Somehow in my reading the Huffington Post, I missed a post by Jermain Dupri on the concept of albums, singles, and iTunes. After reading this article, I have come to conclusion that Jermaine Dupri is an idiot and should be stripped of any position he might hold in the entertainment business. Lets look at some of what he has to say…To start with Mr. Dupri brings up the fact that Jay-Z decided not to sell his latest (post-retirement) effort, American Gangster, on iTunes because iTunes requires the ability to break an album in to individual purchasable tracks.
“Some people find it hard to understand my man Jay-Z’s decision not to let iTunes break up his American Gangster album and sell it as single tracks. They say he’s fighting the future and losing out on sales from fans who only want to download singles. But I say it was a stand somebody had to take in the music industry. Jay is speaking for all of us.”
I agree with Jay-Z’s decision to sell an album as he would like. It is his work of art, his artistic output, his product and he can decide how it is or is not sold. That is his right as a musician and artist. No argument there. In fact other artists have not allowed their music to be sold on iTunes. Also, other Jay-Z albums are still available on iTunes, just not his concept album. The idea of a concept album is that all the tracks work together to tell some kind of story. Pink Floyd’s The Wall or The Who’s Tommy come to mind. Imagine some of the songs from those albums being played out of context. It just doesn’t work. So I am completely okay with Jay-Z not wanting to sell American Gangster on iTunes.
Then Jermaine starts grasping at straws with comments like:
“If anything, WE made iTunes. It’s like how we spent $300,000 to $500,000 each on our videos and MTV and BET went ahead and built an entire video television industry off of our backs. We can’t let that happen again. These businesses exist solely because of our music. So if we as artists, producers and label executives stand up, those guys at Apple can either cooperate, or have nothing for people to buy and download on their iPods.”
So let me get this straight? The musicians made iTunes what is? Well to some degree that’s true. They allow their songs to be sold in the iTunes Store. From that point, the above statement is true. However, you did not turn iTunes into the largest retailer of digital music, Apple did that with the idea of an eco-system based around the iPod. They also worked with artists to come up with custom playlists, offer special in studio performances, and find new ways to market a product that was failing in every way possible else where. And yes, MTV & BET made entire businesses based on the music industry’s product. However, it eventually came to a point where the music industry needed those guys to sell records. If you did not have a video on MTV, your music did not exist to a large chunk of the population. However, the idea that people would stop buying/using iPods without an iTunes store is where you begin to prove your ignorance Mr. Dupri. There were iPods without the iTunes Store and there have been countless studies that prove the amount of iTunes Store purchased music on iPods is incredibly low. I myself only have a small amount of iTunes purchased music on my iPod and I have 40 gigs of music on my iPod. The reason iPods are popular is because grandmothers can use and understand them. They are simple to use, easy to navigate, and very good at doing what they were designed to do. You will be shocked to discover that iPods will continue to prosper without the iTunes Store.
“These days people just assume that you need a number one single to have a number one album. But look at what’s really happening. Soulja Boy sold almost 4 million singles and only 300,000 albums! We let the consumer have too much of what they want, too soon, and we hurt ourselves. Back in the day when people were excited about a record coming out we’d put out a single to get the ball going and if we sold a lot of singles that was an indication we’d sell a lot of albums. But we’d cut the single off a few weeks before the album came out to get people to wait and let the excitement build. When I put out Kris Kross we did that. We sold two million singles, then we stopped. Eventually we sold eight million albums!”
I am willing to bet that the other songs on Soulja Boy’s album sucked and that is why his albums sales faltered. A good album gets bought, period. Want proof? People are still buying Michael Jackson’s Thriller even after all the stuff in the news. People still buy Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Why? Because it is a good album, and it is a double album so it cost more by default. People still make good albums. Anberlin’s Cities is a good album, hence the reason I own a copy, and so do several of my friends and we like listening to the album on our Mp3 players. I own over 600 compact discs and I buy more every year. But I am more selective in what I buy now. I am older, I have a family, a house payment, a step-daughter who needs school clothes. So I am not going to just run out and purchase a 12 dollar album when it only has 3 good songs on it. I will go online to Amazon’s Mp3 store and buy the 3 songs I like. If an album is good, I will buy it. If the album is not good, I am just going to buy the tracks I like. You want to continue to push people into buying sub-par products and then complain when they go elsewhere, that’s like banging your head into the wall and then complaining about a headache. I remember when you could not walk into someone’s house without seeing a Sony stereo. Back in the eighties and early nineties they had the best stereo products, but as their quality started to waiver so did their stereo sales. If you release an inferior product, people will purchase something else. It works with stereos and with albums. If you want people to purchase albums, release albums where all the songs are at the very least good, not mediocre/filler. Also, I owned Kriss Kross’ first album. Aside from the singles that got played on the radio, it was all sub-par. It is the record industry’s fault that album sales stink. It has nothing to do with the ability to download just the singles.
“Every record is in some way a concept album. The whole always strives to be better than its parts. I dedicate a whole chapter in my book to this process. Every thing I produce is a product of me spending time with the artist and getting to know where his or her head is at. Usher’s Confessions album was all about where he was at that point in his life. Same with Mariah’s Emancipation of Mimi.”
Umm, no. Every record is not in some way a concept album. A concept album is something that tells a story from beginning to end. I’ll give you that a album is a representation of where an artist is in their life and what they want to say at that moment, heck look at Bruce Springsteen he’s done it more than just about anyone else. However, that does not mean that Devils & Dust is a concept album. It is a fluid album where the songs work well together but they do not tell a story like American Gangster, The Wall, or even Dulcinea. Most good albums have a consistent flow to them. The songs work well where they are placed and with the songs that precede and follow. Take an album like Cities by Anberlin or Heavier Things by John Mayer, also Pushmonkey’s self-titled album on Arista. These albums flow well. They have an overall consistent sound and all the songs are good, no filler to be found. I also own all three of them (Pushmonkey has been purchased multiple times as gifts for others). Any good album is cohesive, it is held together by the songs on it.
“I’m not saying that music can’t ever be sold as singles. Not every album is equal and consumers are always going to try to cherry pick the songs they like. But that doesn’t mean the people who investing their time, money and sweat into a record shouldn’t have the right to decide how it’s gonna be sold, whether that’s in single units or as a whole.”
Agreed. An artist should have every right to decide how their craft is sold. I would never argue otherwise. Anyone that is upset with Jay-Z for pulling his record off of iTunes because he wants it sold as a whole album does not respect the artist. Period.
I think that you, Mr. Jermaine Dupri, need to take a long hard look at where you stand in the scheme of your changing industry. The music industry has been in trouble for a long time and this is why several artists have broken off from the major label system and continue to be successful. Prince still sells millions of records when he releases one and you know what, he does get to do it on his terms. But even he understands the changes that have come with the digital age. Maybe you should try and have a sit down with that man and let him talk some sense into you. You and your mindset are what is wrong with the music industry. Forcing people into buying sub-par products. Release quality, consistently and people will go back to wanting to buy whole albums. Not every song has to be a single but every song needs to be good. Your industry needs to nurture new artists, not drop them the second they don’t make the sales figures you need them to. Your industry needs to embrace new technology instead of fighting it. Your industry needs to work to make the customer happy, because they are who buy your product. Your industry needs to have the mindset of quality over quantity. Your industry needs to quite frankly, get a clue.