Pete Townshend: iTunes is “Digital Vampire” Living On Musicians

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Apple’s iTunes is nought but a “digital vampire” bleeding artists through enormous commissions without giving much back, according to rock legend Pete Townshend. Speaking as the inaugural John Peel lecturer at the 2011 Radio Festival in Salford, Mr. Townshend called on Apple to do more to support musicians and offer some of the services that record labels used to offer.

Pete Townshend Publicity Photo

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.

“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?”

To correct this, Mr. Townshend said that Apple should employ A&R people (that it can hire from the shrinking labels) to offer critical guidance to artists.

“If they feel the artists are bad, or aren’t ready, say so,” he argued. “But have them tell the truth, kindly and constructively. Guide them to other helpful resources, don’t just send them to the wolves of Blogland where it seems to me a lot of the vilest bile comes from people who could be drunk, or just nuts.”

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.

Apple should then provide those artists with a place on iTunes to stream their music to potential fans like a local 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.”

He also thinks Apple has a role to play in helping to educate artists about protecting their copyrights, which he called a minefield. He added, “The internet is destroying copyright as we know it. So they will lose the battle, but guide them to hang on to what they can. Otherwise they might only ever make one album.”

Apple should then pick some of those artists and actively market them within “the Apple software machine,” and to add to Apple’s role in distribution, he said that Apple should work to license this material out to third party companies, a role that record labels have traditionally fulfilled.

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.

Lastly, Mr. Townshend told the audience that, “My inner artist is a bit of an ageing Mod you see. He really thinks the late Steve Jobs was one of the coolest guys on the planet: loved his black outfits.”

He also owned up to letting that his inner artist once say (in public) that he wanted to cut Mr. Jobs’s balls off (his words, not ours), but, “if Apple does even one of the things on my wish-list, I will offer to cut off my own balls.”

There is much, much more on the current state of the music industry in the full transcript, which was published by MusicWeek.

Full disclosure: Pete Townshend is a personal hero to this reporter. His favorite passage from the the speech was:

Let me introduce you briefly to my inner artist, then I will put him back in his box.

I don’t give a shit about making money. I think rock music is junk. I am a genius. The Who were OK but without me they would have all ended up working in the flower market, or worse - in Led Zeppelin. John Peel played some records that were so bad that I thought he was taking the piss sometimes. The BBC only gave us Pop Radio 1 in the ‘60s five years after the Pirates had proved there was an audience for it. Sadly, unlike the Pirates, they didn’t accept payola.

I really should put this inner artist guy back in his box yes? Have we got our newspaper headlines yet?

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Comments

Lee Dronick

He is probably correct that indie musicians should be able to sell directly through iTunes as long as the tracks meet specs. I have bought more music through iTunes in the last few years than I have ever bought in my previous 50 years.

amergin

Rock on Tommy!

It’s a pity he didn’t say this to Steve while he was alive - I think it would have got through to him.

Garion

It would seem that Mr. Townshend is a trifle confused about what iTunes is and is not. Apple is merely a music reseller, not a record label!

All the responsibilities he’s talking about, the nurturing of artists etc., tell that to the record labels! They are the ones who have signed a contract with the musicians, not Apple.

UpQuark

I love the Who and one of my all time favorite bands.  But I have to disagree with him.  iTunes is more closely analogous to a record store or distribution warehouse. 

So, should Best Buy do the same thing as an A&R group do for musicians?  I don’t think so.  I think the strength of iTunes is to get music out to people who would not have had a chance to do so.  Yes, there is crappy stuff on iTunes (to me) but there is some great indy stuff too.

Garion is right - record labels should be doing the kind of work he is mentioning, but it sounds like they are not.

cb50dc

Separate from considering the merits of the rest of his input:

“I don?t give a shit about making money.”

Easy to say when you have a shitload of money, and enough royalties likely so that you’ll never have to worry about it again.

Bryan Chaffin

cbsofla, he was being self-effacing and satirical with that line. His point was to separate what the artist in him might want from what he sees as the business side of the industry. If that’s not clear, read the full transcript for greater context.

Bryan Chaffin

Garion and UpQuark, I believe part of Pete’s point is that the traditional recording industry paradigms are collapsing around us, and that the infrastructure to support and nurture new artists is simply not there.

He is asking Apple to think differently about its role in the music ecosystem. My knee-jerk reaction is that not all of his proposals are realistic, but business as usual isn’t working.

