Remember When: Jack White’s Single Gave a Whole New Meaning to “Releasing” Music

Jack White has always marched (or played) to the beat of his own drum, and his 2012 single that gave a whole new meaning to “releasing” music is certainly no exception. To fully appreciate the absurdity of White’s methods, let’s teleport back in time to Nashville, Tennessee, home of Third Man Records, circa the early aughts.

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White and his co-founders Ben Blackwell and Ben Swank created Third Man Records only a handful of years before the former White Stripes frontman experimented with his lofty release ambitions. If eccentric music lovers weren’t aware of Third Man Records M.O. before, they were after April Fool’s Day 2012.

Jack White’s Single Was For The Birds (Literally)

In 2012, the music industry was steadily toeing the line between physical and digital distribution. Streaming was undoubtedly on the rise, but it paled in comparison to the state of the industry only ten years in the future. Many music lovers still happily bought physical CDs and records; others preferred to listen to their music via digital airwaves. For Jack White and Third Man Records, they wanted to do both.

To promote his 2012 solo album ‘Blunderbuss,’ White released “Freedom at 21,” a single off the record, via flexi-disc. Third Man Records affixed each flexi-disc to a large, bright blue helium balloon (1,000 of them, to be exact) before releasing them into the skies above Nashville on April 1, 2012. The release sounds like an April Fool’s Day joke only an offbeat record label could come up with, but it was no prank. They even captured the moment on YouTube.

A Non-Traditional Method To Meet Music Lovers Halfway

In a since-deleted statement on Third Man Records’ website, the label called the balloon release “an experiment exploring non-traditional forms of record distribution and a way to get records in the hands of people who don’t visit record shops” (via Pitchfork).

“Statistics for similar balloon launches show a recovery rate of approximately ten percent, so it’s quite possible that less than 100 of the 1,000 records launched will ever be discovered,” the statement continued. “Whatever the numbers, the “Freedom at 21” flex-disc will surely be a highly sought-after collectible for years to come.”

The record release was a memorable, unique way to get Jack White’s music into the world. But it didn’t come without its fair share of potential downfalls—namely, the effects of the flexi-disc and their balloon carriers might have on the surrounding environment. Third Man Records clarified in its statement that the label used biodegradable latex balloons and all-natural twine to create the release packages. However, that didn’t necessarily make it “green.”

Biodegradable latex will eventually break down, unlike its non-biodegradable counterpart. However, these balloons aren’t exactly environmentally friendly. Even biodegradable balloon waste can trap unassuming wildlife, and the material can also hurt animals that accidentally ingest it. Paired with the non-degradable vinyl of the flexi-disc, the only truly eco-friendly element of the record release was the twine that attached the single to each balloon.

Nevertheless, considering Jack White and Third Man Records succeeded in making their mark on musical distribution history (and increasing the value of their “Freedom at 21” flex-discs tenfold), we’d say that’s nothing to burst one’s bubble, er, balloon over.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

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