Jay Z Calls Billboard ‘Irrelevant’ and ‘Threatened’

We now know that Jay Z approached Billboard while structuring the Samsung deal, and even offered to jump through hoops to qualify the sales.

Ultimately, Billboard rejected the offer, refused to count any of the Samsung-purchased albums, and denied Jay Z a number of historic milestones.

Here’s what the rapper disclosed this week, in a lengthy interview with Rap Radar.

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What people have to understand is, Billboard is a magazine, they

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saw an opportunity and they grabbed it.  They said, “we’re going to count sales and you’re going to pay us for it.”  And we were like, “that’s cool, I don’t want to count sales, you can do that for us.”

But they ain’t really doing it for us.

They’re almost like government —  they’re like elected officials, they work for us.  You can’t really tell me how to —

“First of all, we’re in a dying business, everyone sees that — so I’m supposed to wait until it gets to zero before I do something?  I’m like, ‘okay, let’s figure out how to bring new revenue streams into the business’.”

So I went out on my own, and I made a deal.  I made a straight across, above-the-board deal.  I went to them, I explained the deal to them, like “this is what’s going to happen.  What does it take to qualify for a sale?”

They came up with a number: $3.49.  How do you come up with that number?  I don’t know.  Whatever, okay, it’s $5.  We’re not only going to jump over that number, we’re going to soar past it.  The deal is $5.

“Their job is to encourage the business to bring in new revenue streams, not to discourage me.  So, at that point, if you’re not with the changing times, you’re irrelevant to me, I’m going to move on.”

And it’s not like I was trying to trick the system, I wasn’t looking for a number one album.  Their thing was like, “what if a country artist wants to buy the number one?”  I was like, “yeah that’s good, hypothetically it’s good, but the reality is I’m not doing that.”

This is a deal, this is a real deal, we’re both getting something good out of it.   A new artist couldn’t do that, I could do that.  I warranted that sort of – that level of deal.  The career and what I’ve done, and the groundwork that I’ve put in was worthy of me charging that.  So what’s the difference, if they can give it to whoever they want to give it to that’s their business.  It’s still reaching the hands of the fans.

“It’s hard for those sorts of organizations to change.  And then they get stubborn about it, they get stubborn about it because they feel like their ego and their thing is threatened.”

And that’s why I was really cool with the RIAA.  They were supposed to be counting digital sales 15 years ago.  It wasn’t me, I was the agent of change, to ask the question.  But that was supposed to have been changed.  The reason why the RIAA didn’t certify for 30 days was because of physical product: you send it out and you may get some returns back and you’re not Platinum anymore.  So they had to wait to see if there were any returns before they certified it Platinum.

But there’s no returns in digital.  So if someone scans

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 500,000 digital files, it’s supposed to happen immediately, there’s no returns. That was supposed to have happened already.

I was the guy who was like, “what are we doing, we’ve got to change.”

31 Responses

  1. Yves Villeneuve

    If Jay Z wants real change, ask Billboard to count sales of the registered product when there was little doubt consumers actively sought the said product.

  2. Andre

    I agree w him on principle, but in his particular case, the new album was a made available as a free app, correct? I don’t see how/why BB should count that as a sale.

    • Me

      Exactly. It wasn’t a sale. There were no “sales.” It was a licensing deal. He needs to get over it. He got his money. Quit whining.

      • R.P.

        you’re idiots. If money was exchanged then it was a sale. I know a shitload of cops in NYC that would agree. If you decide to give it to someone else for free that is your issue.

  3. Yves Villeneuve

    Why doesn’t BB rank albums as follows:
    unit sales X dollar sales = rank value
    In the chart, separate values can be added for unit sales, dollar sales and average album price.
    Ranked solely on dollar sales will invite negative sentiment from the public.
    Ranked solely on units invites too many seemingly arbitrary rules deemed controversial by many.

    • Yves Villeneuve

      A different chart for streaming:
      unit streams x dollar streams = rank value
      To combine both sales and streaming, as follows:
      sales rank value x streams rank value
      SIMPLE. NO?

