Last week, hip-hop legends the Wu-Tang Clan, a group once described by a Rolling Stone reviewer as "the best rap crew ever," announced they will sell just one copy of their next album, "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin."
In a statement on a website dedicated to the project, Scluzay.com, the Clan say the 31-song double album has been in the works for six years, but only one lucky -- not to mention extremely wealthy -- fan will be able to own it.
Only one person gets to take it home, but fans will still have opportunities to hear the album at "renowned galleries, museums, venues and exhibition spaces around the world," according to the website. After paying a fee and submitting to a search for recording devices, visitors will don a pair of headphones to listen to music that will never be heard anywhere else.
After the "tour," the record will be made available at an as-yet-unannounced price, presumably one with plenty of zeroes, and will come in a hand-carved nickel-silver box. The Clan has said there will be no digital release, so once it's bought, the album could disappear into a private collection forever, barring the most easily solved case of copyright infringement in history.
In an online statement written by "Cilvaringz & The RZA," the Clan explains that this approach to music distribution is a reaction to the "devaluation of music as an art form."
"The intrinsic value of music has been reduced to zero," the statement reads. "By taking this step, we hope to re-enforce the weight that music once carried alongside painting or a sculpture."
The Clan suggests this experiment in "private music" is "welcoming people to an old world" by returning to the artist/patron relationship of the Renaissance, when commissioned works of art were the norm.
Like the pay-what-you-want model Radiohead pioneered with 2007's "In Rainbows," the Clan's approach represents an attempt to find a financially feasible solution for artists whose audiences are trained to expect to receive their work for free.
And if the private music model proves successful, what then? What impact would that have on legions of fans who can't afford such a costly alternative to a mass-released album? Who ultimately owns the rights to commissioned works, the artist or the patron? If the latter, can they share it?
I'm eager to see where public opinion falls. Email me your thoughts, and we'll discuss.
Contact Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...