Blog: Step Into Shaolin and See Where the Wu-Tang Clan Could be Taking Music

By: Josh Lepchitz, Associate Staff

Music streaming programs have drastically changed how it is consumers listen to music. In the United States music sales are 5% and a major contributing factor to the drop in revenue is services like Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube. [1]  This drop in sales has proven not only to be discouraging to major record labels that depend on the sale of cd’s and digital downloads, but it has also received some back lash from popular recording artist.  Artists such as Taylor Swift, David Byrne of the Talking Heads, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Beck, and Thom Yorke of Radiohead have spoken out against the public receiving their music from services like Spotify.[2]  The primary arguments held by these musicians is that they should have a say in how their art is to be distributed to the public, and that these services provide horrible royalties.  The royalties received from Spotify range between $0.006 to $0.0084 cents per stream.[3]  For the major recording artists this is the opposite of what they are used to receiving in royalties.

To combat the increased exposure and decreased royalties artists have come up with various strategies.  Some simply do not allow their music to be accessed on these programs.[4]  Others have become very litigious. For example, Flo and Eddie Inc. represent members of the 1960’s band the Turtles, and they recently won a multimillion-dollar suit against Sirius XM Radio Inc. for the use of some of their copyrighted material and have now placed their sights on Pandora.[5] However, one artist in particular has taken an alternative approach that could be potentially revolutionary in music consumption.  I am speaking of the legendary New York City based hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan.  Either as a collective ensemble or as individual artists the Wu-Tang has made an undeniable and lasting impression on music and now they have the potential to change how major recording artists reach the public with their music.

The Wu-Tang have secretly recorded and produced an album that they are calling their opus titled “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin”. Here is where things become interesting, the Wu own the sole rights to the album and there is only one copy of it in existence.   The album will be auctioned off and the expected sale price is in the millions of dollars.[6]  The multiple of reasons behind the unique release include that the group wants to see a revival of music being seen as art and shift the medium closer to the realm of visual works like painting and photography.[7]  The Wu-Tang will receive the proceeds from the auction sale and the sole copy of the album, along with its rights will go to the purchaser.

What this means is after the sale the Wu-Tang is finished with the album and the purchaser can do with it whatever they chose.  Using this model the musicians will receive their payday, and the purchaser can turn around and do whatever with the piece of art.  The buyer could sell and distribute the album, post it online for free or limited purchase download, take the album on tour as the Wu-Tang has in order to give potential buyers a preview, or the buyer could destroy it.

A man from Virginia, Chris Everhart, initiated what ended up being an unsuccessful crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter.com.[8]  He failed to reach his lofty goal of six million dollars in order to purchase and destroy the album.  He sees the project as “self-righteous” and believes that art should be shared with the entire world and not be excluded from the culturally disadvantaged.[9]  His goal was not met but his point does have some potency.  There is the consideration that art is for the public good and the people should have access to it.  Now this is simply one man’s failed goal, but what happens with the music will depend entirely upon who purchases it.

“Once Upon a Time In Shaolin” could be purchased by a record label and distributed normally as any other album, it could go to an eccentric millionaire and be locked away for his own personal use, or it could go to a museum and be placed on display for the public like the Mona Lisa.  An interesting question is what happens if an entity like Spotify purchases the album and requires monthly payments to access their exclusive content.  It would be a possible way for a company like Spotify to alter its business model.  They could go from being a company who receives the majority of its profits from advertisers to a company who relies mostly on subscribers interested in original and exclusive content like Netflix or HBO.

The outcome of what happens with the Wu-Tang’s special release is yet to be seen. All theories are purely speculative, but it has accomplished another one of the Wu-Tang’s goals, to spark discussion.[10]  So far in 2014, only one artist has produced a platinum album, which was last month’s release of 1989 by Taylor Swift. Outside of Taylor Swift the only other platinum album is the soundtrack from Disney’s Frozen.[11]  Before the release of 1989, 2014 was the first year that no platinum albums had been awarded to a non-compilation record since 1976, the first year that Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) began handing out platinum albums.   Music streaming services are here to stay, as far as anyone can tell, and a shift in the landscape of the music industry is inevitable.  What the Wu-Tang accomplished is an expansion on their legacy.  Not only are they going to be known for their accomplishments as artists, but also they could be known for their impact on the music industry as market innovators.

To get a sneak peak of “Once Upon a Time In Shaolin” and some commentary from its producer check out the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABL5Elr16hc.

 

 

[1] Ben Sisario, U.S. Music Sales Drop 5%, as Habits Shift Online, N.Y. Times, Sept. 26, 2014, at B3.

[2] Jillian Mapes, Musicians Drinking the Spotify Haterade: The Collected Complaints, (Aug. 12, 2014, 9:45 AM), http://flavorwire.com/471802/musicians-drinking-the-spotify-haterade-the-collected-complaints, Stuard Dredge, Rdio on Taylor Swift’s Spotify block: ‘This is art. It’s the artist’s choice’, (Nov. 10, 2014, 7:09 AM), http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/10/rdio-spotify-taylor-swift-streaming.

[3] Jillian Mapes, Musicians Drinking the Spotify Haterade: The Collected Complaints, (Aug. 12, 2014, 9:45 AM), http://flavorwire.com/471802/musicians-drinking-the-spotify-haterade-the-collected-complaints.

[4] Stuard Dredge, Rdio on Taylor Swift’s Spotify block: ‘This is art. It’s the artist’s choice’, (Nov. 10, 2014, 7:09 AM), http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/10/rdio-spotify-taylor-swift-streaming.

[5] Flo & Eddie Inc. v. Sirius XM Radio Inc., et al., No. CV 13-5693 PSG (RZx), 2014 WL 4725382, (C.D. Cal. Sept. 22, 2014). Eriq Gardner, After SiriusXM Success, The Turtles take on Pandora in $25 Million Lawsuit (Exclusive), (Oct. 2, 2014, 1:18 PM), http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/siriusxm-success-turtles-take-pandora-737673.

[6] Zack Greenburg, Why Wu-Tang Will Release Just One Copy Of Its Secret Album, Forbes (March 26, 2014, 12:00 PM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2014/03/26/why-wu-tang-will-release-just-one-copy-of-its-secret-album/.

[7] Id.

[8] https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/510343979/destroy-only-copy-of-new-wu-tang-album (last visited Nov. 10 2014).

[9] Id.

[10] Zack Greenburg, Unlocking The Wu-Tang Clan’s Secret Album in Morocco, Forbes (May 6, 2014, 11:03 AM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2014/05/06/unlocking-the-wu-tang-clans-secret-album-in-morocco/.

[11] Cliff Lee, Congratulations, Taylor Swift: You’ll be the only platinum artist of 2014, The Globe and Mail (Oct. 21 2014, 9:36 AM), http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/music/congratulations-taylor-swift-youll-be-the-only-platinum-artist-of-2014/article21180284/.

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