Jay-Z gets cozy with Apple

Rory Geraghty

The Internet is simultaneously amazingly useful and utterly ridiculous for a variety of reasons. In the sometimes skewed meritocracy of Internet rumors, a recent example may change the way we consume popular music.

According to a multitude of insider Web sites, and most notably, CNBC – computer company turned music distribution king – Apple Inc. allegedly has struck a deal with hip-hop megastar Jay-Z to create a new record label.

Some may see this rumor and not even bat an eye – and perhaps rightfully so. Apple has sold literally billions of songs through iTunes and has sold more than 100 million iPods. In the eyes of many people, this already makes them a music company.

Not so fast.

In terms of the music industry, (and the media, for that matter) content and distribution are the two main factors in being commercially successful. If Jay-Z and Apple actually do have aspirations to launch a new record label, they would effectively be attempting to control both the content and distribution channel for their artists.

After stepping down as president and CEO of Def Jam records at the end of 2007, Jay-Z, whose birth name is Shawn Carter, ended a very successful three-year run at the top of a bona fide name-brand label.

The main reason cited for his departure?

He wants to explore the possibilities in the new business model for the music industry. If the rumored deal with Apple is legitimate, Carter will have a tremendous opportunity to literally “change the game.”

While Apple certainly has the financial might and customer base to take on such an endeavor, several hurdles exist.

Other major record labels undoubtedly will feel as if their territory is being compromised. Traditionalists in the industry will scoff at the idea of Apple attempting to control such a huge portion of the business. Big-name artists that are only seeking improved distribution may view the Apple/Jay-Z project as an opportunity to take their careers to the next level – further hurting the already tenuous relationship many artists already have with their labels.

Aside from the labels and artists, it is also important to examine what this potential project could mean to us, the consumers.

Will Apple-signed artists allow their music to be sold at a lower price on iTunes, since the middleman has been eliminated? It would make a lot of sense, but it is unlikely. Will Apple-signed artists’ music be free of all Digital Rights Management restrictions that currently plague many of the online distribution outlets, such as limiting the amount of CD copies users can make from the songs they’ve purchased? Most likely, if recent history can be trusted. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has been a critic of DRM restrictions.

Regardless of how you feel about Apple computers, iPods, iTunes or even the iPhone, such a move would likely be good for consumers. Even if the rumored Apple/Jay-Z collaboration is more bark than bite, it still will have a positive effect – it will shake up the music industry.

Regardless of what old-school record label execs may think, the industry is changing. Who would have thought it would take a reinvented computer company and a 38-year-old, once-retired rapper to spark the ultimate change?

As a hip-hop fan and an iPod owner, consider me shocked. But after rehashing some of the things Jay-Z and Steve Jobs have been saying for years, I’m not entirely surprised.

Rory Geraghty is a senior electronic media production major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].