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Music March, 13 2013

How Justin Timberlake’s ‘The 20/20 Experience’ Already Changed the Music Business

Justin Timberlake’s forthcoming third solo album The 20/20 Experience marks not only the falsetto crooner’s first album since 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, but a monumental and refreshing step forward in how an artist delivers a product in today’s world where even the smallest pieces of minutia are dissected and placed under a high-powered microscope. While the preliminary reviews are overwhelmingly positive – including receiving four out of five stars from Rolling Stone – it’s how this 10-track album was introduced that makes it quite ground breaking.

The music industry has become overrun with product. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, one go around on the Internet peppers users with daily “auditions” of sorts in which those looking to “break in” tragically “break bad” as if Walter White trying to cook a batch of meth in a kazoo cook pot. Even seasoned veterans who have had considerable success in the business insist on flooding the market with product – whether that be countless mixtape releases, remixes, or the storied and genuinely loathed “remixed” mixtape. I think we can all agree that we want new music, but we’re willing to wait if the product will in turn be of a higher caliber. Sure, Timberlake’s hiatus can be attributed to his acting bug, but one can hope that a seven year absence allows for less flash in the pan bravado and more seasoned emotion. More over, Timberlake didn’t bite on temptation to simply recreate FutureSex/LoveSounds like so many other artists do when crafting a follow-up to a universally loved project. Absence doesn’t just make the heart grow fonder, it also makes the brain wiser to cheap and dated tricks.

And then Justin Timberlake was back.

Not just with a song with Jay-Z. Not just with a second single with the driving emotion of “Cry Me a River.” Not just with an impressive performance at the Grammys. Not just with an announced stadium tour with the aforementioned Jigga Man. Not just with the opportunity to stream his entire album before its March 19 release. Not just with a residency on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Timberlake’s dormancy brought a cohesive project with lofty goals, telling British radio, “When we were making the record I said, ‘If Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin can do 10-minute songs and Queen can do 10-minute songs then why can’t we?”

There’s something to be said for just “showing up” with something people have pined for, yet not totally expected. Take for example Dr. Dre’s long-awaited/delayed/rumored/unicorn of an album Detox. Fans demand it. They’ve heard the good doctor talk about it. According to Pigeons and Planes, workers could have built six Empire State Buildings in the time since Dre “broke ground on Detox.” People expect something from him that simply can’t be delivered. Timberlake’s approach isn’t one that simply lets him off the quality control hook because plainly “new music is better than no music,” rather it signifies that Timberlake was inspired to make music and didn’t feel the added pressure of expectations on a promised treasure years in the making.

More musicians and artists would be wise to follow Timberlake’s approach: build a bridge to an audience and inventively deliver the goods only when the time is right.

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