Wu-Tang Clan Takes a Novel Approach to Selling Records By Producing Only 1 Copy of an Album

(Photo: The Come Up Show)

Since 1992, the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan has sold millions upon millions of copies of its musical albums. But the way that people access music has changed a lot since 1992, so the group is adapting. It has produced a new album titled Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Wu-Tang Clan will create only 1 copy of the album.*

That's right: just 1.

(Photo: Forbes)

You will not be able to purchase a CD online or at a physical store. You will not be able to download it online. There's only one copy of the 128-minute, 31-song album. It's in a handmade silver and nickel box in a vault in Morocco. Eventually, the album will be put on display at art exhibitions and music festivals. Later, it'll be up for sale--at a high price. Zach O'Malley Greenburg of Forbes reports:

Wu-Tang’s aim is to use the album as a springboard for the reconsideration of music as art, hoping the approach will help restore it to a place alongside great visual works–and create a shift in the music business, not to mention earn some cash, in the process. The one-of-a-kind launch will be a separate endeavor from the group’s 20th anniversary album, A Better Tomorrow, which is set for a standard commercial release this summer.

According to RZA and the album’s main producer Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, a Morocco-based part of Wu-Tang’s extended family, the plan is to first take Once Upon A Time In Shaolin on a “tour” through museums, galleries, festivals and the like. Just like a high-profile exhibit at a major institution, there will be a cost to attend, likely in the $30-$50 range.

Visitors will go through heavy security to ensure that recording devices aren’t smuggled in; as an extra precaution, they’ll likely have to listen to the 128-minute album’s 31 songs on headphones provided by the venue. As Cilvaringz puts it: “One leak of this thing nullifies the entire concept.”

-via Marginal Revolution

*Semantic question: if there's only one physical occurence of the album, then should one say that there are no copies? Doesn't a "copy" imply duplication?


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I have to agree with Feodor's assessment. The "copy" on display is a copy of the original performance. As soon as it is recorded to any media, it is a copy of the original. Only a live performance can be considered the original.

The only exception to this would be purely digital works that only ever exist as digital works. In the case of purely digital works, I would argue that there is no original, all versions are copies. This logic is based on the inherent natural usage of digital media: multiple copy processes moving data around from one place to another, reformatting and regrouping it with other media on occasion along the way. Remixing falls into this as well.

Oh, I thought of one exception to that, too: A live, composed-on-site, all digital performance of original work would not automatically be a copy, though any record of such would be. Any live performance can be considered an original, I suppose, since a recording of such could be labelled very specifically as to the Performer, Location, and Date of the performance.
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I disagree. The album was certainly a live performance recorded directly onto the medium that's being showcased. Instead, they recorded the voices using some digital equipment, post-processed it using some other digital equipment, and then copied the final result onto the medium that's being showcased, after which they supposedly destroyed the digital originals. As such, I think the original wording is appropriate: there is a single copy (of the original recording) out there.
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