The iPhone 6 and Apple Watch have stolen all the tech industry’s headlines this week; but after announcing their partnership with U2, Apple is the center of another heated debate.

After iTunes started to become clearly irrelevant in a torrent-based music industry,  Apple has partnered up with U2 to release their newest album, Songs of Innocence. It will come free of charge on every Apple phone, tablet and computer.

This is not a new strategy by any means, and U2 is not the first artist to look for alternative ways of distributing music in a declining market of music sales.

Non-traditional album releases started creeping into the mainstream media last year when Jay-Z and Roc Nation made a deal with Samsung to give out 1 million copies of Magna Carta Holy Grail just 72 hours before its release date.

This was a brilliant move for Jay-Z – as it guaranteed that he was well compensated for his work – but a failure for Samsung as they did not distribute the album properly. Ultimately, the negative press and dissatisfied consumers reminded us that companies should stick to what they’re good at.

Record companies and music promoters exist as middle men for a reason. They are extremely good at what they do in a business where it is very hard to succeed. However, one technology company that does understand music – and the business of it – is Apple.

Since the invention of the iPod and iTunes, Apple has become a major force in the music industry, single-handedly changing how consumers purchase and store their favorite albums.

The company recently made waves in the music industry with their purchase of Beats Music and Beats Electronics, recognizing the
growing trend of music streaming services.  Apple’s insight of the music industry is one of the reasons why U2 decided to work with them for the promotion and distribution of their newest album, Songs of Innocence.

While the success of the ‘distribution’ factor remains to be seen, the promotional value of working with Apple is quite evident (you’re currently reading a column about it).

This blockbuster deal ensures that the band gets paid for their album, and ensures that Apple will promote it with a nine-figure marketing budget. U2 gets paid, and will no doubt see an increase in revenue from their back catalogue – not to mention, their next tour should see positive ramifications as well.

It’s uncertain whether this trend of unconditional music distribution will continue among top-selling artists. Music streaming services are currently not generating the revenue needed to sustain the record industry, and digital download sales are fading faster than 8-tracks. So seemingly, this nontraditional approach is only sustainable for artists with the star power of U2 or Jay-Z.

People are consuming music in record numbers, but revenues are still at an all-time low. And if music sales keep plummeting, the industry’s identity crisis will only keep growing. For artists, it is more important than ever to find new and creative ways of creating revenue from their music. There are thousands of ways to access songs for free nowadays and as a result, consumers ‘value’ music less than ever before.

Music still has the value that it did back in the golden years of the record industry, if not more. But the challenge we face now is finding who is willing to pay for it…and the solution might be as creative as music itself.

Written by David Kindstrand

(Photos courtesy of  Ken Teegardin, Klem@s, and wikimedia)