Wrong Thurr: How Dupri, Jay-Z, and Universal Misunderstand iTunes | iLounge Article

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Wrong Thurr: How Dupri, Jay-Z, and Universal Misunderstand iTunes

In today’s music industry, few names are as important as those of Jermaine Dupri, the well-known rapper, producer and president of Island Urban Records, and Shawn Carter, also known as Jay-Z, the hugely successful recording artist who also serves as the president of Def Jam Recordings and Roc-A-Fella Records. Success aside, both men have something in common: they both work for Universal Music Group, whose president, Doug Morris, has been waging a public, nasty campaign against Apple’s iTunes Store.

Until recently, Dupri and Jay-Z have been quietly enjoying all the cash that iTunes has been funneling to their labels, but this month, both artists became soldiers in Morris’s battle against iTunes, publicly attacking the Store’s policy of offering 99-cent singles in addition to whole album purchases. Carter began by unexpectedly yanking his new movie-inspired album American Gangster from iTunes well after pre-orders had been piling up, stating that, “As movies are not sold scene by scene, this collection will not be sold as individual singles.” Then Dupri followed Carter’s lead, writing in a blog post that Apple should allow artists to choose whether to sell whole albums or singles and albums.

We’re not opposed to the concept of giving artists choice, but consumer choice is important, too, and that’s an important point that Universal’s executives still just don’t seem to understand. There are lots of stores selling music these days: online and bricks-and-mortar stores with CDs and DVDs, and online stores with digital downloads. Some offer only a handful of full albums. Some stock singles. And some, like Apple’s iTunes Store, sell both full albums and singles. Consumers buy from all three types of stores, and vote with their pocketbooks as to what they prefer. Should an artist or recording executive really be attacking a store if the way it does business has proved to be increasingly popular?

What inspired this editorial was a set of comments from Dupri, who didn’t just attack the iTunes Store, but went further, attacking consumers, too—clear evidence that there are still out-of-touch record executives left in this increasingly digital age. There are plenty of choice quotes that we could highlight, but none was more offensive than this description of how to manipulate consumers to spur album sales:

“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! Did consumers complain? Maybe so. But at what point does any business care when a consumer complains about the money?”

Thankfully, there’s a simple answer for Mr. Dupri: the point at which a business should care about consumers is “always.” They are your lifeblood. They are the only reason you make money. And you should be especially sensitive to their complaints at the point at which your business is losing traction, declining in revenues, and succumbing to piracy. Thanks to artists like Mr. Dupri’s Kris Kross, which released albums with two popular songs and a bunch of tracks no one cared about before disappearing from the industry, that’s exactly where Universal Music Group was before iTunes, and where it will be again if it continues the practices that led to iTunes’ astounding popularity.

Dupri’s rant, like Jay-Z’s decision to pull American Gangster from iTunes, is premised on the inaccurate suggestion that record companies can still force someone to pay $10-15 for a collection of content that only holds $1-3 of value to them. Even more foolishly, it states specifically that companies can offer a $1 song for a brief period of time, then yank it to encourage people to spend $10-15 to buy the same song again with the rest of an album.

This goes without saying, but in today’s world, if a company tries to “cut the single off,” all it will accomplish is boosting illegal downloads of the track. Consumers today demand instant access to the media they want, so if companies decide not to let them have it legally, they will find another way to get it. Or they simply won’t listen at all. iTunes, like the sale of singles on albums, cassettes, or CDs, enables consumers to pay artists a fair amount for the tracks they like, rather than paying nothing for an album where the chaff grossly outweighs the wheat. And unlike any old fashioned record store, it incentivizes full album sales by offering credits for previously downloaded tracks from an album, rather than forcing consumers to buy the same song twice.

Though Dupri and Jay-Z have suggested that full album sales are important to an artist’s mission of delivering a complete body of work at the same time, it’s obvious that this really is about squeezing more money out of consumers, using guilt or any other rationalization that’s convenient. Another choice quote from Dupri is this one:

“Why do people not care how we - the people who make music - eat?”

Let’s be fair here. We’ve seen MTV Cribs—we know what your house looks like. Please don’t tell us that you need to sell full albums in order to “eat;” if so, you’ve either been an incredibly unlucky investor, or you burn more cash in a week than most people could in 10 lifetimes. You’re one of the ten richest people in hip-hop, with an estimated net worth of $60 million. So let’s leave you out of any discussion concerning artists that actually rely on album sales to survive—of course, that’s if you actually believe that the artists see any large portion of the money from album sales, which they don’t.

