You’ve got to love old rockers. Pete Townshend comes across a bit like today’s Mr Bonkers, blaming iTunes for not offering everything a record label does, and instead acting like an uncaring shop. That’s probably because iTunes is, in fact, an uncaring shop and not a record label.
The interview is summarised on Mac Observer (hat tip: Adam Banks, and full transcript on MusicWeek) and it’s quite illuminating:
Mr. Townshend, the leader of iconic rock ban The Who, argued that once upon a time, the music industry as a whole (including publishing and record labels) used to offer eight different forms of support to artists, including editorial guidance, financial support, creative nurture, manufacturing, publishing, marketing, distribution, and payment of royalties.
He said that if you look at artists who distribute through iTunes, they get only the last two forms of support, distribution and payment of royalties.
Because iTunes isn’t a record label.
“Now is there really any good reason why,” he asked, “just because iTunes exists in the wild west internet land of Facebook and Twitter, it can’t provide some aspect of these services to the artists whose work it bleeds like a digital vampire [UK bank] Northern Rock for its enormous commission?”
Because iTunes isn’t a record label. As for it bleeding artists’ work like a digital vampire, iTunes is one of the main reasons why anyone pays for digital music at all. It wasn’t the first of its kind, but it rapidly embedded itself in the collective consciousness of device and Mac/PC owners, and it made it natural to spend a few quid on a digital album download, rather than go hunting for a torrent, which would be much closer to Townshend’s digital vampire.
Townshend goes on to say Apple should employ A&R people to guide artists, and so perhaps he isn’t misunderstanding what the iTunes Store is, but is instead arguing that Apple should be assisting artists due to the label ecosystem crashing and burning in slow motion. I suspect he suggests Apple because of its clout, since he doesn’t make the same demands of Amazon, WalMart or Tesco.
The thing is, Apple’s never really had much truck with creating media—it just provides the platforms on which people can create and sell—and so there’s no proof it’d even be any good at being a record label. In iOS gaming, Apple’s made a single game—Texas Hold’em—and it simply lets devs get on with it, rather than interfering. To that end, I can’t see Apple going all ‘record label’ in the music space, nor really why it should. It’s providing an outlet—an easy way for people to buy. And you can bet if Apple did pump resources into helping music artists, it’d alienate people working in other fields, lacking such support, and probably also piss off remaining record labels, too, potentially making things worse for many musicians.
Townshend continues to offer suggestions:
He would also like to see Apple choose 500 worthy artists a year and provide them with free Macs and the training to use them when creating music. Those artists could be identified by the above-mentioned A&R folks, who should then follow the progress of those artists throughout the year.
So, Apple should not only provide advice, but also free hardware. What about their own radio station?
“Yes Apple, give artists some streaming bandwidth,” he said. “It will sting, but do it. You will get even more aluminum solid state LURVE for doing so.”
How about groupies and drugs?
OK, so there is some kind of line.
Still, Townshend does come up with at least one nugget of solid-gold sense:
The biggest change that he advocated during his speech was that Apple stop requiring independent bands to go through third party aggregators to be in the iTunes Store. He believes Apple should pay these artists directly so that more of the money from their music downloads gets to them. He acknowledged that some of the third party aggregators offer some label-like services, but argued that most are just middlemen sitting between the artists and iTunes.
This is the one thing that’s always surprised me a little about the iTunes Store. You can make and upload your own game, and, unless I’m mistaken, you can self-publish a book. But music? Too bad. You have to pay a third-party service a buck or more per track, for each store you want a presence on. And that isn’t a particularly modern, ‘Apple’ way of thinking.