A great article by Jeff Leeds in Monday's New York Times summed up the fundamental problem facing the music business in one simple line: "Its main product is widely available free." Fittingly, there has been a spate of recent news that shows how even music superstars are scrambling to find new ways to buttress their bottom lines.
First up is Paul McCartney, who announced a couple of months back that he was leaving Capitol Records to sign with Hear Music, the record label run by java giant Starbucks. And not only has the cute Beatle decided that his upcoming release, "Memory Almost Full," should be available alongside macchiatos and frappuccinos, he also wants it to share space with makers of cheap jewelry and quesadillas. Yup, on May 30 and 31 the Home Shopping Network will be hawking McCartney's newest album.
The Home Shopping Network seems like a natural fit for Prince's new moneymaking scheme: The pop music genius is branching out into the perfume business. Prince's 3121 fragrance -- "Xquisite, Mysterious, Xotic" -- will hit stores on July 7, the same day he'll play an in-store concert at a Minneapolis Macy's. This is just the latest step away from the record industry for His Purple Majesty, who in recent years has relied more on concert tours than on album sales to pay for the upkeep at Paisley Park, playing an extended run in Las Vegas (with other long-term engagements planned in Los Angeles and London) and even giving away free copies of CDs to ticket buyers on his 2004 "Musicology" tour.
At least for the short term, Kanye West has also decided that giving his music away, rather than selling it, is the way to go. Over the past few days, West's "Can't Tell Me Nothing" mix tape started showing up on various Web sites, free for download. Mix tapes -- off-the-cuff, semiofficial albums designed to stoke fan interest in between official releases -- are usually cheap, but not this cheap. Featuring fellow stars Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell, West's mix tape foreshadows the September release of his new album, "Graduation." Curious listeners can find "Can't Tell Me Nothing" here.
50 Cent's got everyone beat. Rather than take cash payment for endorsing Glacéau's Vitaminwater line of "nutrient enhanced water beverages," 50 took a 10 percent stake in the company back in 2004. Now Coca-Cola has bought Glacéau for $4.1 billion, meaning the superstar stands to take in a cool $410 million. No wonder 50 Cent pushed back the release of his new album, "Curtis," from June to September -- a beverage mogul has more important things to worry about than a side interest in the piddly little music business.
-- David Marchese