The Wu-Tang effect – innovation in the entertainment industry
Few industries have experienced more disruption from the advancement in digital technology than the entertainment industry. From the moment the peer-to-peer music sharing service Napster came onto the scene in 1999 the writing was on the wall for the existing business models of the music, film and television industries.
They initially resisted the change but are now succumbing to the impact of digital innovation. But not all innovation potentially impacting this industry is purely digital.
Just recently I read about the model that USA based hip-hop band the Wu-Tang Clan are about to try out. They have decided to combat the impact arising from the ability to instantly share music brought about by digital advances by making and releasing just one copy of their new album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. What on Earth they are thinking? Let’s explore.
The story starts with the Wu-Tang Clan commissioning a one-of-a-kind engraved silver-and-nickel box by British-Moroccan artist Yahya. The box will soon encase the one and only copy of the new album the band has been creating in secret for the last two years. One of the members of the band, RZA, recently said, “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of music. We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the sceptre of an Egyptian king.”
At first sight this appears to be a monumental mistake. Even if they sell the album for a million dollars or even two this still wouldn’t match what they made from their earlier album sales. But the true genius is in what they plan to do before the album is sold. The album is going to go on a world tour, focused on around the types of organisations that normally show high profile artworks: museums and galleries. And like the exhibits that normally are the start of the show at these public buildings there will be a price to attend and listen to the ‘artwork’ – after going through a heavy security screening of course.
Once the album has finished its ‘tour’ then it will be put up for sale. Assuming the album is not leaked it is likely that youth culture focused brands would be the first in line to buy the album – which is likely fetch millions of dollars. And once it has been purchased the owner is free to do what they want with it. In other words the plan is to create a unique, exclusive and valuable music ‘property’.
There are risks to this strategy. As the album’s main producer Cilvaringz put it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.” But it is a bold and courageous experiment in inventing a new way for music to find value. As Cilvaringz said, “I know it sounds crazy, it might totally flop, and we might be completely ridiculed. But the essence and core of our ideas is to inspire creation and originality and debate, and save the music album from dying.”
What I like most about the great Wu-Tang experiment is the fact they have clearly spent time thinking about how they can reframe what music is to their customers. It is a fact that music is social and something to be shared. But it is also a source of excitement – a special experience – especially in that moment when you hear a tune that grabs you for the very first time. What Wu-Tang Clan are trying to do is create a lot of ‘first times’, while also positioning their music as a work of art. They are reengineering the music listener’s customer experience.
Will it work? I don’t know. But I applaud the band for being brave in the face of an industry confronted with dramatic change. It is encouraging to see radical new ideas being tested in the market. That’s true innovation.
Now it’s up to the rest of the entertainment industry to step outside of its old world paradigms and take on the challenge to be truly innovative.