Dearg

The biggest load of S**T i’ve read all year. We would all like to see Artists compensated for the amazing content they create but lets get things in to perspective.
1. 5 Years ago the illegal download scene was costing artists like Mr Townsend a mountain of expected revenue.

2. iTunes should be cherished and loved by all musicians.

3. Apple is not a record label, however i do like the idea of Apple own A&R staff talent spotting. We should all agree a band or artist signed directly to “iRecords” (Not a bad name) will be the best treated in the world.

4. Pete Townsend uses so many mis informed dribble in his argument it invalidates any knowledge he has away from his talents. How he managed to associate iTunes, Apple and Music to Facebook & Twitter i have no clue.

Finally..

5. Apple takes a far smaller commission than the record labels. Take up your argument with Sony etc and see how far it gets you. Without the label its hard to get content published, without Apple its nearly impossible to enjoy the numbers of sales experienced over the last few years.

Utter trifle!!

Jamie

He is a tad misinformed, though. Apple isn’t a label, and even during the golden days he’s referring to the majors were pretty unrelentingly corrupt (his band was in an exceptional situation) hence the indie explosion of the 70s onward. In this interview he really strikes me as out of touch, which is a surprise, in all honesty.

dhp

All the responsibilities he?s talking about, the nurturing of artists etc., tell that to the record labels! They are the ones who have signed a contract with the musicians, not Apple.

The point he’s making is that the traditional recording industry system of Artist—>Label—>Distributor—>Retailer does not apply to many artists on iTunes. Instead in many cases it’s Artist(—>Aggregator)—>iTunes. There is no label involved.

iTunes is more closely analogous to a record store or distribution warehouse. So, should Best Buy do the same thing as an A&R group do for musicians?

How many people are recording music on their bedroom Macs and getting it sold in Best Buy? On the one hand, it’s great that iTunes makes it possible for an unknown to get national or international distribution. But those who cheer the demise of record labels ignore (or are ignorant of) the positive aspects of labels that Townshend mentioned.

Lancashire-Witch

As Des O’Connor once remarked - the problem with the music business is that there’s plenty of room at the top, but no room at all at the bottom.

Salford mentioned in a TMO story - Amazing.

amergin

The fact remains that Apple is the wealthiest company in the world and rides on the back of musicians amongst others. Some of these enormous profits could be put back into the music industry thereby stimulating a healthier future for all. I know a lot of musicians but very few that can scrape a living out of music, most have day jobs. This is not necessarily a bad thing and is not maybe any different to how it was 40 years ago. I think Mr Townshend is just saying that maybe Apple with all the money they are skimming from the market could put some of that back into helping those who are struggling to be heard to raise their heads above the noise. As I said earlier, I do believe Steve Jobs would have listened… and maybe acted on this.

jfutral

@dhp, “The point he?s making is that the traditional recording industry system of Artist?>Label?>Distributor?>Retailer does not apply to many artists on iTunes. Instead in many cases it?s Artist(?>Aggregator)?>iTunes. There is no label involved.”

Sure, but dropping “Retailer” from your formula and inserting “iTunes” doesn’t make iTunes/Apple any anything but a retailer, and not the only music retailer out there. Do/should other retailers do the same? It doesn’t really matter how many steps you put before “Retailer”, that is all iTunes is, a retailer?no more, no less.

You have to remember, P.T. is really from a system of a different era, one that has proven to be irrelevant going forward. But it sure seems to me, if these are such great ideas (and I believe they are), this is a better opportunity for him and his peers, than a retailer like Apple/iTunes. I always have problems when the content distributer decides to take on content creation (like Comcast buying NBC). You thought people complained about Apple’s “walled garden” before! Oi!

Joe

Tiger

The last thing any of us want is Apple to become a music label. (UK version not included)

Apple is the end retailer only. Artists wanted more control of their music? Well, they got it. And now they have to bear the responsibility for the business aspect that the labels used to manage.

Imagine a country where people were actually responsible for their own actions?? (John Lennon’s lost verse!)

mrmwebmax

+

What Mr. Townshend fails to grasp is what, exactly, iTunes has given artists worldwide: a worldwide marketplace with Genius Recommendations and “other listeners bought” (or however its phrased. Now that’s marketing: Any time I look at an album on iTunes, I see both Genius Recommendations and other purchases made by the people who bought that particular album How is that effective marketing?