  4. visitor

    these are sales to one client, (common sense would dictate that substantial sales to one corporate client are not “legitimate sales”)
    at a discount price even during the deubt,

    samsung didn´t sell it to anyone (so it was basically a distributor) so no market sales happened,

    none of the sales should be counted.

    and as a tribute to bob lefsetz, this album has already been forgotten

    • Oh please

      No. 1 two weeks in a row is far from forgotten. And anyone openly lauding that clown Lefsetz has much bigger issues to deal with than Jay Z

  5. Paul Resnikoff

    One temptation is to compare a situation like this to sports, in which the rules related to accomplishments (home runs, no-hitters, whatever) attempt to achieve a level benchmark between eras but are always affected by significant changes in technology.
    For example, training: forget steroids, professional athletes are bigger and better trained from birth, by an order of magnitude and across every major sport. They have better doctors and far greater technologies to achieve a record. Then again, it’s still four bases, a wooden bat (though, maybe a better constructed bat), and the field is the same size (and these more bionic players are playing against each other, not the Bronx Bombers of yester-era).
    But does the comparison hold water? I’d argue that this is different, that the field itself is changing too drastically for something like the Billboard 200 to make sense in the future (at least when compared to its past). The reason is that the recording itself isn’t core to the success of an artist project (if there’s even a project or release to discuss). There will be more 99-cent Gaga album giveaways, more Samsung deals, more situations in which an ‘album’ is hard to define, was ‘sold’ under completely foreign mechanisms, and still a wild success.
    That’s what just happened with Jay-Z. Now, fast forward 5 or 10 more of these major challenges, with increasing frequency and you start to see how ‘irrelevant’ and ‘threatened’ this chart really becomes. It will become more symbolic than anything, and comparisons to ‘records’ from earlier eras will become potentially impossible (pun intended).

    • Yves Villeneuve

      The recording is the core of the recording’s success. Maybe not the first week when everyone is involved in the marketing hype but in the long term it is.
      I agree though, it will be impossible to compare different eras when the valuation of success keeps changing. A simple formula and common sense that do not invite seemingly arbitrary rules will help limit major changes in the future.
      How many of those Samsung albums ended up in the libraries of fans? There could be many albums in no man’s land, still in the hands of the distributor (Samsung) that will never be delivered unless another promotion is initiated. Are these apps time-sensitive, meaning downloads must be done before a certain date or else the album goes to someone else? Jay Z or any artist will never convince just anyone to love his album unless they are true fans of the album. I find it hard to fathom 100% of those Samsung customers would love his album enough to add to their libraries. Does anyone truly believe 100% of those customers bought a phone because his cheap $5 album was bundled with it?

    • jw

      I think that the temptation is to compare it to physical product.
      First week sales have never really been about sales. Like Jay Z said, numbers might change when returns are counted 30 days later, but Billboard wants to put out who’s #1 each week, so the numbers have always been about how many albums retail orders, not necessarily albums that end up in the hands of a consumer in the first 7 days. At least that’s my understanding.
      To me there’s no question that each download should count as a sale, even if it’s free to the consumer because a retailer ordered it. The remainder shouldn’t count until it’s been downloaded. That’s not necessarily consistent with a scenario where Best Buy orders a million copies of an album & returns none (it’s my understanding that those would all count as sales in the first week chart), but I think you have to treat things differently when your entire stock is just a number in a database.
      I think this is sort of a silly debate, but I think Jay Z is one of the most forward thinking individuals in the industry. I don’t think this type of deal structure is necessarily the future, but at least he’s not sitting around crying about everything everyone else is crying about. He’s actually figuring out how to make money in a disrupted industry.

    • Matt M.

      I agree. And do we still measure a movie’s success by video store rentals? It’s nice to have consistent measurements across time, but they are really inconsequential compared to the radical benefits of new technology.
      The album is an artifact of physical media, and it will become less important. One can make a complete artistic statement in the absence of albums. Do you think the duration of 72 minutes meant anything to Beethoven?

      • Andre

        Was there a consumer market for recorded music in his time?

    • Econ

      Paul, those changes started happening 9 or 10 years ago. Small at first, but not anymore.
      Hell, Billboard 15 years ago couldn’t even figure out what radio play should count, and how much, into its Hot 100, in part because the industry tried to stop selling singles in certain genres. And it’s been a worse and worse guess since.
      I’d argue the one area where Billboard could still be relevant is in publishing REGIONAL data. What areas are seeing play and sales, and what areas aren’t. That would be helpful in marketing and plugging efforts, especially for smaller companies and artists. That used to be Billboard’s bread and butter, but they started reducing everything to a national persepctive in the 80’s, to their long-term detriment.

