For most artists, the time before an album’s release usually consists of a slow leak of songs, coupled with various marketing ploys and maybe even an appearance on a TV Talk Show. But for Wu-Tang Clan's upcoming album, it's about the reconsideration of music as art.
The conventional marketing wisdom for big album releases is to build the buzz over months until it reaches a fever pitch. Get fans pumped and prime the media for that all-important launch day, and forge distribution deals with big retailers.
However, in their latest artistic endeavour legendary hip-hop crew, Wu-Tang Clan are making a bold move by releasing their new album in a single limited edition.
On the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco, inside a vault, sits an engraved silver-and-nickel box which has been 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.
Inside this lustrous box lies a game changing piece of art… in the form of a secret double album, entitled Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. It will truly be one-of-a-kind—in lieu of a traditional major label or independent launch, as there will only be one copy of the album in the world at the time of its release.
And similar to a high-end piece of art, it will have a multi-million dollar price tag. (The purchase price covers the master recording and the producer’s publishing rights. The guest artists who contributed to songwriting and production retain their own publishing. Wu-Tang retains the right to “tour” the album).
Even better, before it's up for purchase, the album and box, will be exhibited in museums, galleries and festivals, similar to any high-profile exhibition, with a cost to attend in the $30-$50 range. The anti-leak strategy involves "heavy security" and headphone-only listening. As Wu-Tang member Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.”
The music will then be sold off to the highest bidder. While it's too early to say who will shell out the cash for this unique item, Forbes speculates suitors could include brands willing to shell out for free publicity (just as Samsung spent $5 million to buy copies of Jay Z’s latest album for its users) or major record labels hoping to launch the album through the usual channels.
Another option may include a wealthy collector purchasing it and either liberating the audio for the masses or keeping the songs for themselves.
“We’re about to sell an album like nobody else sold it before,” says Robert RZA Diggs, the first Wu-Tang member to speak on record about the concept, in an exclusive interview with Forbes. “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music. We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.”
According to Forbes, the 31-track album has been in the works since the 1990s and by the late 2000s, RZA and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan were ready to start working on the project.
The album itself was recorded with producer Cilvaringz and is said to include special guest appearances by Bonnie Jo Mason, Redman, FC Barcelona soccer players and other performers.
"It took a long time," Cilvaringz admitted; when he was finally finished, he couldn't abide the thought of releasing it and "see[ing] it die after a week". Inspired by Jay Z's MCHG album partnership with Samsung last summer and Nipsey Hussle’s $100 mixtape, Cilvaringz and RZA landed on the idea of treating Once Upon A Time In Shaolin as a priceless art object.
“I think it’s a musical portrait that’s going to revolutionize music in the future,” said Wu-Tang member Jamiel “Masta Killa” Arief, via electronic message. “And I’m thankful to my brother Ringz, to collaborate with, and I’m ecstatic to be a part of it.”
Wu-Tang hopes the approach of this project will help restore it to a place alongside great visual works–and create a shift in the music business.
A statement by Wu-Tang from a website created for the project, scluzay.com, highlights the albums importance:
"The music industry is in crisis. Creativity has become disposable and value has been stripped out.
"Mass production and content saturation have devalued both our experience of music and our ability to establish its value.
"Industrial production and digital reproduction have failed. The intrinsic value of music has been reduced to zero [whereas] contemporary art is worth millions by virtue of its exclusivity. This album is a piece of contemporary art. The debate starts here."
Elsewhere on the project's website Wu-Tang expand on their theory of the damage done by mass production: "History demonstrates that great musicians such as Beethoven, Mozart and Bach are held in the same high esteem as figures like Picasso, Michelangelo and Van Gogh. However, the creative output of today's artists such as The RZA, Kanye West or Dr. Dre, is not valued equally to that of artists like Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst or Jean-Michel Basquiat."
Will this work?
One would think that the legendary Hip Hop collective would enlist an entire campaign management to compete with the marketing juggernauts behind the likes of Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.
However, as music sales have dwindled over the years, in today's world, you need do something major to stand out when releasing music. Take a look at Jay Z and Samsung, Beyonce's "surprise" album and Kanye West's Yeezus projections in different countries, all testaments to the boundaries you need to push in order to sell records.
Fortunately, Wu-Tang has the respect, fanbase and luxury to skip some of the steps that other artists are tied to. Much of the hype for the new album is generated by edgy, artistic, innovative and one-of-a-kind tatics, a stark contrast to the traditional route for an album release.
I think the fact that we won't be able to download this album on iTunes or stream it on Spotify, will encourage long-time fans and new listeners to dig deep into their pockets for a unique listening session at a museum. This set up will also allow the listener to focus on nothing but the music, and a distraction-free listening experience is one of the greatest things for people who truly love music.
And if this all goes to plan, the word-of-mouth factor from social media and other outlets surrounding this unique album will generate enough publicity to get the word out.
An album release should be bold and daring, but this is way past that. What would normally have been a multi-million dollar campaign is now turning into an unforgettable musical experience.
However, my biggest fear for this album is that the experience could override the quality of the music. It seems that Cilvaringz is taking a lead with the production on this album.... so it will be interesting to see how fans react to RZA taking a backseat on the production side of things. For many of us, it was RZA's pioneering production that made Wu-Tang's music so great. Also, the lack of Ol’ Dirty Bastard on the album cannot be overlooked.
And as they are promoting this as a "masterpiece" project....the expectations of this album to reach classic status will be very high.
Whether or not Wu-Tang Clan is able to find enough people who want to go experience their album in a museum to make an impact remains to be seen, but the group is OK with its plan going awry. “I know it sounds crazy,” says Cilvaringz. “It might totally flop, and we might be completely ridiculed. But the essence and core of our ideas is to inspire creation and originality and debate, and save the music album from dying.”
If Wu-Tang Clan wanted to keep this album a quiet exclusive or turned it into a collectors item of sorts, this approach would have been somewhat understandable. They are running the risk of alienating long-time fans with this ambitious move.
But I applaud Wu-Tang for shifting the way music is conceived, consumed and valued. Will other musical artists be able to duplicate this strategy in the future, or is this a one-time stunt? Time will tell.
What do you think of Wu-Tang Clan's album release plan? Do you think it could work? Tweet us your thoughts @MOBOAwards
SOURCE : [Forbes]