Someone already offered Wu-Tang Clan $5 million for their single-copy album
Wu-Tang Clan melted the internet last week when they announced plans for a second new album this year, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” that won’t release at all but will rather be limited to one single copy, encased in silver, that will tour museums or galleries and charge listeners to hear it through headphones, one listener at a time.
More than a simple novelty act, the move politicizes the state of the music industry and the role art plays in modern-day commerce. Donald Glover recently explained in a radio interview that “music is like information—it should be free.” Wu-Tang stands on the other side of a philosophical divide alongside artists like Thom Yorke, David Byrne and others who think the only way to save music (and musicians) is to fight back against tide of music becoming free.
Wu-Tang’s plan for “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” gets at the crux of the matter: Supply and demand. The cost of music (free) isn’t a reflection of the demand or the value we place on great music—it’s a reflection of the supply. The digitization of music meant the supply could proliferate ad infinitum and services like Spotify render virtually the entire world’s supply of music free for listeners, provided they’re willing to sit through a few ads.
By limiting the supply of their album to just one copy, Wu-Tang is able to show the true demand for their music. And as it turns out, that demand is extremely high.
“Offers came in at $2 million, somebody offered $5 million yesterday,” RZA told Billboard Tuesday. “So far, $5 million is the biggest number.”
But the $5 million number is more symbolic than anything else—whichever rich benefactor willingly throws down millions to be the sole “owner” of the record, it will probably get digitized and leaked to the internet in infinite supply anyway, rendering the price everyone else will pay for it to $0.
But the larger, more refreshing point is that by reducing the supply Wu-Tang Clan has found an inventive new way of reaffirming how much passion is out there for cherished new releases by groups like Wu-Tang.
“I don’t know how to measure it, but it gives us an idea that what we’re doing is being understood by some,” RZA says. “And there are some good peers of mine also, who are very high-ranking in the film business and the music business, sending me a lot of good will. It’s been real positive.”