Also enjoyable was Dupri’s description of Apple’s downfall, should the labels decide to pull their music from the iTunes Store:

“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.

Apple thinks that’s never gonna happen. They think that we as the record industry will never stick together. But Universal sells one out of every three records. All it’ll take is for Warner Music to say, ‘You know what, I’m with you,’ for us to shut ‘em down. No more iPods! They won’t have nothin’ to play on their players!”

The statement is both generally and specifically absolutely laughable. Statistics show that the average iPod contains only a handful of songs purchased from the iTunes Store, which makes it pretty clear that the success of the iPod doesn’t depend on the Store — it’s a component of the iPod ecosystem, yes, but hardly the focus. Again, the only thing shutting down the iTunes Store is going to achieve is driving more consumers to the world of BitTorrent and illegal downloads. Of course, iPods play more than what’s available on the Store. And yes, MTV and BET built networks on the backs of musicians, but so did radio, and satellite radio after that, and without the ability to flood those entertainment channels with your music, you’d be selling way fewer records. How would you have gotten your $300,000 to $500,000 videos out to your potential fans without MTV, BET, iTunes and others? Don’t blame Apple — they were hardly the first to profit from connecting fans with artists, and they will most certainly not be the last.

iLounge’s editors have a lot of respect for Jermaine Dupri and Jay-Z as recording artists. Dupri’s history of famous tracks speaks for itself, and his Chingy collaboration song Right Thurr was featured on iLounge’s Backstage page as one of our editors’ favorite songs. Jay-Z’s albums, including American Gangster, have repeatedly been mentioned on Backstage, featured in our photographs, and enjoyed by our editors as well. But as executives, these guys are on the wrong side of history. Trying to use guilt and other tricks to make more money off of music is a losing strategy, and ignorant of the reality that consumers have other options, both with respect to listening to their music, and ignoring it in favor of other artists and labels.

The days of music industry gimmicks are over. In our view, artists should be glad when people think their work is worth paying for—as an anthology, or in pieces—and the moguls that promote them should be open-minded to the reality that the business has changed from buffet to a la carte pricing. If JD and Jay-Z really have a problem with selling singles, fine, don’t sell them. It’s perfectly fair for an artist to decide how his/her work is distributed, but don’t blame the consumer for making it clear that this is not the way he or she wants to enjoy your work, or iTunes for catering to those consumers rather than ignoring them.

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Comments

1

Outstanding write up Charles. Damn good and right on the mark. Jermaine is a pint sized one line “so so def” ##### that simply does not get it. Maybe he has never heard of Limewire and P2P networks. Let him pull his catalog. Limewire will be buzzing the very second he does. What an idiot.

—-> End rant <—- smile

Posted by Don Trammell on November 28, 2007 at 1:56 PM (PDT)

2

Mr. Starrett, your commentary is extremely salient and on point, and I applaud you for it.

I continue to be astonished, for the wrong reasons, at the bravado of these execs who insist that they are hemorrhaging money. There’s a reason it’s called the entertainment “industry”—product is pushed, and across so many media that it makes the vinyl-or-cassette choice of the 1980s seem downright paleolithic. Maybe you’re not selling as many tangible plastic discs, Jermaine, but that also keeps your production costs down and allows you to send megabytes over broadband to people’s computers and iPods.

Even more ridiculous is the fact that they completely discount the convenience factor. When I download a song or two directly to my iPhone, from the privacy of my home, that’s a couple of bucks I spent that I didn’t have to spend on gasoline for the drive to a retail store. These guys are amazingly unable to see the forest for the trees, and this myopia is even more troubling when it results in them lashing out at the consumer that keeps them blinged out and able to swill Kristal like it’s tap water.

Funny how Dupri and Jay-Z are spearheading this little resistance. I guess they really didn’t mean it when they collaborated on “Money Ain’t A Thang” a few years ago, huh?

Posted by Flippy Hambone on November 28, 2007 at 2:18 PM (PDT)

3

As a fan of Mr. Dupri’s work I will be sorry to see him leave iTunes. I’ve been a music fan for years, and have lived through collecting albums and singles. To FINALLY be liberated from buying albums where I only like one or two tracks and spend eight to ten dollars for is worth it’s weight in gold to me. No more buying an album full of junk with only one or two pieces of gold.

