Jay-Z locks in a deal that bestows upon him platinum status before his album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, officially drops on July 4th. Reaching a new level of independence, the rapper-turned-mogul no longer has to conform to the rules of the music industry thanks to his new deal with Samsung. The mobile monolith has purchased one million copies of MCHG and will distribute them to users of the Samsung Galaxy. Billboard, the charting and recording staple, has refused to accept these downloads, stating the million will not count towards their records. Still, albums were sold. And there in lies the dilemma. Who’s rules count most? The will of Jay-Z? Old guards such as Billboard? Of course the answer is more complicated, as the music industry is in a tremendous time of evolution.
AllHipHop handpicked three experts in music journalism, social media and technology and asked a few questions about new rules and the fairness of the Jay-Z/Samsung deal. And where do we go from here.
Lauren Coleman, owner of Punch Media Group, a digital media and entertainment company
Mike Street, Sr. Digital Strategist / Facebook.com/HarlemNY
Is this Jay-Z/Samsung deal a new way of deriving sales – via sponsorships? Is it fair? Should they count towards over all sales? Remember Lady Gaga sold a lot of albums when she pushed them for a limited time at a .99 cent price point on Amazon.
Lauren Coleman: The Lady Gaga thing is different ’cause you still had to buy it. This, if I understand correctly, is a give-away and therefore not a sale, right? Current definition of a sale is: The exchange of a commodity for money. This is a sale. The sale is to Samsung and not the people. Therefore, I’d definite as a corporate sale. Also, this who thing kind of reminds me just a little bit of back in the day when they said labels used to buy their own records to influence chart positioning. I am not certain if a major corporation pre-buying one’s album counts as a traditional “sale.” This seems to be in a different category. And while I think we can and should develop new ways to sell and new business models, I think we can probably be more creative than this [Jay-Z/Samsung] approach, though I’m not necessarily knocking it. Just may seem like out-of-touch timing. In an era where it’s even more about touching and engaging the individual, to do things en masse just seems like both an quick, easy and counter-intuitive approach. It seems to me that you vote for the artist’s creativity with your dollars, if you just get it as a freebie, how do you know they really wanted it and liked it or not. Just as an artist, I would really want to know, but if the artist is looking at his art, perhaps, purely from a commercial endeavor, then I think – sadly – that wouldn’t matter.
Jerry Barrow: Personally, I don’t think Jay-Z should care whether Billboard counts the sales or not. The people will get the music and he will be compensated for it. Isn’t that what any artist wants? Eliminate the middle man. No iTunes to cater to. No Walmart. Everyone has music on their phones so why not go directly to them? What happens if it doesn’t “debut at #1”? Maybe one streak will end (Jay holds the record with 12 consecutive #1s) but who does that still matter to? His marketing team? They’ve already proved that they are several steps ahead of the game with this Samsung move. I’d sleep comfortably knowing that I’m $5 Million richer and my fans get to hear my creation.
Mike Street: Physical media is dead! Much like when the VHS [tapes] died when DVD’s come into existence going to the store and buying a CD will soon become an obsolete activity. I personally think it’s ground breaking and a step in the right direction for Jay-Z and Samsung and trying to save the music industry which is still living in the stone age. It’s great for marketing, great PR, and I think other music companies will follow in their footsteps. Those that are mad right now are upset because they didn’t think of this idea first and bring it to market.
The industry has changed. Artist are now packaging their new albums into App experiences like Bjork did with her release of Biophilia [in 2011]. So it’s going to have to be much more than just the music. Fans are looking for full on experiences. And having the new Jay-Z album fully delivered on a handset is a step forward.
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What do you think of Jay-Z’s evolution an approach to music and sales. Is he a trail blazer? Is he cheating? Is this an example of the wily elder statesman outsmarting the young bucks?
Mike Street: It’s not cheating at all. Look at the success of Spotify, Pandoa, Rdio, and new the new Apple streaming service. Album sales are going to take an even bigger hit now that everything is about streaming. I’m paying $9 a month for Spotify and can listen to just about whatever I want. I can make playlist with friends. These new apps make music a full on social experience. Artist are releasing full albums on YouTube now and Billboard is measuring against activity on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Spotify. So I don’t see what’s so different. The method of delivery of music has changed so it should fully count. #PlatinumOnDayOne
Jerry Barrow: No one faults an artist when they cash a check from a corporate sponsor to use their music in a movie, a TV show a commercial and so on. So now they’re paying to put his music on their device. It’s great to me. If listeners are more reluctant – or capable given the economy – to pay for music why not let a corporation foot the bill? He definitely isn’t cheating. He built his name up to a point where a company is willing to pay upfront for his music. Not every artist has or can build the goodwill to accomplish that.
Lauren Coleman: First of all, one cannot help but respect Jay-Z’s business acumen, but I am not certain – similar to the previous Live Nation deal and Live Nation still now in the red, no? – if the approach where a major company gives an established artist very significant upfront deals creates an admirable overall “evolution.” It certainly creates greater earnings for him as an artist, but few artists will be able to replicate it nor is it something truly innovative on a tech/digital level that would serve as a new form of business model for the entire industry (i.e. like a distribution platform such as iTunes, creation of Pandora, etc). We have yet to see the true new business models, and this will come more from a collaboration of new artists with new developers who think in new ways because they are in a completely different area of career experience.
