Howto embrace an economic timebomb
Can U2 adapt to the new rules of the music biz?
All eyes will be on U2 in 2008 as the Irish veterans return to the fray with their 12th studio album.
There have been wholesale changes in the music industry landscape since the band’s last album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was released in 2004.
You can be sure that the band have followed with interest such recent developments as Prince giving away his most recent album for free with the Mail on Sunday, Radiohead asking fans to set the price for In Rainbows (with the band setting premium ticket prices for their tour to make up for the shortfall) and the shrinking volume of CD sales.
Over the years, U2 have developed a reputation for shrewd music business dealings. In 1985, for example, they took a stake in their then label Island in return for waiving unpaid royalties. Four years later, that stake turned out to be worth $30 million when Island was taken over by Philips.
As manager Paul McGuinness explained in a 2006 interview, after their 30-year career, the band members “know as much about the business as most record executives and most concert promoters and most recording engineers and even most T-shirt distributors”.
It will be interesting to see how the band use such knowledge when it comes to releasing and promoting their next album.
As U2 are still signed to one of Universal Music’s many offshoots, it’s highly unlikely that they will be able to adopt the same approach as Radiohead and give away the new album for free.
They probably could, however, copy Bruce Springsteen, who gave away Radio Nowhere as a free download with a number of newspapers, including this one, to plug the release of his Magic album.
Another tour is definitely on the cards as this is where U2 have always managed to trouser large amounts of cash. The Vertigo tour to plug the last album was the second most lucrative tour of all time, racking up to $389 million (¤270 million) in ticket receipts plus other large sums in merchandise sales.
All the band have to do now is to make sure that their new album is actually worth listening to in the first place.
Bono screams, the world listens