I have been fascinated by the Magna Carta… Holy Grail experience from the announcement during the NBA finals all the way through the digital release last week via Samsung’s Galaxy platform. The evolution of Sean Carter is complete, because he truly is a “business, man” instead of just a businessman with this partnership. Between the setup, the hype and the payoff, it has been a stark example of just how quickly the music industry and the technology it utilizes has changed. Now that the latest from Mr. Carter is being made available to the general public, let’s take a look at the hits and misses of this music industry experiment. And if you’re not careful, you may learn something before it’s done!

  • The Set Up – Hova teamed up with Samsung via commercial to let the world know about Magna Carta… Holy Grail on June 16th during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Would the announcement have been earlier if the Heat had swept the Spurs? Probably, but who cares? For once, I was in the right place at the right time, having picked up a Samsung Galaxy S3 only a few months earlier.  On June 24th, the app was available on Google Play, and I downloaded it early that morning. What I thought would be a race against time didn’t end up being all that bad, as the Play store only showed about 30,000 downloads of the app by the time I got it at 6AM Mountain Time. That may have been because of…
  • The Hook – Nothing in this life comes without a cost, and that holds true for the “free” download from Samsung of MCHG (I’m done spelling it out). In order to access the important content on the app, you were forced to tweet on Twitter or post on Facebook to the world that you were doing so. Once you had done their bidding, then you were graced with the lyrics or video for that day’s song release. If that wasn’t bad enough, the permissions you gave the app to allow it to exist on your phone were even worse. Not only could it identify your call status, but it allowed tracking via GPS and modifying your storage. Granted, to download the album would make a change to the storage on your phone, but a lot of users balked at this. Killer Mike’s infamous postings to Twitter passing on free music were picked up by Billboard and went viral. Speaking of Billboard
  • The Hype – Jay-Z’s folks approached Billboard about two weeks prior to announcing the Samsung deal, inquiring about how the million copies would be reflected on the Billboard Top Albums chart. End of story? Hardly. The new Billboard, in its attempts to be relevant, inserted itself into the story instead of simply reporting on it. Rather than attempt to be nimble and roll with the rapidly changing landscape of music retail, they took a more cautious approach, and then hyped it every chance they could, including on the cover of their own magazine. While I understand that you can’t just jump into chart methodology changes, the release of MCHG proves that the paradigm for delivery content to end users is changing rapidly, and decisions like this are going to occur more and more often as competitive companies will not want to announce delivery innovations to the marketplace until they are ready to launch.
  • The Payoff – So July 4th rolls around, and I wake up, do my normal morning routine stuff, wander out to the kitchen where my phone charges and access the app. There’s an update to the app waiting (I counted five over the course of two weeks), and then the album downloads. Sweet! I play the first track (“Holy Grail” with Justin Timberlake), and I am loving it. Now…to figure out how to get the music to my iPod. Even though I am a devoted smartphone user, I still do not utilize my phone for my music. I have decided that I want my music on a separate device for some reason, and this experience doesn’t do anything to make me change my mind. The nice thing about using the app to listen to MCHG is that the lyrics come up with each track, allowing me to follow along at home (I’m not going to try that while driving for obvious reasons). Sadly, not everyone had a positive experience with the download on the 4th, as many app users discovered issues with downloading the tracks, causing an already less than perfect situation to become even less ideal. Add to that the almost instant leak of the album to the Internet, and what started off as an exclusive idea suddenly becomes a bit of a joke.
  • The Aftermath – I’ll leave the formal review of MCHG to others, but to my ear it is on the strong side of Jay-Z’s discography. It’s a mature work that straddles the lines between jet-setter, businessman, devoted husband and father. Even with 1 million in sales banked, the record is still expected to sell another 300-400K over the first week of release. Did the Samsung deal help or hurt sales? I’m going to guess there will be an impact, but when Kanye is posting his worst debut week ever while still being highly visible and viable as an artist, drops may be inevitable.
  • The Future – From a business standpoint, it’s clear that the gatekeepers (Billboard especially) need to revamp their own models to keep up with an ever-changing marketplace. You cannot make pronouncements about how the model has to change quickly without having the ability to do so yourself when the time comes. If the RIAA can make a change to acknowledge a purchase of units right away, then the leading trade magazine should be able to respond at least partially in kind. They create unique charts for every sub-genre known to man, so why not publish a parallel chart that allows for these types of deals to captured without tainting their pristine main chart? Purchasing or at least downloading an app and engaging in activities on said app are actions by a consumer that should be monetized and allow for receiving content in return as a viable (/endrant) For artists, innovation is now a reality rather than a luxury or an option. There are so many avenues available now to promote their work, so those who innovate and think outside the box are going to be rewarded for it with devoted audiences in unexpected places. MCHG may not be a monumental release, but it has set off a series of tremors that will leave the landscape unrecognizable in a matter of years if others follow in its tracks.
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