Rap group Wu-Tang Clan made headlines for the way that it will release its next album, “The Wu—Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.” As of press time, the group planned to take the album on a “listening tour,” then auction off the only copy of the album. However, concerned consumers can relax, industry watchers say: The group’s experiment has little chance of becoming a common method of selling albums.
The public will get a chance to listen to the double album only in carefully regulated sessions and possibly through headphones to reduce the chance of the music being copied. After the tour, the highest bidder for the album will decide what to do with it.
The distribution experiment has “turned the commerce of the record into a piece of conceptual art,” says Eliot Van Buskirk, who is the editor of Evolver.fm, which is a blog that focuses on music and technology. However, he and other industry watchers believe that other musicians likely won’t follow. Greg Kot, who is a music critic at Chicago Tribune, flat out calls the album a “gimmick.”
Other musicians experimented with unusual music releases in the past 10 years, but for the most part, those tended to favor consumers. For example, Radiohead released a pay-what-you-want album in 2007, “In Rainbows,” and Nine Inch Nails’ 2008 album “The Slip” was free to download.
Kot says that consumers have little reason to worry. Only artists who have a “hard core” following would stand to gain from auctioning an album, he says.