Nathan S. 's avatar

What the Jay-Z “Magna Carta” x Samsung Deal Means for the Future of Music

Posted by Nathan S. on 06/17/13 | Filed under Top Stories, Opinion, Jay-Z, Sales

What, you were watching the NBA finals last night to see some basketball? Guess again. While the Spurs and Heat were continuing one of the most erratic NBA Finals in history, Jay-Z took to the airwaves to not only announce that he has a new album dropping July 4, ridiculously titled "Magna Carta Holy Grail", but that he's doing it in partnership with Samsung. The first million people to download a special app via the Samsung Galaxy will be able to stream (but as I understand it not download) the album 72 hours in advance.

So yeah, I'm not quite sure how to tell you this, but it's kind of a big deal. Such a big deal in fact that I'm going to bang out over 1,000 words - this is exactly why illiterate people hate me. So in no particular order, here's a stream of consciousness expounding on the "Magna Carta".

* "Magna Carta"? I could see that as an album title, I get the reference. "Holy Grail"? Now you're starting to get a little crazy, but fine. But "Magna Carta Holy Grail"? Now you're just being ridiculous. That's like if Kanye has titled his shit "Yeezus, Son of God (Yeshua)".

* From Jay-Z' point of view, this shit is brilliant. Exact details on the deal are still emerging, but for now it looks like Samsung pre-bought one million copies at $5 a piece; that's $5 million guaranteed before the album even drops. Ten years ago Hova would have probably laughed off a similar deal; "I can easily sell 1 million albums at full price on my own, thanks though." But in 2013? When 50K first week sales can be enough to earn you a number one album? One million guaranteed is as good as you could possibly hope for. Hova for the win.

* Poor RIAA, they're never going to catch up to the time. Just when they got their shit together enough to start counting streams, along comes Jay and Samsung. I'd have to imagine SoundScan will end up ignoring all of the Samsung "sales", it's not an accurate reflection of consumer demand to buy an album, which is what SoundScan is supposed to represent, but I guarantee they're having meetings today scrambling to figure it out. The day when "albums sales" numbers will be essentially meaningless are coming even faster than I anticipated.

UPDATE: SoundScan Rep Says Samsung Buying Up Jay-Z’s ‘Magna Carta’ Doesn’t Make It Platinum #oldrules

* On that note, as someone who thinks about music contracts they way sportwriters think about athlete contracts, I'd love to know how this deal will affect album splits. Do these $5 sales count "album sales"? Is the money split between Jay and the label (Universal) at the same percentages as if it sold on iTunes? How will this affect Memphis Bleek's allowance ? So many questions...

* Let's take a moment to acknowledge just how groundbreaking this is. For all that the internet has revolutionized things, for the last six or so decades the music industry has by and large still operated in the same way: Artist makes music >>> label distributes it to music retailers >>> consumers purchase it from retailers. By introducing a middle man like Samsung on a massive scale, Hova has fundamentally changed that flow. Those who cop "MCHG" via the Samsung app aren't really "buying" the album, it's more like a trade: "Fine Samsung, give me the album and I'll let you install this app on my phone that I might not have wanted otherwise." I'm still trying to wrap my head around all the implications of that.

* This is now the most pressure an album has ever been under to not leak. If this shit comes out early, we're not just talking "how will this shift a few thousand copies of album sales?" Since the success of the Samsung deal depends entirely on exclusivity (only Samsung users will be able to hear it early), a leak means a failed multi-million dollar deal with a billion dollar company. They're going to be guarding this album like it's a government secret. If this shit leaks, then no artist can ever realistically hope to stop their album from leaking.

I want to shift gears here for a minute. Let's pause for a quick commercial break to let me catch my breath:

* Really though...fuck Jay-Z. I'm fascinated by what this deal means for him and for hip-hop, but despite my best efforts I'm still not in the Illuminati, which means I'm a fan. And fans top priority shouldn't be Hova's bank account, it should be the music. How will this affect how the music sounds, and how it affect how I get the music?

* First up, a preview commercial is a long fucking way from an album, but the snippets of these beats sound insane: I would slap my grandmother to hear the full instrumental of that first joint. And for the record, it's crazy to see that a studio session between Jay, Timbaland, Pharrell, Rick Rubin and Swizz Beatz looks exactly like I'd picture: Timbo and Pharrell throwing out ideas, Rick Rubin taking a nap on the couch with his shoes off, and Swizz not contributing anything but some head nods.

* Given how groundbreaking this deal is, my instinct is to say THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING. And someday we might look back at it as a true turning point, but for now, the more I think about it, not really. Jay-Z is probably the only person in the world with the combination of popularity and power to pull something like this off. Major labels just won't let your average artist do something like this, and very few indie artists have the clout and public interest to make it happen. Indie artists might start doing scaled down versions, but honestly, if the general public is given the choice between downloading an annoying app or just waiting a couple days to hear an album, most will just wait.

* On the other hand, this new music for submitting to corporate fuckery thing is a little frightening. Are we looking at a future where I'll have to test drive a Chrysler to hear the new Eminem album? Wear a Gucci leather kilt to hear Kanye's new shit? Buy two chains to hear 2 Chainz? It's not like music was in the hands of people who only cared about making great art before (*cough cough*) but if American history has taught us anything, it's that corporations don't do a particularly good job of not fucking shit up.

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See Also:  General Awesomeness: Jay-Z Becomes World’s First Time Traveling Rapper
See Also:  Breaking Jay-Z’ “$100 Bill” Flow Down All the Way to Soulja Boy

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