A few years back, when I get heavily into Firefly and Serenity, I saw a YouTube tribute video set to the tune of “Forsaken” by Within Temptation. I got hooked on the song, and went looking for Within Temptation on iTunes. I bought what albums were available at the time, then saw that others who’d bought Within Temptation also had bought albums by a band called Nightwish. That’s how I got into Nightwish. Nightwish led to Midnattsol, a band I doubt many here have heard of. I surely hadn’t. Long story short: I discovered a whole genre of music known as European Gothic Metal, and bought albums by Leaves Eyes, in addition to the bands already mentioned, plus albums from others.

I just kept following the trail that iTunes gave me, while having access to a “record store” that stocks pretty much everything on the planet. No brick-and-mortar record store could have ever held such variety, nor could it ever provide recommendations as does iTunes.

As a result, I now have an entire collection of music I’d never heard of, and bands half a world away (I’m in PA, these bands are all European) made sales that they never would have made, had it not been for iTunes.

The successful will learn how to use iTunes and social media to their advantage. That’s the reality of today. Mr. Townshend and others like him need to get with the times, not become bitter old geezers mired in the past.

Hope I die before I get old, indeed.

Lee Dronick

The fact remains that Apple is the wealthiest company in the world and rides on the back of musicians amongst others.

Riding on the backs of musicians! As if musicians are the only thing keeping Apple from collapsing. I don’t think so! Does Apple make some money form musicians? Yes, of course. Do they make a lot? No.

I know a lot of musicians but very few that can scrape a living out of music, most have day jobs.

Yes, it has been like that for at least 6000 years.

I think Mr Townshend is just saying that maybe Apple with all the money they are skimming from the market could put some of that back into helping those who are struggling to be heard to raise their heads above the noise

If you all want to do something about the exploitation of musicians then you should occupy the labels not the retailers.

Lee Dronick

The successful will learn how to use iTunes and social media to their advantage. That?s the reality of today. Mr. Townshend and others like him need to get with the times, not become bitter old geezers mired in the past.

Change can be tough even for the young, but necessary as you say for those in business. I getting to be a geezer, but I think that I do a pretty good job of keeping up with the times.

What Mr. Townshend fails to grasp is what, exactly, iTunes has given artists worldwide: a worldwide marketplace with Genius Recommendations and ?other listeners bought? (or however its phrased. Now that?s marketing: Any time I look at an album on iTunes, I see both Genius Recommendations and other purchases made by the people who bought that particular album How is that effective marketing?

As I said supra, I have bought more music since the advent of the iTunes Store than I bought in my previous 40-50 years. And yes the Genius Recommendations have resulted in me buying more tracks. No going into a music store and listening to heavy metal blaring at 90 db, I can listen previews in the quiet environment of my own home.

Now before some audiophile pops in talking about great is vinyl I will tell you I don’t care about that. Digital music has its own advantages over records or tapes and it is much more portable.

macProf

As I understand it, Apple doesn’t do much better than breaking even with their iTunes music - maybe a fair bit more when there isn’t a label in between.

The greatest thing to me about iTunes is that we no longer have to depend on the labels to discover and market music. The labels agenda was always to pick what they thought would sell. Often, this was the simplest, trendiest crap, with a pretty face or schtick to help advertise it. As mrmgraphics said, we now have the ability to search intelligently for ourselves from amongst the largest repertoire of diverse styles and music types imaginable. Gone are the days of top 40 radio, where we were inundated with the same simplistic crappy songs 20 times a day, (unless you spend a lot of time on You-tube).

amergin

iTunes and the iPod turned Apple from a loss-making company into what we now know. The spin may be that they don’t make a profit from iTunes but they certainly do make a profit from the full package. Their are more ways than one to skin a cat and I’m sure Apple could come up with some way to stimulate young artists. They went half-way there with their iTunes festival in London this summer but that was for already successful bands. Back in the seventies when I started getting into music the pirate radio stations in Dublin introduced us to stuff that wouldn’t have made it past the suits in the record companies or the respectable radio stations. The Boomtown Rats and U2 were two bands that benefitted from this (amongst many others), but I also remember how the ‘scene’ benefitted from the pirate stations and gave a load of us something to do and aspire to. When the Mac was being developed they flew a pirate flag over the building - maybe we could have a bit more pirate thinking at Apple again? (and no, I’m not suggesting that people illegally copy music - it’s quite convenient that the word pirates has been stolen and misused like this)

ibuck

As a Boomer who considers the mid 50’s to about 1973 a golden age of music in many genres, including rock, folk, R&B, pop, etc., I find the gist of PT’s “rant” appealing. He & The Who were a part of that era, and the music scene since then pales in comparison, IMHO.  I don’t know enough about iTunes profitability or the recording business to hazard a guess about the feasibility of Townshend’s suggestions. I would love to hear successful A&R folks’ (like Simon Cowell) take on these ideas.