I have well over 400 purchased tracks in my iTunes library, and if not for iTunes I wouldn’t even have HALF that many. Apple got it right. Consumers want choice. And we are willing to pay (or stop paying) to get it. At least I know I am.

Posted by Tenchi211 in California on November 28, 2007 at 2:56 PM (PDT)

4

I can’t speak on JD, but Jay-Z is DEFINATELY NOT in it for the money. In fact, from what I have read, you CLEARLY are the one focusing on money. What Jay-Z wanted to accomplish with American Gangster is the creation of a CLASSIC ALBUM or a HISTORICAL body of work. His album was a “concept album” and if each song was sold for 99 cents it would defeat his purpose for even creating it in the first place. Jay-Z is worth over 500 million dallars. He is the richest rapper to ever live and one of the richest entertainers PERIOD. CHECK FORBES. He makes more money crossing the street than he makes of album sales, ESPECIALY in recent years. He’s not concerned in the least in the number of album sales. He just wants the sales of his album to be genuine and he is trying to preserve ARTISTRY, a word that stiff industry businessmen like you wouldn’t know if it smacked you in the face!!!! Imagine if Micheal Jackson was stripped of the opporotunity to sell the classic album “Thriller” as a body of work at the time of its release. That would have changed HISTORY. All Jay-Z is trying to do is make more history before the art of making a classic is dead completely!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by jerz on November 28, 2007 at 3:19 PM (PDT)

5

Oh and P.S. the fact that you named this article “wrong thurr” in reference to the talentless rapper chingy who hs no business being mentioned in the same breath as Hip-Hop legend Jay-Z or even JD, tells me you know nothing about hip-hop or music in general.

Posted by jerz on November 28, 2007 at 3:29 PM (PDT)

6

Jerz: As noted in the editorial, Jermaine Dupri rapped on the outstanding remix of Right Thurr by Chingy, who is a Universal artist. Try reading the article or doing a little research before posting your next comment.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 28, 2007 at 3:45 PM (PDT)

7

Perfectly written.

smile

Posted by jeremyjk1221 on November 28, 2007 at 4:16 PM (PDT)

8

I fully support the artists right to sell only complete albums, but if they do that, they gotta give us albums that are “all killer, and no filler”.

Posted by Galley in Greenville, SC on November 28, 2007 at 5:28 PM (PDT)

9

Great editorial!

What I don’t understand is that Apple already sells albums in a variety of ways.  Some albums all all the songs to be purchased individually while others restrict some of the tracks or all of the tracks.  If Jay-Z wanted to, he and his label could have made the entire American Gangster album available for sale as Album Only.  So what’s their problem?

So in regards to jerz’s comments, I’ll repeat… Jay-Z and the label could easily make their “concept” album available for purchase as Album Only.  Anyone who has used the iTunes store would know this already.

Posted by DodoFett97 on November 28, 2007 at 6:11 PM (PDT)

10

it’s confirmed. these music guys are the most stupid ones on Earth.

do they actually believe that people would stop buying ipods if they can’t buy songs online? what are they thinking? how come they are so succesful in business and for some reason they are so sure to believe that if they pulled their songs from itunes, the ipod wouldn’t exist.

did nobody tell them that itunes was created as a legal alternative to the p2p “problem”?

if people who have ipods can’t get music or videos legally, be sure they are going to get it at somwhere else. and guess what, you, music guys, will lose even more

Posted by seo on November 28, 2007 at 7:14 PM (PDT)

11

I think it’s really odd that Jay-Z is simultaneously ripping on the iPod and posting comments on iLounge under the pseudonym “jerz”. I mean, you’d think he’d at least have a PR firm doing that sort of stuff for him. Oh well.

Posted by urbanslaughter on November 28, 2007 at 10:44 PM (PDT)

12

By the way Jay-Z . . . I mean, “jerz”, when you say that making Thriller available as a series of singles would have changed History, do you mean the fine piece of work he released in 1995? Because I’m not sure that would be such a bad change. Regardless, it’s “definItely”.

Posted by urbanslaughter on November 28, 2007 at 10:50 PM (PDT)

13

First, I really enjoyed this piece.  I haden’t read the comments from Dupri, and when I got to the first quote from him in the story, I had to re-read it 3-4 times.  Comments like that really make me feel like UMG doesn’t want customers.  At least they don’t want me - the offense in Dupri’s comments is unbelievable.  I feel bad for Apple and Steve Jobs for having to deal with such an ungrateful group of people.

