Almost lost in all of yesterday’s iPhone 6/Apple Watch (don’t dare call it an “iWatch“!) hype was the fact that U2 is giving away their new album – immediately! – through iTunes Music, to a potential reach of over half a billion iTunes customers. And I immediately thought, “Of course! This is what Bob Lefsetz has been talking about for YEARS: Give away the recorded music for free as a promotional tool, then make real money on the touring, the licensing, etc.” U2 had stepped up to the plate, will change the game and teach the young’uns how it’s done!
Then, we learned they were paid by Apple.
Of course they were. The music industry is still very much a business. And to artists on the level of U2, at least, it still pays well. But lets be honest here. What’s going to make a bigger splash on BuzzFeed: “U2 Hits Number One on the Charts…with 200,000 Units Sold”, or “U2’s New Album Sampled By Well Over 100,000,000 on Release!”
There was NO WAY they were going to sell Songs of Innocence on the level of previous efforts. What terrestrial radio station/format is left to jump on their new music? Their best hope is to get a ballad on Lite-FM. Will MTV or VH-1 break their reality formats to feature a new U2 video or cover its release? No. They’ll need to find a way to go viral on YouTube or Vevo, somehow muscling Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj and Charli XCX and their collective asses out of the way.
What WOULD help, and negate any sales discussion, is if the album was any good. It’s…OK. It sounds like U2, for the most part, with some of that infernal chanting “Hey! Ho!” stuff thrown in here and there. But the closest thing to a memorable, takeaway hook resides on “Volcano” – which itself is reminiscent of “Vertigo” and “New Year’s Day“, and makes me yearn to hear both instead. This album will not seep into the public consciousness and radiate on the level of The Joshua Tree, or Achtung Baby, or even All That You Can’t Leave Behind. But imagine how revolutionary this giveaway move would’ve seemed if it did.
And, by the way, where was a Beats Music-related announcement yesterday? How long will it take for Apple to finally roll subscription-based Beats Music into their iTunes ecosystem? That’s the other sorta messy thing about this whole U2 giveaway: who’s downloading music anymore? Tim Cook should’ve announced a new Beats/iTunes behemoth, with Spotify-crushing HD streaming-plus-download plans as his “One more thing…”, not a Dick Tracy watch that Samsung beat him to market with. If Songs of Innocence were used to launch THAT saliva-inducing service, both Apple and U2 would be subjects of a different narrative this morning.
Further reading: 3 Reasons Why Your Music Should Be Free