The concept of an entity that nurtures, guides, promotes and perhaps molds artists, whether young or old (like, say, Susan Boyle) sounds good. A&R folks and TV programs like American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent seem to fill this role a bit, but apparently leave a lot of talent undeveloped, as PT implies.

But should this be Apple’s sole responsibility? Perhaps the top music retailers, like Apple, Amazon, WalMart, etc, could somehow support a joint venture to do all this, helping artists and producing/distributing superior music (and albums) for consumers. But I’m not clear what incentives could motivate retailers to do so.

ericmurphy

Before Apple was the world’s largest music retailer, Walmart was the world’s largest music retailer. Did Mr. Townsend believe Walmart had an obligation to develop, assist, and market artists the way he believes Apple does?

dhp

Before Apple was the world?s largest music retailer, Walmart was the world?s largest music retailer. Did Mr. Townsend believe Walmart had an obligation to develop, assist, and market artists the way he believes Apple does?

Walmart (along with Best Buy, etc.) carries artists who already have major label support and/or distribution. I don’t think those are the people Townshend is talking about.

L.

t doesn?t really matter how many steps you put before ?Retailer?, that is all iTunes is, a retailer?no more, no less.

This. is . wrong.

See, a retailer sells pieces of plastic with a metallic reflector sticker, encased in a plastic box with leaflets, art and paper.

That type of stuff has to be shipped, handled through SEVERAL layers of sales (intl, natl, big dealer , record shop) which has two major effects :
+50%+ price due to sales commissions
+10%+ price due to moving costs

What anyone selling music over the internet does is simply provide a webapp (amortized over the many customers and purchases), some bandwidth (ridiculously low amount, seeing as a full FLAC disc would be about 600 megs, and sold @ 14 bucks).

online music retailers are NOT the same thing. at all.

Also, you can come from your friend’s studio, upload there and start selling - why then should the artist get less than 70% of the cash ?

Everything being sold nowadays more or less has a 30% margin for the last player in the distribution chain (depending on what you sell etc.), why would the music industry work the other way around when there are almost NO inherent costs to the retail business (iTunes cost is probably below 1% of the income).

What the old townshend is saying is simply that : Apple makes a f*ton of money, why not invest a bit and make even more profit : become a 21st century label rather than *just* another online music retailer.

jfutral

What the old townshend is saying is simply that : Apple makes a f*ton of money, why not invest a bit and make even more profit : become a 21st century label rather than *just* another online music retailer.

Unless you have research that is not publicly available, your numbers are fabricated and fantasy (I’ll refrain from calling them lies as I see no implication of intentional deceit), so those arguments are immediately thrown out. So is your 20th century understanding of a retailer. And your last line speaks more to politics than business. It’s always easier to tell other people how to spend their money, especially if you aren’t the one who worked hard to make it.

But let’s say Apple DID get into the record label business. You thought they had issues dealing with the recording industry before? That just opens up a whole other can of hurt. You think they are making a “TON” of money from iTunes now, that would get tanked right away.

Then every musician that gets turned down by Apple will be on a public relations rampage.

Personally, I’d give more weight to an artist that Townshend mentors than anyone that would come out of an Apple system. He’s made his money. Maybe it is time for HIM to give back.

Joe

zewazir

See, a retailer sells pieces of plastic with a metallic reflector sticker, encased in a plastic box with leaflets, art and paper.

That type of stuff has to be shipped, handled through SEVERAL layers of sales (intl, natl, big dealer , record shop) which has two major effects :
+50%+ price due to sales commissions
+10%+ price due to moving costs

What anyone selling music over the internet does is simply provide a webapp (amortized over the many customers and purchases), some bandwidth (ridiculously low amount, seeing as a full FLAC disc would be about 600 megs, and sold @ 14 bucks).

online music retailers are NOT the same thing. at all.

Your are right - digital music retailers are not the same as box stores who sell music contained on physical media.  So what?  They are still retailers.

Two things Pete glosses over in his tirade against iTunes. First, the music industry is more open with digital retail sales.  As you point out, people can mix their own and ump online to sell it. No need to get a label contract, no need to convince some profit-motivated agent that your stuff is even salable in the first place.  That gives a lot more artists the opportunity to get their stuff out where people can listen to it - and open market. This is in contrast to the old way where the label decided if someone is marketable - often having more to do with how cute they are to the opposite gender than actual musical ability (Brittany Spears anyone?), where who knows how much enjoyable music was lost to the public because someone decided they were not marketable (ie: not marketable enough to generate the level of profits needed to gain support).

