'I'm Not A Businessman, I'm A Business, Man'

What would you do with three minutes of prime airtime during the NBA Finals?  If you’re Jay-Z and Samsung, you take that time to announce a new album released in a whole new way.

I saw the long-form commercial that Samsung aired to announce Jay-Z’s new album, “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” which should be out in a month and apparently comes as an app rather than, or in addition to, a traditional record release.  The spot shows Jay, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Pharrel and Rick Rubin sitting around making beats and talking about the theme of the record.  I have to confess that I’ve been and will continue to be a big Jay-Z fan, so whenever he does anything my ears and eyes perk up, but this was a new level of hype that’s unlike anything I’ve seen to date.  It’s more proof that Jay Z is "more than a businessman -- [he's] a business, man.”

Other artists have released the “album as app” model, but none of them have really caught hold.  I would argue that no one of this stature has done it to date -- and with the exception of the rumored Lady Gaga app/album that’s supposed to come out sometime this year, there’s no one else who could truly pull this off on a massive scale.  Beyond that, though, offering the album free to the first one million Samsung Galaxy owners is a stroke of brilliance for Samsung, which immediately takes on the “street cred” of Jay-Z and adds flavor to its marketing that can certainly help it immediately rival the “it” factor of Apple.  Apple and Samsung are in a technology war, and this campaign is helping to even the playing field.



I also love to look at this move in terms of the record industry: the business behind the business of music.  For years the record business has been damaged by digital media, flailing to find a business model that will survive.  If, as implied in the spot, Jay releases this album without a physical version or through traditional record stores, then this is on par with the Radiohead move of price-your-own copy from “In Rainbows” and could signal a watershed moment for the record business.  

We’re at a stage where Bluetooth is everywhere and widely used, so all your music no longer has to be played through iTunes or any other music playing app. Your phone as a pure device could become the hub, and for many it certainly has. 

When I drive in my car, I routinely throw the Bluetooth to my phone and listen to comedy shows from YouTube just as easily as music through Spotify or iTunes.  The phone is simply a device for accessing content, and Bluetooth makes that content -- in most cases audio content, but just as easily video -- accessible everywhere. Having artists sell apps as albums with multimedia elements feels like a legitimate opportunity now, much more so than five years ago.       

The surprise in this announcement for me is that this campaign comes from Samsung and not Apple. The latter has done a lot to provide a viable model to the record business with iTunes, but it has lagged on the concept of rich experiences for artists.  If this effort is a success, it could signal another opportunity for the phone manufacturers themselves to become interesting partners for the distribution of content.  This could be a whole new paradigm for the music industry.

Samsung went big with this announcement, and my gut says everyone wins.  The fans get great music.  Samsung gets an amazing boost of cred.  Jay-Z gets a ton of buzz for an album NOT named “Blueprint” something or other.  The record industry gets an entire new avenue for releasing albums.  On all sides of the discussion, this is a positive move.

What do you think?

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