have.
Some buy the iPhone because there’s less crap pre-installed than on most other phones. AT&T and Verizon pre-load junk onto other smart phones that nobody will ever use. Apple’s supposed to keep their hands off your device.
In the era of digital privacy and personal security, this was another misstep coming from Apple. An Apple that was already an easy target for mockery. The press event leading up to that announcement was pitch perfect. Apple had been working clean-up, after the word iCloud had spent a week being ripped to shreds.
It re-reveals that we have no control over our devices. That the government can peep or spy at their leisure. That actions can be made upon our property without our approval.
It’s Also About The Culture
U2 is a prestigious legendary band to a lot of people. What Apple wasn’t expecting, and what they could have seen in their sales charts, is that the culture has gone in a different direction. It’s a safe thing to say that U2 matters to a small tiny fraction of anybody under 30.
Apple should be allowed to be normcore, though, if they want. They should be allowed to be as bland as they want. They’re a computer company, for crying out loud.
Except that’s not the case anymore. Today’s Apple is a purveyor of cool and a force in the fashion world. For Apple to think that this is something that people wanted, was a misstep. There is no more monoculture in America anymore.
U2 was the first band to have their own iPod. U2 was the defacto group to perform at any 9/11 related event, as that giant ticker of the names of those lost ticked down.
Back between All That You Can’t Leave Behind and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb U2 was riding pretty high. Their last album before their hiatus had a drastic drop-off in sales:
5 million units sold was still nothing to sneeze at, but to hemorrhage more than half of their audience, U2 had peaked. Today, musicians would sell their souls to the highest bidder to reach those kinds of numbers.
Then Apple comes in to save U2's face and let them cheat the sales charts, and allow them to have the biggest opening day sales ever.
It was akin to a clerk at Macy’s racing around the premesis, indiscriminately spraying perfume at every single customer in the building.
Much of the internet didn’t want it, and thats what led to whoisu2.com.
For this album, that Apple reportedly, and down right mystifyingly, spent $100 Million Dollars on, shows that Apple needs Beats more than Beats needs Apple’s money.
And That Wasn’t The End:
Beacons of irrelevance TIME magazine have placed Bono and the boys on the cover of their next issue. In this issue, it’s revealed that U2 and Apple are working together on the next step in the future of music formats.
A giant multimedia file, the likes of which you’d need a Bono’s ego sized budget to produce.
Via Billboard, Bono talks up this new format, in a way only he would:
“[it will be] an audiovisual interactive format for music that can’t be pirated and will bring back album artwork in the most powerful way, where you can play with the lyrics and get behind the songs when you’re sitting on the subway with your iPad or on these big flat screens. You can see photography like you’ve never seen it before.”
I’m sorry, Bono, that none of your yes-men told you this already, but you can go home. Beyoncé already did this, Bono. It was called Beyoncé, an album with a video for every song. That’s how it can be done by most artists. Just make a DRM’d video file for each song.
Anything as overproduced the new hot garbage that Bono believes in, will be seen as “trying too hard.” What Bono’s describing needs resources beyond 99% of most bands. Sure Beyoncé’s music videos were all top quality, but the every-song-gets-a-video album doesn’t have to be like that.
Since all our smart phones have video cameras in them, that will be the way this content can be produced by even the Indiest of artists.
Luckily, There’s Jaime and Mike
Or, we can see how Run The Jewels, the indie rap super-duo of Killer Mike and El-P, have used both free-to-download and pay-for-music models to success.
Here’s the short of it. In June 2013, Brooklyn’s El-P and Atlanta’s Killer Mike (Jaime and Mike, respectively, to their family and fans) joined forces to make a free album that was released by Mass Appeal magazine.
Hailed as one of the best rap albums of the year, Run The Jewels was #28 in Pitchork’s album of the year list (out of 50 entries), and it probably would have gotten even more notice if it hadn’t been released a mere two weeks after Yeezus hit.
Jaime and Mike toured the crap out of that record, hitting New York at least three times by my count. Their infectious performances became a staple at summer festivals. Eventually they released the record in physical and digital formats you could pay for if you wanted to.
And now, this fall, releasing Run The Jewels 2, either for free or for pay for digital, CD, and vinyl editions, Jaime and Mike are seeing expectation-shattering sales:
Add to this success the way that Run The Jewels is being approached with a sense of humor, here are some of the super deluxe offerings online:
Run The Jewels will fly to your town, stalk and ultimately take revenge upon anyone in your life who has ever wronged you through a series of humiliating and vicious tactics designed to bring shame upon their name and the name of their children. We will then train your enemies pet to love you. This offer does not include murder. Also includes:… A polaroid photo of your mortal enemy cowering and begging for forgiveness 1 clump of your enemies hair 1 pet* *offer applies only where available
*run the jewels reserves the right to take your money and not fulfill any of its obligations as outlined in any package priced at 35k or more.
*coupons not honored on all bonus packages
They’re not for everybody, but this is on brand as hell. And it’s led to the first epic post-Potato Salad Kickstarter: Meow The Jewels.
Inspired in a way by those silly deluxe offers, Meow The Jewels plans to get Jaime and Mike to remix the entire album, with cat noises. They even have approval from Jaime himself, with a noble destination for the funds:
We have El-P’s full support going into this project, and I am in regular contact with him. I am raising the 40k to pay for the “Meow The Jewels” album to be made. El-P has publicly stated (via twitter: @TheRealElP) that he will donate HIS money to a charity directly benefiting the families of Eric Garner and Mike Brown. So that being said THIS KICKSTARTER IS NOT RAISING MONEY FOR CHARITY….ALL MONEY RAISED WILL BE USED TO PAY EL-P AND KILLER MIKE TO CREATE THE “MEOW THE JEWELS” ALBUM,$40000 will be used to pay Run The Jewels. $2050 will be used for Kickstarter Fees $2050 will be used for the ‘Amazon Payment‘ fees. $1000 has been allocated for rewards/shipping. Follow the twitter account @MeowTheJewels for more updates.
This, not Bono’s vaporware music format, is the future of music.