Music: When Selling It Means Selling Out


Sure, Jay-Z’s Samsung deal puts albums in fans’ hands, but the price really isn’t free

In regard to Jay-Z’s deal with Samsung to give away 1 million copies of his new album — who’s the winner here?


I know, I know, it’s part of the hiphop ethos to stick it to the man, to take him for everything he’s worth, laughing all the while, and this is all very well done. Jay-Z appears thoughtful. One can argue he maintains his credibility … Just one thing: It no longer matters whether anybody buys your album, whether you get paid, but whether people LISTEN TO IT!

So Samsung buys a million albums at five bucks apiece to give away.

Name one tune on Prince’s album. You know, the one they gave away with the newspaper, over in England. Hell, I can’t even remember its NAME!

We need a reboot in music. Everybody’s so busy scrambling for cash, declaring the old economics don’t work, that they’re sacrificing their very core.

I just don’t get it.

What is an artist anyway? Is an artist someone who makes a lot of money? Someone everybody knows the name of? Or someone whose music tests limits, makes one think, changes the culture. Will Jay-Z’s music do this? I’ve got no idea, but this campaign has got nothing to do with music and everything to do with money.

But it does get the word out. And that’s a hard thing to do today. Yes, more people know Jay-Z’s album is coming, and that’s a good thing.

But one thing we know about stunts, they work once. Radiohead could do name-your-price … once, and then the paradigm was dead.

Justin Timberlake overexposed himself to a hit, I am not sure that this is a replicable paradigm, if for no reason other than that there is only one Justin Timberlake.

So Jay-Z gives away his album via a Samsung app. How many more people are going to do this before the public tires of the game?

What ever happened to leading with the music?

Sure, there was a minor publicity campaign to get people interested in the Daft Punk album, but what truly sold it was the single “Get Lucky.” How many tracks have you heard this good since? In the whole first half of the year?

In other words, Samsung lasts, acts come and go.

What’s the end game here? Tying in with Exxon, so you get the album with 10 gallons of gas? Or one track for every Big Mac? Or a meeting with the artist if you open a Goldman Sachs account? Are we really just gonna go down the rabbit hole, selling our souls to the highest bidder, tying in with anybody who’ll pay?

Call me old-fashioned, call me a Luddite, but I like my music sans corporate endorsements. I want to believe the artist is only beholden to me. If the problem is you can’t make enough money, that the middle class is getting squeezed out, I want to band together with artists to change it, not have them shrug their shoulders and get in bed with the perpetrators of the problem.

You can blame the labels, you can blame the agents, you can blame the promoters, but the buck truly stops with the act. Only the act has the power to execute change.

And Jay-Z tying up with Samsung is not change I can believe in.

Read more Bob Lefsetz columns at

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    1. PerryMason says:

      Jay Z has no ethics or taste. For proof, look at that monster-thighed thing he married.

    2. Wow. Where do I start? I am reading this article within a garish FOOD NETWORK banner takeover…what’s next, you doing album reviews on a FOOD NETWORK show…gee that’s just not the kind of journalism I can believe in. Journos and musicians are in much the same boat these days, and the real business model is in touring, which is all about the quality of the music and grassroots social following. There has not been this kind of meritocracy in music for a long time and you want to bust on Hov for being a smart businessman? And, newsflash: Jaz-Z’s music has *already* changed the culture–a culture which you dismiss as trying to always “stick it to the man”–that’s just sloppy journalism. Further, he is already “the man” in music in terms of label ownership — but your total lack research and awareness don’t seem to stop you from getting this twisted. His co-marketing deals in the past have been groundbreaking for musicians and have opened up creative pathways within the ad side of the business. Oh, and, he is still the greatest rapper alive. Seriously, guy, I don’t get angry like this when people express their opinions, but yours is really uninformed and pretty tone deaf.

    3. Bob, I can feel your passion for music in your commentary. Having spent years of my life producing a documentary series and feature film on jazz music (Icons Among Us), I can say after developing relationships with those artists, that authenticity is a precious commodity. Fortunately we live in a time (in terms of jazz) where the field is packed with overwhelming talent and a high degree of commitment. Come out to any major festival for jazz and get in on it. If you are LA based, try the Angel City Jazz Festival in October. The bastions of creativity in music are there, if you seek them you’ll discover communities of artists who are looking for the holy grail of 10,000 dedicated fans to support their life’s work. As for selling out, DonQ Rum and Rums of Puerto Rico partnered with us to create our film series. They felt our filmmaking vision was on key for their marketing efforts. They are heros to us. The winners after global distribution of our film series/feature are the musicians, audience and the current movement. We tried to plan that from the start and recently Downbeat Magazine reminded us we made some progress. If you pickup their July issue with Kurt Rosenwinkel on the cover, you can read about how Eric Clapton discovered his talent and asked him to join his recent concert at Madison Square Garden. Sending thoughts for indulgence in great music and by all means keep writing as your voice is fully resonant!

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