Want to own the new album from Wu-Tang Clan? Prepare to fork over millions.
The band announced on its web site Thursday that it has pressed just one copy of its new 31-song set double set, “Once Upon A Time In Shoalin” — and it goes to the highest bidder at an auction later this year.
“(It’s) a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of music,” group member RZA told Forbes Magazine. “We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.”
In terms of art, it’s more like DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa,” another one-of-a-kind creation.
The notion of selling a single copy of a record flips the script on the entire history of popular music. Since the start of recorded sound, in the late 1800s, artists and record companies have adopted a populist business model, churning out as many recordings as possible and offering them at a low price so millions could enjoy the product. But file-sharing in the internet age laid waste to that, allowing fans to download music without paying, screwing the artists in the process.
Wu-Tang’s scheme exacts the ultimate revenge — in the process shunning the fans in favor of the band and its lone well-heeled patron.
It’s anti-democracy in action.
The handcrafted silver and nickel box that the Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ album is reportedly hidden in.
Wu’s move also rates as the most revolutionary approach to music-marketing since Radiohead created a “pay what you want” model for its “In Rainbows” album in 2007. That disc reportedly moved 1.2 million copies on the day of release alone, but the band never disclosed profits from the virtual tip jar idea.
Wu-Tang’s plan — cooked up by the album’s producer Tarik Cilvaringz — co-opts a model created hundreds of years ago in the art world, where wealthy patrons commissioned works for private collections.
“The intrinsic value of music has been reduced to zero,” explains a statement on Wu’s website. “Art is worth millions by virtue of its exclusivity.”
Shirley Halperin, music editor of the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard, says the well-heeled winner will be “someone who doesn’t just want a unique piece of art but who wants to become part of the story.”
After all, that person will be inundated with interview requests from around the world.
For now, the album itself sits in a container, hand-crafted by the British-Moroccan artist Yahya, in a secret location on the outskirts of Marrakech, Morocco. Before it’s auctioned off, the album will “tour” museums and galleries, with tickets going for $30 to $50 for a one-time listing.
The “single collector” idea could also fall apart if a media company turns out to be the winning bidder. Last summer, Samsung paid Jay-Z $5 million for the first million downloads of his latest album, which the company then offered for free to its subscribers.
The music behind the Clan’s nutty notion has been in the works for five years. It brings together all surviving members of the group, including Redman and Method Man, along with unnamed special guests. Formed in Staten Island 20 years ago, Wu-Tang has always worked by its own plan, using shifting identities for its members, and high-concepts behind its projects. Its songs also pioneered their own language and mythology. The band’s website promises the new music “encapsulates the Clan’s legendary dark funk and avant-garde sound of the ’90s.”
As uber-exclusive as the disc is, the group may be undermining itself by promising to release another album this year called “A Better Tomorrow.”
Anyone can buy that one.
BY Jim Farber