What, if any, should Billboard and the RIAA do to address these emerging ways of creating sales? The game has been notoriously slow to adopt new technology and advances in the music. There was Napster, but now on Spotify you can play an album continuously without buying it – but you kinda do as a part of the service. What say you?
Jerry Barrow: To paraphrase Jay-Z’s tweet, “If people stop paying for music, does a chart rating system still matter?” Billboards business is measuring the consumption of music but the way people consume music is changing. They are changing a bit with allowing Youtube plays to count but may find themselves going the way of Tower Records and HMV if they aren’t careful.
Lauren Coleman: I just had this discussion the other day with a major copyright person here in Washington, DC. Until organizations such as that focus on meeting new consumer distribution demands and think of new approaches, rather than seeing themselves primarily as policing institutions, they will probably continue to be behind-the-curve and always work to play catch up. This could have easily been foreseen. Why wait. That’s why it’s great to have futurists and analysts always part of their mix! I think that in order to remain relevant, chart categories will have to be expanded (not that consumers really care about chart positions. This is for people in other industries who have to use positions for validation since they are not familiar with the industry itself). What may end up happening is a innovative hybrid of new or existing digital distribution platform that simultaneously offers a killer rating system that mashes-up everything from Instagram likes, amount of time spent listening, and more but also has direct input on this from fans that is updated by the millisecond via algorithms. There have a been a few weak attempts at this. The one who gets it right, will rule.
Mike Street: Billboard and RIAA should consistently monitory the changing landscape and adapt accordingly. “Harlem Shake” hit the charts because everyone was making videos with the song. Billboard should be a monitoring service that can track and measure the pulse of what music consumers are listening to across any device, service, or platform. I personally think it’s un-just for Billboard to deny Jay-Z’s platinum status. If not for the meme created leading to the success of the “Harlem Shake” song sales Billboard have not included video steams as a part of their monitoring metrics. So I think that Jay-Z’s partnership should fully count.
Now, Jay-Z has pushed this notion of “new rules” since announcing the deal with Samsung, the artists and people have largely decided how things go. Napster/Audio Galaxy/Limewire were hot. Then you have Hulkshare and Datpiff and whatever, but those were not ways that that artists were paid directly. Is this what’s next?
Mike Street: The music industry has to evolve. It has been the one industry that was really unable to keep up with the light speed of technology. So now is the time for artist to take chances and do something different. And this won’t be the last time that we see something like this done. There are also a slew of music startups on the rise that will continue to disrupt the music industry business model. If I where a big label I’d be buying up SoundCloud in a heart beat.
Final thoughts on the here and now as the future. Is Jay a pioneer now? Is resistance futile and should Billboard reconsider?
Lauren Coleman: I think the real question is not whether Billboard is right or wrong, but defining what the word sale means in an era where the individual rules and mindset is changing and what place corporations have in that sale. This is not the first time a corporation has bought a certain product “in bulk,” so to speak. It can be considered akin to a “premium/gift with purchase.” It seems to have counted toward totals in the past. Is that still appropriate now? What will push-back be, if any, directly from individuals on this new method. Is is truly a “sale” if you own the device already and the item is simply sitting there? Should the rules be that the give-away has to be listened to a certain number of times tracked via technology in order to count as a “sale” since it leapfrogs over the traditional method? But most importantly, does it cheapen the view of music if it’s simply an add-on? Will this ultimately drive Samsung devices? That’s a question I’m interested in, particularly since hip-hop fans are more likely to own several smartphones. What is Samsung’s social responsibility to give-back when they set up something like this to entice sales (since it’s significantly more expensive to purchase a device to get a free album) than to simply download the album? Also, since Jay has the ability to negotiate these types of deals, is there ever any thought to include that Samsung has to also invest in a certain number of Black start-ups so that the wealth is spread? These deeper questions should be what also drives our conversation because if the whole is not considered, particularly given the widening economic wealth gap in our country, there won’t be enough side loot to dabble in these things to keep the corporations, artists, Billboard, etc going. Feel me?
Jerry Barrow: I’m a strong advocate of supporting an artist by purchasing their music. I’m in a position where I can get most music sent to me but I like to vote with my dollar if I believe in a project. I think fans of Jay-Z will still buy the album beyond the million given to Samsung users…if the music is good. What people are missing in all this is the music has to back it up. That’s all that matters in the end. Part of me wonders if Jay-Z’s approach to making this album was different knowing that he wouldn’t have to pander to the traditional means to get the album heard and sold. Imagine how freeing that must be to step in the booth and know that no matter what I put out, this will be heard and I can stash some more chips in my daughter’s college fund at the same time.
Mike Street: Billboard should reconsider as things have changed. If they could add in the addition of YouTube streams for “Harlem Shake” then they surely can allow platinum status for Magna Carta Holy Grail.
[Editor’s Note: Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail is expected to debut at number 1 on the Billboard Chart for the 13th time in a row, a record he set by besting previous record set by the Beatles.]