U2’s album could be a glimpse of music’s future

Published 11:39 am Saturday, September 20, 2014

Everyone has been talking about the U2-Apple agreement to give away the band’s new album through iTunes — or force-feed it into all iPhones.

While many people were angered about the intrusiveness of the act, it’s also a move that could show a glimpse into the future of the music industry.

Apple gave U2 album “Songs of Innocence” to 500 million iTunes account holders last week during the company’s iPhone 6 unveiling news conference. The company announced the album has been accessed by 33 million iTunes accounts.

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While clearly millions appreciated the move, not everyone is happy. Many people were angered that Apple just installed the album on people’s phones without permission, arguing it’s intrusive. Others have said U2’s reported $100-million payday for the agreement is rock music officially selling out.

In a sense, everyone wins: The band gets paid, and fans get a free album.

But Apple’s well-intentioned plan to gift all their customers with the album was poorly executed.

I found the album on my phone and listened to it — though I debated the morals of listening to something I hadn’t asked for. While it’s hard to complain about something free, it’s impossible to deny feeling violated. It feels a bit like someone broke into my house and slipped a record into my vinyl collection.

Despite a poorly-executed plan, the public was primed for a negative reception. Part of the problem is timing. Let’s face it: Online security hasn’t earned a positive reputation in recent months. From Target to Home Depot, it seems there’s a different hack of passwords and private information every-other week. Then Apple’s iCloud was at the center of the much-discussed hacking and publishing of several nude photos of female celebrities.

While it’s undoubtedly intrusive, such moves could become the norm.

The U2-Apple partnership is far from original. In July of 2013, Samsung offered a free download of Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta … Holy Grail” for its customers (However, to my knowledge it wasn’t forced into your phones).

But even downloads — and free downloads — are becoming outdated. Several reports state that, like other music mediums, the MP3 is also become outdated, as more people prefer to stream music online through sites like Spotify. That means that bands are going to look for more unique ways to get paid.

Some skeptics have argued that U2’s free download — like Radioheads pay-what-you-want plan for 2007’s “In Rainbows” — devalues music. But such arguments miss the point.

The moves don’t devalue music; they revalue it. In essence, it’s an early step in bands looking for new ways to get paid.

Music may be on the cusp of a sponsor-driven age where the big acts like U2 and Jay-Z continue to profit from corporate partnerships. Think of NASCAR and its rampant sponsorship. It’s conceivable to see music going the same way with sponsors all over the cover.

While great for the big guys, this could be a future that leaves fans and small acts in the lurch.