When it comes to innovative content distribution strategy, Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to mess with. The legendary hip-hop collective is made up of content distribution pioneers, releasing classic albums both together and separately to maximize visibility and influence.
And the Wu is changing the game again. After more than 20 years in the game, Wu-Tang is crafting a new album, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, and selling just a single copy; although there will be no reproductions of the album, fans will be able to listen to it in museums and galleries during a tour. The goal is to push listeners to rediscover “music as art, hoping the approach will help restore it to a place alongside great visual works.”
But this move also gives Wu-Tang an advantage over its competition in today’s streaming and subscription-based music industry: it changes the way new listeners see the group and its product, uses exclusivity to drive demand, and gives its loyal base a reason to bring its back catalog to new audiences. And that’s all before anyone hears the album.
Bringing the ruckus: a new kind of user experience
Before selling Once Upon A Time In Shaolin to a single owner, Wu-Tang plans to take the one-of-a-kind show on the road to museums and galleries, charging listeners between $30 and $50. By creating an environment in which the album is part of a larger multimedia experience, the group could influence the way hip-hop is viewed in the mainstream industry.
The group’s reach into mainstream pop culture has grown throughout the decades, with its members composing soundtracks and acting in TV shows and films. But the highbrow atmosphere of modern art has room for hip-hop; Jay-Z proved just that with his performance of “Picasso Baby,” which attracted a diverse list of visitors, lent legitimacy to the genre and brought it to new and seemingly unlikely audiences.
Protecting ya neck: an exclusive invitation to the 36 Chambers
So, how does creating an album that only one person can own a savvy content distribution strategy? Once Upon A Time In Shaolin does two things: it forces audience members to take action to listen to the album, and it encourages hardcore Wu fans to share the group’s earlier catalog with new listeners. By making music an active pastime—and offering active fans something other than a simple concert—Wu-Tang can use its most devoted fans to promote its entire body of work.
Leaking an upcoming album is now considered an effective promotion strategy, but Wu-Tang’s approach will make it all but impossible for lazy listeners to get a preview of the work. Event attendees will likely have to pass through security in order to listen to the album, and people who don’t attend will have to rely on the lucky few to tell them about the experience.
That gives true fans a reason to talk about the upcoming events on social media and blogs, creating instant earned media from brand advocates. The earned media created by those brand advocates is sure to encourage folks to listen to the Wu’s extensive catalog, which will give both new and devoted listeners a reason to find and purchase the group’s music.
The digital revolution has changed the music industry many times over in the past decade. Musicians are still finding ways to make money with their art—and they’re learning that the content they create needs the right distribution strategy in order to pay dividends. With the right staging, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin could become a hip-hop masterpiece for how it’s distributed as well as how it sounds.
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