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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?

SAMSUNG!

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 Lefsetz.com.

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