Second ties directly into the first. The “critical guidance” Pete bemoans as missing from the digital music industry had far more to do with labels and agents assuring maximum profits from their clients than trying to develop a burgeoning musician into a salable commodity. If a musician or musical group did not enter the offices of a label with an already developed product (good, salable song list) you can bet they got none of Pete’s hypothetical “critical guidance”.

As for what is fair, it costs money to run the servers, develop the sales application and format of the website, etc. of any online retail outlet. Have a site with high popularity of the iTunes store provides the exposure most beginning musicians would only dream about while sitting in the waiting room of a record label. In short, 30% of something is a lot more than 70% of nothing.

zewazir

BTW: Apple Corp. has already had many court sessions with Apple Records having to do with their name.  So far Apple Corp ha been able to minimize their losses to Apple records, first y staying out of music business all together, second by remaining a retailer and not a label. If they were to act as Pete suggests, Apple Records would have a more-than-legitimate reason to shut them down.

amergin

BTW: Apple Corp. has already had many court sessions with Apple Records having to do with their name.  So far Apple Corp ha been able to minimize their losses to Apple records, first y staying out of music business all together, second by remaining a retailer and not a label. If they were to act as Pete suggests, Apple Records would have a more-than-legitimate reason to shut them down.

There’s not much thinking outside the box here. Perhaps Apple Inc could pay Apple Records to be the ‘promoters’ - they’ve already paid them $500m for ownership of the name.

And to those of you who think that access to the iTunes Store is all that’s needed to help propel a musician to success you need to think a bit more about it. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of artists are on iTunes but you can be sure that there are countless thousands that you will never hear of unless they are already a hit. There’s more to promoting a product than just giving it shelf space on an infinite shelf. Maybe just think about what Mr Townshend said and think about the future - don’t get too tied up with the emotive words like vampire, things are going to change, they always do - I hope Apple is part of it and Mr Townshend might have just given us a kick in the right direction.

Lee Dronick

There?s not much thinking outside the box here.

it doesn’t matter where we think, what matters is where Apple thinks.

jfutral

And to those of you who think that access to the iTunes Store is all that?s needed to help propel a musician to success you need to think a bit more about it.

I think the point there is there has never been a time where retail access has been so easy. You actually don’t even need iTunes. It’s never been cheaper to record your own record. It’s never been easier and cheaper to do the promoting yourself. You don’t even need radio to have access to millions of listeners. These are all things that the labels used to be the gate keepers of.

Plus this has been the biggest boon for the singer/song writer. Used to be the musicians didn’t even get to play their own instruments. Record labels controlled EVERYTHING. That’s what happens when you cede control. Very few bands were able to control not just their own destiny, but their own music, like The Dead. Have you guys not read any of the articles of all the heartbreak of artists struggling to regain control of their own music? Even the big names like Prince.

Really, there has never been a better time for the musicians to step up to the plate and take the role the record labels used to have and be better for the musicians. Like Steve Vai. Pete Townshend needs to put HIS money where his mouth is. That is a far better solution. Is there a need for the nurturing and mentoring PT is talking about? Always. Art has always thrived in that environment. But it needs to be done artist to artist. Not corporation to artist.

There is no “thinking outside the box” when you think non-musician centered corporations should control the music. That is simple status quo. There is no thinking outside the box in Townshend’s thinking. He just wants someone else to take over where the dinosaurs are dying off. He wants a new dinosaur. That’s not what music needs.

Joe

Lee Dronick

Like Steve Vai. Pete Townshend needs to put HIS money where his mouth is. That is a far better solution. Is there a need for the nurturing and mentoring PT is talking about? Always. Art has always thrived in that environment. But it needs to be done artist to artist. Not corporation to artist.

Perhaps Pete Townsend can work with young artists on how to protect their hearing, particularly those bumping bass and playing heavy metal. 30 years ago a savvy investor put money into personal computing, these days they could do well in hearing aids.

jfutral

Pete Townsend can work with young artists on how to protect their hearing

The first thing he should tell them is to not stand close to the drummer, or at least not next to the hi-hat. My right ear STILL rings.

Joe

amergin

  1320430784 said:

  Pete Townsend can work with young artists on how to protect their hearing

The first thing he should tell them is to not stand close to the drummer, or at least not next to the hi-hat. My right ear STILL rings.

