There have been a lot of snide remarks and general grumbling about U2's latest record release, Songs Of Innocence -- but most of that ire isn't directed at the music itself. People are a little less than satisfied that the band released the record for free at Apple's big product launch, sending the new tunes to everyone with an iTunes account without their consent. It was a bold move to be sure, one that won't soon be forgotten by the iPhone-slinging set.
Still, that bold move, according to many musicians and music industry experts, was not a misstep or a mistake -- or anything to be angry about, really. It was basically in-line with what musicians are facing in today's chimera-like music industry -- an attempted strike against falling music sales and market over-crowding. And it was, generally, pretty smart.
'Getting Bums In Seats'
First of all, all that free music will likely result in a whole lot of ticket sales for the band -- an area that brings in a lot of cash for a lot of artists. Top 2013 moneymaker Taylor Swift, for example, made $30 million last year on tour, which accounted for most of her earnings for that year.
For some artists, the whole "no one makes money from selling records -- it's all about touring" thing is a tired refrain, but according to media analyst Mark Mulligan, that refrain was likely a factor here. The record, he says, was more a promotional tool than a product -- and it's one that he thinks will be successful for the band.
"Album sales are declining, both because people are buying less music and because fewer people are engaging with albums," Mulligan told MTV News, pointing out that we're not currently living in the age of the album -- it's all about playlists and singles. Digital sales fell for the first time ever in 2013, with digital album sales taking a hit.
"For a band like U2, who already are way beyond their music sales peak, selling an album was always more about getting bums on seats at concerts, where they make more money than ever," he added. "Considered as a marketing expenditure this is genius. It instantly creates the most widely distributed album in history and in doing so creates equally instant headlines."
Those headlines, in turn, will -- the band hopes -- translate directly to ticket sales.
'They Torpedoed That Bad Press'
In addition to grabbing headlines (and bums), U2's decision, according to some, to release their record via a splashy Apple event, also had something to do with controlling their own narrative.
"There's so much information overload that people forget that albums are coming out because the pre-release campaign for them starts so early," music journalist Maura Johnston told MTV News. "Hitching their wagon [to Apple] -- especially for a record that's been kind of notoriously in turn-around -- the fact that they torpedoed that bad press by kind being like, 'Haha, we're releasing it at the biggest tech press event of the year' is a statement in of itself."
In short: People tend to forget that they've been waiting years for new music when it shows up -- for free -- in their music libraries.
'There's Pressure To Innovate'
And that move -- sending a brand-new album to millions and millions of accounts in a single snap -- also had another thing going for it: It was new. It was interesting. It had not been done before. Sure, a few folks on Twitter might be miffed, but out of the half a billion iTunes users who nabbed the record for free, we're guessing more than a few were also excited about the album. And more than a few, also, probably listened to it.
That decision to innovate -- to change the way music works -- is not native to U2 (obviously). A lot of bands MTV News spoke to expressed a similar desire -- and, let's face it, need -- to think different, to quote Apple.
"Whether or not you like the music, its a great idea," Dave Leondi of the band Motive told MTV News. "Napster, and the Internet in general, threw music a curve ball. Then things like iTunes came, and you could make some decent extra money. Then the streaming concept (Pandora, Spotify) completely destroyed that model. So to me it just makes sense to try new things."
"There are still plenty of ways to make money from music, we just have to keep trying new things," he said. "You can't fight the current, its a pointless uphill battle."
Josh Strawn of the band Azar Swan agrees. "Whether you're U2 or an indie band, there's pressure to do something momentarily innovative with media that will somehow make people care," he told News. "Some bands make a single record and sell it for millions [like Wu-Tang]. U2 and Jay Z partner with tech companies."
'It Sets A Precedent'
Naturally, not all bands are happy with U2's decision to put out their record for free. As with Radiohead before them, U2 is an established band, so selling their tunes for nothing is obviously much easier on their wallets than it is for most other acts.
"I feel that U2 releasing any album, good or bad, for free, sets a precedent that can't be matched by bands without a million dollars in their pocket," Brian Caesar of the band Slow Motion Picture told MTV News. "I just spent several years writing and recording a full length and invested a ton of money in something that I truly believed in. Having U2 come out with yet another formulaic record and charge nothing for it makes my charging $9 seem a bit over-priced."
What do you think, readers: Was U2's new album release a good move?