As for the selling of albums as full albums, I have to disagree with anyone that says it has anything to do other than with money.  Heck, I could go buy the CD, rip the one song I want, and then thrown the CD away.  Are you going to come to my house and force me to listen to the entire thing?  If people want the experience of the full album, then great.  But if people are only interesting in a track, or two, or three, then I don’t really see what the problem is.  Other than the fact that people aren’t blowing money on crummy third-rate filler tracks.

Posted by bd adams on November 29, 2007 at 12:30 AM (PDT)

14

Someone should buy JD a McDonald’s gift card so he has something to eat.

Posted by Concerned Consumer on November 29, 2007 at 8:27 AM (PDT)

15

dodofett: There isn’t a single “full” album on iTunes that you must purchase the entire collection in one click. iTunes is against this in general. They make a compromise with labels to make some tracks “album only” but have yet to allow a set of songs (other than a few single collections) as album only. iTunes has yet to sway on that one, so he pulled the album.

Posted by studogvetmed in Loveland, CO on November 29, 2007 at 10:20 AM (PDT)

16

Well written article!!!  I am totally dumbfounded to the comments of one individual who is where he is due to his loyal fans…what a smack in the face. 

I personally do not listen to that genre of music but if someone from my genre did this then I would boycott that artist and all their music.  To an extent, I did when the Dixie Chicks crossed the line but that is another story we all know so well.

I personally would buy more full albums and do when the songs deem it…such as Greatest Hits/Best Of albums.  When an album only has one or two good to excellent songs then that is when I will go to iTunes and buy the single. 

To be insulting and still get a point across is totally redicoulous and by pulling what could have been a great album in which I feel most would have purchased the whole album anyway and the pre-sale was probably bearing that out.  This goes along with the Pink Floyd album “Hole in the Wall”  the only proper way to listen to it is the whole album.

JD and Jay-Z…You two need to wake up and apologize to your fans.  We are a lot smarter then you have insulted us for and it really could have a detramental outcome on your future fan base. 

We ask that the entertainers, entertain and let the politicians and beauacrats be the idiots of society…so do what you do best and entertain!

Posted by SFC @rcher on November 29, 2007 at 1:51 PM (PDT)

17

studogvetmed: a lot of motion picture sound tracks are like this, “Stranger than fiction” being one of them

Posted by auburnguy in ga on November 29, 2007 at 4:11 PM (PDT)

18

PLEEEEEEASE!!!!!  It is all about the money, and if you don’t think so, go and buy an entire CD for just 1 or 2 tracks. Look, let’s face it, Universal is fooling itself and is totally desperate at the point in the game. They and other music execs are afraid that Apple is going to become the Microsoft of the online music world, although they desperately wanted someone to get into this business. These retards had plenty of opportunity years ago to do this themselves; they could have created an online store like the airlines backed Orbitz, but what did they do, they continued to peddle pricey CD’s. Jermaine Dupree and Jay-Z are only hurting themselves and I would be interested in seeing how many sales Jay-Z has on this new album.  Artists are getting smarter by dumping labels and going direct, and eventually these guys will wise up and do the same.

Posted by TouchthePod on November 29, 2007 at 11:47 PM (PDT)

19

studogvetmed,

As auburnguy stated, there are plenty of albums that are Album Only.  I just looked and you can’t buy any of the tracks from the “Mr. and Mrs. Smith soundtrack” a la carte.  There are also a ton of albums that will only allow you to buy maybe 2 tracks out of the 13 on the album.  Fred Clause is an example of this.

I assume individual artists don’t do this because they realize that this would backfire and anger the consumer.

Posted by DodoFett97 on November 30, 2007 at 5:39 PM (PDT)

20

While we’re at it, maybe all of us should think about all the artists who wrote the original songs that Dupri, Jay-Z, and the majority of artists on Universal “sampled” from to make their hit songs.  Do those artists get any say in how you market your albums with their material on it?  Maybe we should just invest in those original recordings & bypass the rapping middleman.

At any rate, this is yet another crystal example of why record companies don’t deserve your money.  Support your favorite artists by seeing them on tour & buying their merchandise there.

Posted by Fakuyu on December 1, 2007 at 1:16 PM (PDT)

21

Here’s one argument against this whole thing:  If you make an album that only has 1 to 2 tracks that are good and the rest filler, most of your bought CDs are going to end up being sold on the internet or to used CD stores.  When they get resold, the record company gets NOTHING because it’s still the same CD.