Joe

I presume you’re referring to this…
The Who My Generation (infamous explosion) - YouTube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nr81olQ1ibk

amergin

  1320430784 said:

  Pete Townsend can work with young artists on how to protect their hearing

The first thing he should tell them is to not stand close to the drummer, or at least not next to the hi-hat. My right ear STILL rings.

Joe

presume you’re referring to this…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nr81olQ1ibk

Lee Dronick

The first thing he should tell them is to not stand close to the drummer, or at least not next to the hi-hat. My right ear STILL rings.

It is cumulative damage as well as from one dramatic incident or two. I am paying for it now, not so much from loud music, but mostly from my time in the military.

zewazir

And to those of you who think that access to the iTunes Store is all that?s needed to help propel a musician to success you need to think a bit more about it. I don?t know how many hundreds of thousands of artists are on iTunes but you can be sure that there are countless thousands that you will never hear of unless they are already a hit. There?s more to promoting a product than just giving it shelf space on an infinite shelf.

The central point, which has been brought out by many - is the idea that Apple should take on the role of a recording label is, quite simply, wrong. iTunes, for all its nontraditional format, is still simply a digital media retail outlet - the digital media equivalent of a general store. And it is NOT the role of a general retail outlet to promote one product over another. In fact, doing so would be more problematical than helpful. You don’t see Walmart paying for ads to promote Campbell’s soups. You don’t see Albertson’s paying for ads to promote Tide laundry detergent. They don’t do so because it would simply piss off the makers of Progressive soup, or Cheer detergent. (Ignoring the probability that they are all from one gigantic supercorporation….)

Nor should one expect iTunes (Apple Corp.) to promote any of the artists vying to sell music through the iTunes store for the same reasons that Albertson’s does not promote Tide. How would Apple choose who to promote? Apple obviously cannot promote them ALL - that would end up with all artists who are not already being promoted by a label to end up on the same footing - which they already are, while pising off the recording labels for treating unaffiliated artists differently that those who have a label contract. If Apple were to pick and choose, then a large number of artists would be left behind, making it even harder for them to get noticed - a result that is hardly thinking outside the box, since that is how the current recording label system works: promote some, leave the majority out in the cold.

If you want outside-the-box thinking, how about taking an entrepreneurial view. As has been repeatedly, and validly pointed out, it is not the job of the retail outlet to promote the products of others that happen to be on their shelves. So, set up a new type of promotion service, specifically dedicated to helping struggling young artists to get their creations noticed in the world of online digital media outlets (of which iTunes is simply the leader, not the only). Maybe Pete would (should) be willing to put up some of his money to start such a venture, since he is so obviously concerned for these young start-up artists. The old labels seem to be having difficulty moving their old model to the new venue. Maybe it will take a new type of promoter, built on the new venue, to get things rolling. While it’s not the job of Apple to do so, that leaves the field open to someone with a bit of knowledge, and a bit of daring, to give it a go.

ibuck

Zewazir, while there’s some merit in your point about not wanting to antagonize the recording companies, I can’t agree on retailers not promoting the products in their store. Most retailers have invested in their inventory and NEED to sell it to be successful. Usually they cannot return it to the maker or distributor. Their salespeople (as distinguished from cashiers) promote their goods, sometimes to the point of misleading customers. Retailers will frequently advertise a brand, over the others they may carry, often sharing ad costs with the manufacturer.

And Apple promotes artists constantly. Just open the iTunes Store to see the dozens of artists they are promoting just on that first page.

The point, as I see it, is that as the music industry changes, some of the resources that helped musicians are disappearing. Will any entity now assume those roles? And how will that entity be funded?

ericmurphy

@lbuck

Sure, retailers frequently promote the products they sell. Apple already does this with iTunes: being on the first page of the iTunes store makes a big difference in sales.

But one thing retailers will not typically do is actually get involved in the design or manufacture of the product they’re selling. I.e., Best Buy doesn’t work with Dell or Sony in the circuit design of laptop computers.

The chances that Apple will actually get involved in A&R are slim to none, as doing so would take Apple very far out of its core competencies, which are a) designing, marketing, and selling insanely great hardware, and b) designing, writing, marketing, and selling insanely great software to run on that hardware. Apple has no experience in developing the artistic talents or careers of musicians or writers. I would be extremely surprised to find that Apple currently runs even a rudimentary A&R department or literary agency (for iBooks).  I cannot imagine Tim Cook thinking it a good idea to start doing that now.

ibuck

Dear Eric Murphy, I guess I wasn’t clear enough.

