For two weeks before MTV debuted U2's video for the new single "Vertigo," fans had a chance to see the band perform the song on TV -- in an iPod commercial. The members of U2 are passionate proponents of Apple's iPod -- "It's the most interesting art object since the electric guitar in terms of music," says Bono -- but the band's new partnership with Apple Computer still qualifies as a surprise. In their twenty-five-year history, U2 have never licensed their music for commercial use or even accepted tour sponsorship.
With radio playlists strictly formatted and MTV showing more reality-TV shows than videos, many bands are looking for new ways to bring their music to the public. And so U2 launched the first single from their upcoming album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, with an iPod ad rather than a video. Apple is also releasing a special black U2-edition iPod for $349 with band autographs laser-engraved on the casing. Buyers get a fifty-dollar discount on The Complete U2, a $149 iTunes download package that includes more than 400 songs. "I see this as the beginning of a new era in the distribution of music," says U2 guitarist the Edge. "We're happy to be part of history and the future."
The U2-Apple partnership has deep roots. In early 2003, when U2 first heard that Apple was planning to launch an iTunes music store, the band met with Apple founder Steve Jobs at the home of Jimmy Iovine, the co-chairman of U2's label, Interscope Records. "Jimmy is a visionary and believes artists should meet with technologists," says Bono.
iPod ads have been helpful in album sales before, most notably for Jet, whose single "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" garnered widespread TV exposure before storming radio. U2 manager Paul McGuinness says, "The commercial was an attractive idea because iTunes was already selling our music, and the amount Apple will spend for airtime is out of reach for the record business." The band accepted no money for the ad but will get royalties on the U2 iPod.
And music execs are eager to see more of these partnerships. In September, the industry held its first-ever "upfront" -- a conference where the major labels showcased upcoming albums for representatives from corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Pepsi and Mercedes-Benz. "Target your brands with our bands," said Atlantic chairman Jason Flom, showing a video featuring bands on his artist roster that might appeal to baby-boomers (Phil Collins, the Doors) or soccer moms (Matchbox Twenty, the Corrs).
Commercials aren't the only route. Shows including The O.C. and One Tree Hill put music from new bands in every episode. When video-game maker Electronic Arts featured songs from Good Charlotte and Blink-182 in its sports games, it helped to break those bands. "We know there are other avenues to talk to consumers about music and other places to market to them," says Phil Quartararo, executive vice president of EMI Music North America. "Kids hear music on the radio, phone, iPod, video game and the Internet, so we have to go to where the consumers are."
As for U2, it's unclear whether their partnership with iPod will result in significantly increased exposure. After all, the band has already sold more than 120 million records worldwide. "U2 is an established act for radio and video, which is still the main driver," says Quartararo. But some think that the glow from Apple's hot product will reflect well on the band. "Whenever you're the first to do something, there's a hipness factor," says Bob Chiappardi, president of Concrete Marketing, a music-promotion firm. "It's a win-win situation." If it goes well, look for other bands to beg Apple for their own iPods too.