Justin Timberlake And Jay-Z: A New Model For A New Music Industry

Early this morning, just seconds after the clock
struck midnight, hordes of Justin Timberlake and
Jay-Z fans all around the world put on a suit and tie.
Though both stars boast their own clothing lines,
last night’s activities weren’t the result of a new
formal sleepwear collaboration. The duo did,
however, debut something else: a new song
literally titled “Suit & Tie.” The track features
production by Timbaland, who crafted the sound
behind Timberlake’s last album and many of Jay-
Z’s greatest hits, and a guest verse by the rapper
advocating “tuxedos for no reason.”
The song itself—Timberlake’s breezy vocals atop a
swirly tickling of piano keys and occasional bursts
of brass and bass—might remind Jay-Z fans of the
rapper’s early collaborations with Pharrell Williams,
around the time he changed men’s fashion by
lyrically eschewing basketball jerseys in favor of
dress shirts.
Throughout “Suit & Tie,” though, Timberlake
repeats a refrain: “Let me show you a few things.”
The track, along with the impending debut of his
new album, The 20/20 Experience, does exactly
that—not just for menswear aficionados, but for the
music industry on the whole.
Timberlake released his last album, FutureSex/
LoveSounds, in 2006. Back then, most consumers
would go to their local bricks-and-mortar music
store to get it on CD. Technologically advanced
listeners might then rip the tracks to their iPods.
YouTube was in its infancy, and Spotify was years
from its U.S. debut. In that world, physical recorded
music was still perhaps the most crucial part of an
artist’s revenue stream.
“That was six or seven years ago,” says Alex
White, cofounder and CEO of music data provider
Next Big Sound. “It doesn’t feel like that long ago,
but everything has changed.”
In 2006, FutureSex/LoveSounds was the No. 5 best-
selling album, moving 2.4 million units. This year,
the No. 5 album was One Direction’s Up All Night,
which sold 1.3 million. Over that period, total U.S.
album sales have fallen from 588 million to 316
million. Many artists have taken a look at those
numbers and realized that forcing out an album
every year just isn’t the best use of their time—
musically or financially—and like his partner in
rhyme on “Suit & Tie,” Justin Timberlake appears to
be one of them.
Timberlake, of course, has plenty of other ways to
earn cash. He rakes in millions for his movie roles,
has a lucrative sideline moonlighting as a featured
artist on other musicians’ tracks, opened a line of
restaurants, and has even branched into the realm
of venture capital with investments in MySpace and
others. So why rush to release new music?
“I don’t want to put anything out that I feel like is
something I don’t love,” Timberlake said in a video
he released last week to tease his album. “You just
don’t get that every day. You have to wait for it.”
The new model for Timberlake and others: spend
the bulk of your time focusing on the myriad
business and artistic ventures available to savvy
musicians, then make one truly terrific album once
every five years or so—and tour it like a madman.
“It’s one thing that just seems to be a golden
thread through any bad times economically is this
ancient model of musician and audience,” says
Peter Spellman, Director of Berklee College of
Music’s Career Development Center and author of
Indie Business Power. “No matter what the
technology… it delivers an experience that you
can’t put into words. We all know what that’s like,
we feel that, and I think people still gravitate to
that.”
And no matter how infrequently an act records new
music, fans can appreciate the live experience
when it comes around. One need look no farther
than Timberlake’s collaborator on “Suit & Tie” for
an example. Jay-Z released an album every year
from 1996-2003 before taking a job as president of
Def Jam and then founding Roc Nation, a joint
venture with Live Nation.
Since abandoning the annual release schedule, Jay-
Z has put out just three solo albums in the past
decade but still manages to sell out arenas around
the world when he does tour. And thanks to his
other business ventures, he’s among music’s top
earners year after year—even when he’s not
releasing new material.
Now it seems Timberlake is following the same
model. The rest of the industry ought to take note.

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11 thoughts on “Justin Timberlake And Jay-Z: A New Model For A New Music Industry

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