You guys mention Kris Kross, but like most people have said here, where are they now?  Most of these “one-hit wonders” are only around for a couple of CDs, maybe 3.

Bands like Led Zepplin, Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Iron Maiden, etc. have been around for decades and most of their albums have at least 2/3 of it worth listening to.  Their albums are all for sale on iTunes.

Let’s face it:  The American Gangster soundtrack won’t probably be the Saturday Night Fever of this decade.  Pull it off iTunes and anger your customers.  That’s a great way to lose a fanbase.

iTunes has one advantage over CDs for the artist:  you don’t have to manufacture a physical product.  Imagine selling 100,000 albums without having to make a single CD and printing a liner booklet.

You’re biting the hand that feeds you in a way for proving that your music isn’t worth the full asking price.  Put more time into your CD and instead of making 70 minutes worth of music that only contains 14 minutes of things people will listen to, make a 50 minute CD of songs that everyone will love.  People might feel ripped off by not having a full CD, but they’ll have more substance and you’ll sell more “singles” and then more albums when they “complete the CD” that iTunes lets them do.  Selling a single without letting customers do that is a bigger rip-off to the customer.

Posted by daelin in The Ugliest City in the US (I'm the exception ;) ) on December 2, 2007 at 4:11 PM (PDT)

22

Sounds to me as though JD and Jay-Z are under pressure from their corporate overlords to shill this sort of message. Even though they’re presidents of labels it seems clear to me that they’re not calling the shots and that’s really freakin’ sad.

This news, coupled with Rolling Stone’s pathetic attempt to legitimize subscription services where one can never “own” the music one pays for (one of which Rollingstone.com is affiliated with!) just turns me off the “industry” even more. Honestly, I only buy music from Emusic.com. Even though it’s a subscription service, at least my money isn’t going to a major label.

Posted by somerset on December 2, 2007 at 6:38 PM (PDT)

23

Hell what do you know. I stand corrected on the Album only thing. Appears iTunes is letting it happen…

Posted by studogvetmed in Loveland, CO on December 3, 2007 at 1:42 PM (PDT)

24

If they really wanted to get a fair cut, they’d get out of their recording contracts and sign directly with iTunes.  They need to learn how to work, kid.

Posted by Frank Z on December 3, 2007 at 1:59 PM (PDT)

25

Oh yeah, and not posting tunes on iTunes basically “seals the deal” that people will get them from the torrent sites.  That’s called shooting yourself n the foot to make a point.

Posted by Frank Z on December 3, 2007 at 2:01 PM (PDT)

26

daelin - You bring up a good point.  What about the used CD market? I remember when Garth Brooks made a big stink about it because of the exact points you made.  I bet the record industry would turn it’s sights on the secondary market next if they were to somehow topple Apple’s reign (which they won’t)

Another thing I forgot to mention about music listening today that’s very different from the early 90s; the ability to preview albums fully.

Sure, they’ve had listening stations in the past but the CDs were limited and you didn’t have all day to listen to them.  Now you can hear 30 second clips from every track and/or hear the entire streamed the same week the album is available.  This educates the consumer on how worthy the album is for their dollar.  In the past they may have plunked down some money based upon a single but now they can decided over the course of a couple of days whether or not an album is worth purchasing.

Finally, if we all go to the subscription model (the industry’s dream scenario), how will this affect album sales?  I would assume a subscription model would hurt album sales more since there would be no way to prove how well an album is doing.

Posted by DodoFett97 on December 3, 2007 at 4:26 PM (PDT)

27

Every time I watch MTV Cribs I think about all of the artists that whine about not getting enough money from music sales, etc., and it’s a joke.  It’s Darwinism - the smartest don’t survive, the strongest don’t survive, those that are able to change survive.  It’s time for them to realize the internet changes everything.  How many travel agencies are still around now that most travel is booked directly by the consumer on the internet?

Posted by catpodder in Virginia on December 4, 2007 at 12:31 PM (PDT)

28

“Imagine if Micheal Jackson was stripped of the opportunity to sell the classic album “Thriller” as a body of work at the time of its release.”

Um Jerz, at the time that Thriller came out, there was such a thing as the “45”, which was indeed a “single”. iTunes certainly isn’t halting sales of the physical CD “American Gangster”, it’s just replacing the option of a singles-purchase that 45’s provided customers in the days of Thriller. Learn your history.

Posted by Laer on December 4, 2007 at 10:10 PM (PDT)

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