Dissolving Sault: Band To Make Album Disappear After 99 Days
There is very little known about British collective Sault beyond the music (a powerful melding of soul, R&B and house). They released two albums in 2019 and another two albums in 2020, but did no promotion of any sort for them.
“Over the last two years, Sault’s music has arrived out of the blue: no interviews, no photos, no videos, no live appearances, no Wikipedia entry, a perfunctory and entirely non-interactive social media presence,” explainedThe Guardian.
Their albums just… appeared.
The difference with their latest album, Nine, is that its appearance was trailed in advance; but so too was its imminent disappearance.
Their social media accounts started setting things up on June 14 when they posted a single image of the word “NINE” written in white on a black background. Two days later, they followed up with the message, “Nine will only exist for ninety nine days,” adding it would be available on their website as well as on vinyl and the major streaming services. Then on June 25 it went live, available to download for free from their official site, with the vinyl edition selling for £20 ($27.82).
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There are echoes here of how Radiohead released In Rainbows in 2007, letting fans download directly from their website and paying whatever they wanted for it, but the band simultaneously sold a deluxe boxset edition for £40 ($55.64).
There is also something of a KLF art statement about it given that back in 1992 they announced their “retirement” from music and deleted their catalogue which, in the CD era, was pretty easy to do. (They have, however, slightly backtracked on that and some of their music is being made available again, albeit in different iterations, on streaming services.)
The cultural argument is that, if an artist is not on digital services (be that Spotify and Apple Music or user-uploaded services like Mixcloud, YouTube and SoundCloud) then they might as well not exist for whole new generations of music consumers to discover them through direct recommendation or algorithmic serendipity.
The economic argument is that, while streaming royalties might be minuscule, they can theoretically keep rolling in for the entire life of copyright of the music. Historically, most albums really only had a promotional window of a few years – with the vast bulk of income that an album would generate happening in the opening 12-18 months of its release. This was down in a large part to record stores only having space to stock a finite number of albums whereby releases would be replaced on a rolling basis by newer titles.
There would also simply come a point where sales had fallen off so much that it was economically unviable to keep a record in print and in the racks of stores. Only a few classics or blockbusters had permanent and visible racking in even the biggest record shops.
It is worth remembering that nothing really disappears online. Sault have given the digital files away for free and so anyone can put them on P2P/torrent sites or upload each track to YouTube and create an album playlist. If you want to hear the album after the designated 99 days are up, there are ways and means to do that. It seems highly unlikely that Sault with police this with the same fervour that defined the record business in the early 2000s as Napster and other P2Ps exploded in popularity.
What is most important here is the statement the band are making about digital music and accessibility of consumption.
In this age of ubiquity and total accessibility, where it is incrementally harder to be heard above the growing cacophony, the only logical response on an artistic level as well as a marketing level is to make your music disappear.
There are many – many – lesser acts who should follow Sault’s lead and take all their music offline: not for political or conceptual reasons, but rather for aesthetic ones.