By “Any entity” I did not mean Apple, or Wal-Mart or Amazon. Nor is this discussion just about A&R.  When I posted on 11/1/2011 that I “would love to hear successful A&R folks? take on these ideas,” I meant ideas on a new model that might evolve to help musicians in the face of the dwindling resources available to them as the music industry changes.

One such avenue could be independent A&R guys like American Idol’s Simon Cowell, who assembled, nurtured and promoted singing groups Il Divo and Angelis  and many other artists. However, Simon’s just one person, and he’s very busy, with his hand in many other ventures as well. 

Could we see more independent A&R people, entertainment impresarios or music entrepreneurs like Elvis’ Colonel Tom Parker, the Beatles’ Brian Epstein, or Celine Dion’s manager Ren? Ang?lil? Seems more likely than the big music retailers taking on these roles. Ang?lil mortgaged his home to finance & promote Celine. Is there another model to nurture, promote and produce the music that we love? Or might love, if only it could come to fruition?

Can we have some ideas other than “Apple (or Wal-Mart or Amazon) can’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t do it”?

ericmurphy

Independent A&R people could definitely fill a gap that desperately needs to be filled.

Let’s face it: label-affiliated A&R departments are worthless. They’ve shown no ability over the past 50 years to pick artists of quality and promote them. And with iTunes, there’s no need (or even desirability) for A&R people/departments to be affiliated with record companies.

Instead of records companies’ doing artist development (they’ve historically shown no talent for it) or retailers (Apple, Walmart, etc.) doing it, what would probably work would be independents?agents, if you will?doing it. People who know how to develop artists, and can concentrate on that development rather than marketing. Retailers, as you point out, have an interest in marketing, and can be relied upon to do so. An agency model (not to be confused with the “agency model” of booksellers) where independent A&R people who know how to develop talent could take a cut of the artists’ revenues from digital sales seems like it would be viable. Right now, record companies take the lion’s share of digital download sales, leaving little for retailers and less for artists (who typically make essentially all of their money from touring). Remove the record companies completely, and you’ll have something like 70 additional cents of every dollar available to be split among retailers, A&R people, and the artists. The records companies lose (as they deserve), and everyone else wins.

zewazir

Most retailers have invested in their inventory and NEED to sell it to be successful. Usually they cannot return it to the maker or distributor. Their salespeople (as distinguished from cashiers) promote their goods, sometimes to the point of misleading customers. Retailers will frequently advertise a brand, over the others they may carry, often sharing ad costs with the manufacturer.

With general retailers, it does not work QUITE the way you explain. First, retailers DO advertise.  But they advertise THEIR store over other stores, in order to gain customers to buy their inventory. But the vast majority of time you see a general retailer advertising a certain product from a certain manufacturer, it is in cooperation with that manufacturer - the manufacturer gives them a deal on a product, the retailer passes on that deal to customers to draw sales.  Sales people push what ever is going to get them the best commission, and/or whatever is most likely to gain the sale.  With some customers, that means the highest price item, but with others it means the lowest-that-does-the-job item.  The better the sales person can tell which customer will buy which product, the more sales they will make, and more commissions.  But I guarantee you, the average sales person in a general retail outlet (ie: not affiliated with any particular brand name or set of brand names) could care less which product they sell, as long as it is the most expensive one they can get the customer to buy.

The point is, again, it is NOT the job of the retailer to push a particular brand, unless the retailer is already affiliated with that brand.  The iTunes store puts some songs and artists on their front page, but I don’t know how that works.  Are certain labels paying Apple to put their artists out front?  I do not know.  For all I know, (and I think it is probably this way) it could be semi-random, based on some formula of recent sales, thus putting the more popular songs out front according to what was purchased. In any case, it would be up to the artist to get Apple to promote their stuff, not up to Apple to offer.

Bryan Chaffin

I am not all that surprised at the reactionary nature of most of the comments, but I am a little saddened more people aren’t willing to think a little differently.

Pete didn’t say Apple should become a label.

He laid out several ways that Apple?which has benefitted enormously from the sale of music, both in the small profit iTunes directly contributes to Apple’s bottom line, and indirectly from the enormous profits Apple has made on selling iPods, iPhones, and the increased sale of Macs attributed to the halo effect?could put some of those profits to work supporting and nurturing new artists because the traditional labels are dying, or to be more generous, failing and shrinking.

I would agree that Apple has no business becoming a de facto record label, but that’s a far cry from what Pete proposed. Apple and its shareholders would benefit from a healthier pool of artists and musicians.

Indeed, Apple already has done something along these lines.  The iTunes Festival in London during the month of July includes many smaller bands, and the exposure they get from the event, which has to cost a TIDY sum, is very beneficial.

Yes, Pete chose some incendiary words with his “vampire” comment and by channeling his “inner artist,” but Pete has made a career of being bombastic and incendiary. Underneath and alongside that rhetoric, however, he has shown time and time again that he is one of the smartest guys in rock and roll.

I’ll iterate: The idea that Apple could do more to help up and coming artists is a good one that could benefit musicians, Apple, its shareholders, and us, as customers.

As a backdrop, when I was in The Atomic Love Bombs, we independently released an album on iTunes (I have physical CDs, too, if anyone is interested). We used one of the third party aggregators, TuneCore, and from my personal experience, Pete’s comments are salient and I think his ideas are intriguing.

jfutral

Pete didn?t say Apple should become a label.

Which makes his “suggestion” make even less sense. What he is talking about needs to be done artist to artist, on a personal level. Not managed by some corporation. As someone else noted, this is not the kind of thing Apple is good at. It is outside their core competencies.

His incendiary rhetoric undermines any value to the ideas he is trying to communicate. It makes him sound like a bitter old coot, a busy body who would rather tell someone else what to do with their money instead of solving the problem himself. And he certainly has the money to get off his lazy arse and do something. Prince did it. Steve Vai did it. Countless other top shelf recording artists have done this sort of thing, taken young talent, nurtured, mentored, produced and promoted them to their own successes. And done so in ways to help the artist be the center of their business, not some recording industry suit.

He is not providing solutions, himself. He is just complaining. Nothing “outside the box” about that or his thinking. Sure Apple COULD do more. So COULD Pete Townshend. So COULD lots of people who are more directly involved in the recording industry than Apple. But why SHOULD they? Because Apple has done more to level the playing field than anyone else in the industry?

Exactly what resources are dwindling? And why? It’s never been cheaper or easier to record your own music, release it to millions, and promote the work. There IS a healthier pool of musicians and artists than there has EVER been before, no thanks to the system PT seems to believe in.

As someone who makes his living in the arts, including music, I get REAL tired of the entitlement attitude of MANY artists who think everyone else should do for them what they should do themselves.

There are people and organizations doing RIGHT NOW what he thinks Apple should do. There are para-arts organizations dedicated to helping new artists refine their craft and art, and learn how to build a business. PT does a great disservice to the many tirelessly work at what he thinks Apple should do. He would be better off targeting them and HELPING them do this great service. Just about every major city has organizations like Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and Arts Councils who exist just for this kind of thing.

To re-iterate, as an artist I would much rather hear what PT thinks of my music, whether it is good enough and how to improve it, than Apple. And then learn how to WIDELY distribute that music, not just through iTunes. No artist should rely on a single distribution channel, if they are really trying to make a go at it.

To target Apple is just link bait and making for an easy press release.

Joe

zewazir

I?ll iterate: The idea that Apple could do more to help up and coming artists is a good one that could benefit musicians, Apple, its shareholders, and us, as customers.

And I will ask again: how does Apple choose which artists to assist? Apple cannot possibly help them all, and some of the areas Pete says are missing are way outside Apple’s realm anyway.

1) Editorial guidance? What does Apple Corp. know about editing music for best effect?  Apple makes and sells computers and personal digital devices, and writes and sells software that makes those devices work in way the public loves.

2) Financial support? Which artists does Apple choose to support, and by what criteria?  Who do they leave on their own to sink or swim, and by what criteria?  And how is that different from the way labels treat musicians, promoting the few while the majority remain stuck in their garages? The idea is to promote MORE artists, not find a way to bring the old system into the new market.

3) Creative Nurture? See #1.  And hiring specialist in that area simply takes Apple out of the hardware business and into the music agent business. Not really a good idea, and goes against everything Jobs made it a point to keep away from - trying to be too many things to too many interests.

4) Manufacturing?  What’s to manufacture in the digital music industry?

5) Publishing?  iTunes store - what more do they need?

6) Marketing?  It’s not the job of a general retailer to market one product over another.  That would only invite trouble.

bottom line, Apple is a general (as in not affiliated with any particular name or label) retailer when it comes to music. To go beyond that role holds more problems for Apple than benefits as far as I can see. Assistance to artists needs to come from someone other than an outlet whose best interest lies in selling everyone’s music. Pete may have a good idea about the need for filling in the holes that the decline of recording labels has left in the music artist realm.  But Apple simply is not the one who should be doing it.

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