  6. FarePlay

    We spend too much time and attention criticizing what’s wrong with the business and not enough time looking for ways to save it.
    So f ing tired of the digerati wanting to trash pre-recorded music and push our acquisition model to streaming only. Every band playing at the shed level should be giving CDs away as part of the ticket price.
    A technology that cannot sustain the very industry that it uses to generate revenue is doomed.

  7. zog

    It sure sounds to be like he laid the cards on the table, I guess Billboard didn’t like the fact that he showed his hand first.
    Nothing new hear, before most of the people at Billboard were not out of diapers when there were real reasons for alarms to go off.
    The gentle is correct your not moving forward, it”s hard enough to sell music and develope a long lasting career ,music lives on remember Cashbox?

  8. Melissa Morriss

    You all should really take a look at this. This is even deeper about the Jay-Z, Samsung scenario. Use headphones to listen, but it’s definitely brings out a lot to the implications around all this:

  9. GGG

    I don’t understand what the big question is. It’s always been about the end consumer. As we all know, if I ship 1 million records and stores send back half, obviously not a platinum record. If I print up a million download cards, nobody will report those sales until someone uses them.
    So Samsung buying a million downloads should be the same as a store buying a million records. Their own fault they can’t get reimbursed if people don’t DL them all. The reported numbers should be how many actually used the app to get the music.

  10. Visitor

    Funny arguement here. Mr. Z says he doesn’t care about a number 1, but still approached Billboard, who rejected him, and now he says they are irrelevant. No doubt that BB Top 200 is antiquated, but I think in this case they were spot on in not accepting sales from 1 massive corporate customer. This is a biz dev and a marketing play for Jay Z and a huge win for him and his camp and maybe a great model to drive more revenue and general awareness for other major artists going forward. But the point here is that BB’s Top Albums chart is supposed to represent what individual consumers are buying week over week and this does not accurately represent that number. Even if you count the actual redemptions, those consumer’s didn’t pay a dime for the album, so I would even look at that as a giveaway as opposed to a $5 sale.

    • Yves Villeneuve

      Spot on. Agree entirely. If the phone showed a sticker price of $5 for the album and the bundle was actually $5 more than the phone without the album then that’s a completely different story.

    • Econ

      There was similar “controversy” in the British charts 20 years ago with records/cd’s packaged with giveaways that were the impetus for the end-consumer sale rather than the record itself. When the chart compiler decided to count the stuff as separate products, the practice eventually ended.

  11. gopalo

    If Billboard is “irrelevant” – for which one could make a good argument – why does he care?

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Now that’s an excellent point. And let’s keep in mind that Jay-Z actively negotiated and courted chart inclusion; it means something to him.
      Actually, I’d argue that the Billboard chart carries weight more because of its brand than any methodologies. The brand goes back decades and decades, it’s burned into the consciousness of not only the artistic and music community, but the mainstream as well. The ‘Billboard Charts’ mean something just like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, and Billboard itself is now expanding that influence with the Billboard Music Awards.
      This is also one of the big reasons why upstarts like the Ultimate Chart remain obscure; they are rarely mentioned. Who cares if this is a smarter chart? It takes massive media exposure, maybe decades to build this sort of thing up; the details are for a small club of wonks.
      I’d also argue that Billboard methodology issues can be ironed out, they can be solved from a business standpoint to protect the value of this asset. Just as the Grammys carry little weight for serious music fans, the same could be true for a future, successful Billboard chart brand. Let the music aficionados parse through the problems of methodology, they can argue on the pages of Digital Music News all they want. But a Billboard chart topping artist will still brag forever, it can still be leveraged successfully for decades to come if done right.
      In fact, it’s a major bragging point for Jay-Z (he holds the most number ones of any rapper), and mentioned in many rap songs (by endless rappers) going back for decades. That’s why Jay Z discussed it so much in the interview.

      • Henry Chatfield

        I think the value of Billboard in the past was to show what music was being listened to the most. There are now much more accurate measures that report this and I hope that the industry starts to embrace them more.

        I hope that streaming will become more widely used and the companies create an offering for more location specific listen counts, so we can look at a region and get a better understanding of what people are listening to, and where, within a certain timeframe.

        This will help us gauge much more accurately how successful a marketing campaign was, and what demographic an artist most appeals to.

  12. Visitor

    Billboard became irrelevent once they stopped covering Yves Villeneuve.

  13. The Voice of Reason

    Doesn’t mean shit to me and most everybody else. I have a life to deal with..

  14. Econ

    Billboard’s been irrelevant for 7 or 8 years now, maybe a little longer.
    Jay-Z’s only figuring this out NOW?