U2 Explains Free 'Songs of Innocence' Album: "Mind-Blowing, Head-Scratching, 21st-Century Situation"

Joe Pugliese
U2

Apple purchased the 11-track album en masse to gift to half a billion iTunes users

In a world where selling records is more difficult than ever, just why exactly would U2 give away their new album for free?

Toward the end of Apple's big iPhone 6 and Apple Watch presentation on Tuesday morning, the band took the stage to premiere a track called "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)." Apple CEO Tim Cook and U2 frontman Bono announced that the band's new album was coming exclusively to iTunes — for free.

Cook called Songs of Innocence the "largest album release of all time," as the Interscope release was bought en masse by Apple as a gift for its half a billion iTunes fans in 119 countries. Therefore, the album is listed not as "free" in the music app, but already "purchased" and available for download from a user's iTunes cloud storage (those who sign up for an iTunes Store account in the next five weeks will also get the album as a gift). It is also available on iTunes Radio and Beats Music, all through Oct. 13.

The band and Universal Music Group were paid an unspecified fee as a blanket royalty to gift the 11-song album during the product presentation, and the tech company will also back a global marketing campaign worth up to $100 million, according to The New York Times.

The move is in honor of U2's ten-year anniversary of their "Vertigo" iPod commercial, just after the band partnered with the iTunes store in 2003. It was the beginning of many collaborations over the past decade, including a special-edition iPod for Bono's ONE campaign and (PRODUCT)RED efforts supporting HIV/AIDS awareness and research and the jointly-created The Complete U2 box set. More than $75 million has been generated by Apple for the Global Fund, according to the Cupertino-based company.

Bono explains the new album's giveaway in an open letter to fans, which was posted on the band's website. Titled "Remember Us?," he notes that the lack of a price tag disseminates their music to as many people as possible.

"In the next 24 hours, over a half a billion people are going to have Songs of Innocence… should they choose to check it out. That is so exciting. People who haven’t heard our music, or weren’t remotely interested, might play us for the first time because we’re in their library. Country fans, hip hop afficionados from east LA, electro poppers from Seoul, Bhangra fans from New Delhi, Highlifers in Accra… might JUST be tempted to check us out, even for a moment," he revels. "What a mind blowing, head scratching, 21st century situation. Over 500 million people… that’s a billion ears. And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way… the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail."

The singer also calls the release "our new baby" and "a very, very personal album" that might get "excruciating." Additionally, he teases the follow-up album Songs of Experience, as well as future collaborations with Apple over the next few years, "innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed."

Read the full letter below:

'Remember Us?' A letter from Bono, on the arrival 'of our new baby' - Songs of Innocence.

'Hello, bonjour, ciao, hola, hallo, zdravo, dobar dan, Dia duit, hæ, hej,hei, cześć, olá, ćao, namaste, sawatdee, jambo,pozdravi, Γεια σου, привіт, שלום, مرحبا, こんにちは, , سلام, 你好, Привет….

Remember us? Pleased to announce myself, Edge, Adam and Larry have finally given birth to our new baby… Songs of Innocence. It’s been a while. We wanted to get it right for you/us. We just finished it last week and thanks to Apple and iTunes it’s with you today. That’s already amazing to me as it normally takes a few months to turn this stuff around.

Part of the DNA of this band has always been the desire to get our music to as many people as possible. In the next 24 hours, over a half a billion people are going to have Songs of Innocence… should they choose to check it out. That is so exciting. People who haven’t heard our music, or weren’t remotely interested, might play us for the first time because we’re in their library. Country fans, hip hop afficionados from east LA, electro poppers from Seoul, Bhangra fans from New Delhi,Highlifers in Accra… might JUST be tempted to check us out, even for a moment. What a mind blowing, head scratching,21st century situation. Over 500 million people… that’s a billion ears. And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way… the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail.

You’ll have noticed the album is free to U2.com’ers from the band. It’s also free to everyone on iTunes thanks to Apple. To celebrate the ten year anniversary of our iPod commercial, they bought it as a gift to give to all their music customers. Free, but paid for. Because if no-one's paying anything for it, we’re not sure “free” music is really that free. It usually comes at a cost to the art form and the artist… which has big implications, not for us in U2, but for future musicians and their music... all the songs that have yet to be written by the talents of the future… who need to make a living to write them.

We’re collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed. We’ll keep you posted. If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough… although I know I’ve said that before…

I hope after listening to our new long player a few times, you’ll understand why it took so long. We really went there… it’s a very, very personal album. Apologies if that gets excruciating… actually, I take that back. No apologies if it gets excruciating. What’s the point in being in U2 if you can’t go there?

There is no end to LOVE.'

BONO

What do you think of U2's Songs of Innocence? Sound off in the comments below!

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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