What U2's Apple Album Launch Means For U2
Yesterday, I wrote about Apple AAPL +0.29% and U2′s decision to team up for the launch of Songs of Innocence and what it means for Apple. As promised, today I’ll explore the other side: what it means for U2.
For the Irish rockers, there’s little left to accomplish. Already hailed as one of the top pop-rock acts of all-time, U2′s financial success has matched its outsized popularity. The group has sold tens of millions of records, and its last tour grossed $736 million, the highest total in history.
That sort of success has given the band an immense platform for its philanthropic agenda and often placed its members in the most esteemed company–witness Bono serenading Warren Buffett with a customized ode.
“The question is now, ‘How do we get it to as many people as possible?’” Bono said earlier this week. “Because that’s what our band is all about.”
Enter Apple and its massive digital music distribution platform–and its equally vast resources. The California tech behemoth reportedly gave U2 a huge blanket royalty fee and a marketing campaign worth as much as $100 million in exchange for the right to give away Songs of Innocence to all its customers. Here are a few of the implications of that deal for U2:
Bono and friends have accepted the new reality of the music business.
The digital download is much farther down the path toward the fate of the CD and the cassette tape than most legacy acts care to admit. Streaming has already won, and recorded music hasn’t been the main income stream for the industry’s top earners in about a decade. Instead of stubbornly clinging to the old new model by charging a “discounted” $4 or $5 for its new album, U2 had the foresight to make Songs of Innocence available for free–while still getting paid–making the iTunes download the same price as a Beats Music stream. The LP will debut in stores and other streaming services in October. In the meantime…
U2 appears to have just launched the most widely-distributed album, ever.
Apple’s iTunes has more than 500 million customers–about five times the Super Bowl’s stated audience–and now they’ve all got U2′s latest effort, which Tim Cook called “the largest album release of all time.” Sure, tens of millions of people might not bother to listen, maybe hundreds of millions. But if even one-fifth of them listen, and half of them enjoy it, and half of them would like to see the songs performed live, it means that…
Another massive tour is around the corner for U2.
It’s been more than three years since U2′s record-breaking 360 Tour wrapped up in Canada. That’s an ample respite for a band accustomed to hitting the road with regularity, and one with an evident hunger to maintain relevance. It probably would have made sense to announce a new tour at the same time as the new album in order to fully capitalize on the buzz, but even if that happens a few months from now, U2 will have accomplished its goal of getting Songs of Innocence to as many ears as possible. It’s up to the music to grab them–and isn’t that the point anyway?
Besides, if U2 doesn’t announce a tour in the next few months, there’s always the possibility of a return to the Super Bowl–a popular jumping-off point for superstar acts. Even if the NFL doesn’t back down on its demand for acts to pay to play the halftime show, it seems likely Apple’s blanket fee would be more than enough to cover those costs.
That could also be a great place to debut the band’s next album, which Bono has already teased.
“If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience,” he wrote. “It should be ready soon enough.”
For more on the business of music, check out my book Michael Jackson, Inc and my Jay Z biography Empire State of Mind. You can follow me on Twitter & Facebook.