Wu-Tang change the Rules of music marketing

Wu-Tang change the Rules of music marketing

Well known for causing some of the biggest seismic shifts in hip hop during the 1980s, Wu Tang are shifting the business of music marketing in a new direction in 2014 as they prepare for the release of their new album. Exclusive takes on a whole new meaning, when you find out that Wu Tang will release just one copy of their upcoming album, in a nod to the master craftsmen and artists where singularity and rarity are among the fundamental characteristics of a true work of art.

This one of a kind release is just that, recorded over the last few years in secret and encased within a handcrafted silver and nickel box with the capacity to enthral and also to fetch a multimillion dollar figure when it is released. ‘The Wu - Once up a Time in Shaolin’ is not only exquisite, but it’s also a game changer intended to change music marketing, monetization and consumption forever – at least, that is what RZA hopes this move will inspire.

“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 sceptre of an Egyptian king... The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years,” says RZA.  “And yet its doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.”

Take the tour...

According to RZA and the album’s main producer Tarik ‘Cilvaringz’ Azzougarh, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin will embark on a “tour” through museums, galleries, music festivals in the vein of a high-profile exhibit at a major institution – and of course entry and attendance will come with a fee, in the £15 - £40 range. To preserve the exclusive nature of the beast, it iss likely visitors will be subject to airport style security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in, and  they’ll likely have to listen to the 128-minute album’s 31 songs on secure headphones.

As Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.”

Cilvaringz has been involved in the project since he jumped on stage with Wu Tang back in 1997 in Amsterdam, while the group were on a tour of Europe. Staying in touch, Cilvaringz ended up being mentored by RZA, and encouraged to complete his music business education – a partnership that culminates with him becoming the producer for Once Upon a Time in Shaolin with the aim of creating “an album with a vintage Wu-Tang sound, the same one that drew him to the concert in Amsterdam a decade earlier.”

It was also Civaringz and RZA who came up with the one copy concept, inspired by Jay Z and Samsungs exclusive partnership on Jay Z’s album release in 2013.

Music As Art...

Wu-Tang’s aim is to use the album as a springboard for the reconsideration of music as art, hoping the approach will help restore it to a place alongside great visual works– creating the aforementioned and unprecedented shift in the music business - as well as earn some pretty serious cash.

The one-of-a-kind launch will be a separate endeavour from Wu-Tang’s 20th anniversary album, A Better Tomorrow, set for commercial release this summer.

So who will be in line to purchase this piece of music history and music art? Brands, major record labels, wealthy private buyers are all in line to part with their cash, and the final buyer will be yielding something hugely influential – what they choose to do with the album could mark a whole new era in revenue and royalty distribution.

Cilvaringz is even hoping the album will mark the beginning of a scaleable private music service. RZA believes this move is an opportunity to attain a unique form of immortalization, not just through music, but through model.

“There will be a time when we can’t tour, and that’s just the natural evolution of man,” he says. “And yet this particular privatized album, I think—this idea we have—will be something that will go longer than all of us.”

Original interview by Zack O'Malley Greenburg for Forbes.

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