Technically, when Tim Cook and Apple pushed the new U2 album for free to 500 million iTunes users, it instantly became the biggest music release of all time. But this world record will go down in the history books with a big asterisk. Like other partnerships between artists and tech companies—think Jay-Z and Nokia's Black Phone—this one will lead to a huge payoff for the artist at a time when album sales are no guarantee of revenue. But unlike the Jay-Z partnership, which came preloaded on newly bought phones, U2's album is supposedly just instantly "there" in your library. The truth of this statement will hopefully be tested in the weeks to come.
This move is sure to spark other such partnerships, but those partnerships will be in the minority. The rest of us need to find other ways to deliver amazing music to our listeners, while also making a living doing it. The old ways—make a song; sell it—can only remain insofar as it is one of a series of revenue streams for artists. The answer? Do what we musicians do best: