Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Pete Townshend spectacularly misses the point about music and Apple

Can someone please give me a rational explanation as to why the music business’ elder statesmen always seem to get it wrong when it comes to pontificating about technology? The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend joined Paul McGuinness, Jon Bon Jovi, …

Tue, Nov 1, 2011, 14:20

   

Can someone please give me a rational explanation as to why the music business’ elder statesmen always seem to get it wrong when it comes to pontificating about technology? The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend joined Paul McGuinness, Jon Bon Jovi, Prince and John Lydon in the grumpy-old-men club yesterday with his John Peel lecture at the Radio Festival in Manchester. It’s quite a speech as Townshend lets rip about Apple, Steve Jobs, iTunes and piracy. In fairness, you should actually read it at least twice to catch the stuff you missed on the first read.

In Townshend’s world, Apple and other tech companies are not doing enough to help musicians. Townshend, a guitarist in a band who enjoyed major label tenure for most of their career and who can still command huge live fees, believes Apple should employ A&R men (and women) to spot new talent and provide financial and creative support to new artists. Furthermore, Townshend believes that Apple with its iTunes and various music players needs to do more for “the artists whose work it bleeds like a digital vampire Northern Rock for its enormous commission”.

There are many possible reactions to what Townshend has to say. You can dismiss them as the out-of-touch ramblings of another rich rock star aghast that he’s not earning big bucks for his latest solo album. You can give him a condescending pat on the head and wonder how much he’s made from synch payments in the last year. Or you can wonder if Townshend has an iota about what’s he talking about.

A tech company like Apple produce goods and services which people can then use (if they’re any use) or ignore (if they’re terrible). In the case of Apple and the music business, we’ve written here before many (many) times about how the arrival of Steve Jobs, the white knight in the black poloneck, gave the music business a get-out-of-jail-free card when it came to selling digital music. That Jobs was doing it to pimp iPods and hardware was obvious to everyone looking on – bar the music business, who took a few years to realise that they’d been punked by Jobs. Diatribes like the one Townshend delivered yesterday, with their litany of outlandish demands, are a continuation of the fuming we’ve had from label executives over the last few years.

Apple have an A&R department – it’s called research and development. The other demands from the Who star, from getting Apple to stop using aggregators to providing a “local radio station” on iTunes for acts, smack of the same sort of wrong-headed, ludicrous, stupid, stooge-like behaviour which has given us things like national quotas for radio stations and the like. It’s not Apple’s job or responsibility to provide artists with development advice and “free computers”. It’s their job to make and sell fabulous products and make sure the company’s employees and shareholders are happy. Nothing more, nothing less. If artists don’t want to play ball, they can take the ball away. After all, you can still buy a couple of hundred tunes by The Who on iTunes so obviously, Townshend hasn’t quite managed to get the rest of his band on side yet. I suppose he had to have something to say.

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