Pete Townshend Calls iTunes A Digital Vampire; Talkin' 'Bout His Generation…

from the talkin'-bout-my-generation dept

When he was 20 years old, Pete Townshend of The Who wrote the classic line “hope I die before I get old,” as part of the anthem Talkin’ ’bout my generation. As a Townshend fan, I’m certainly happy to know that he didn’t die before he got old… but it does seem rather ironic that he’s now acting just like the “old folks” that he once mocked. At an event earlier this week, he claimed that the internet is destroying copyright, and declared that iTunes is a “digital vampire.” His complaint there is that it takes an “enormous commission.” Um. Ok. So, according to most reports, iTunes’ commission on music is approximately $0.30 on the dollar. While some may claim that’s high, compare that to how much a record label takes on each sale, where artists often get perhaps 10 to 15% royalties, with the label taking the rest. Which one seems more like a vampire?

He says that iTunes should employ A&R people, but why is that Apple’s business? That’s like saying Tower Records should have had A&R people to guide musicians a decade ago. It appears his complaint is that new musicians are allowed into iTunes even if they suck. But that’s an issue for filters and mentors to deal with, and the internet seems to be taking care of that. Is there bad music on iTunes? Sure, but you can get around that by not listening to it, and those musicians can get guidance from all sorts of people. He also talks about why Apple should give away computers to 500 musicians they like. But… why? What is focusing on just a few musicians going to do? The power of the internet is that it empowers tons of new musicians. Having Apple give free computers to the musician it likes kinda misses the point of the democratization of the market. It will leave out all sorts of wonderful artists that niche groups in the public might like.

He then goes on to complain that Apple won’t stream full albums. Why is that Apple’s job? Has no one shown Pete Spotify or any of the many other streaming players out there these days?

Of course, he won’t listen to me on this, because he talks about the “vilest” parts of “blogland” where people are “drunk, or just nuts.”

And, of course, he goes on a bit of a rant about file sharing. Beyond just the internet “destroying copyright,” he compares someone downloading one of his songs to someone coming into his house and stealing his kid’s bike (interesting comparison). Of course, as anyone who’s ever thought about this for more than a second knows, making a copy doesn’t remove anything. Making comparisons to stolen physical goods just makes it look like you’re… well… not talking about our generation. So, as a retort, I’ll just “infringe” on Mr. Townshend’s own words:

People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

Why don’t you all f-fade away (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
And don’t try to dig what we all s-s-say (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-g-generation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

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Comments on “Pete Townshend Calls iTunes A Digital Vampire; Talkin' 'Bout His Generation…”

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heyidiot (profile) says:

Re: John Entwistle?

Better than Pete Townshend? Oh come now… that’s just dumb.

And listen here: Artists aren’t supposed to be smart and logical. They’re supposed to be all sensitive n’shit… and have the vision thing going on.

Pete Townshend made some great music, and he’s a total asshole too… All of your best musicians are assholes. I’m OK with that.

Jeff (profile) says:

I truly believe that “being old” is a state of mind. When you stop learning, and close yourself off to new opportunities for learning, then you have died. With that in mind – he is an old fool who has pissed all of his talent down the drain. Pete, I’m sorry you’re old, bitter, and confused – the world has left you behind because you were content to rest on your laurels; now you are irrelevant and looking more and more foolish every day. Please, please don’t destroy the memory I have of you – shut the hell up and get off the stage already!

bob (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

He is knowingly and willfully infringing, after all. He’s admitted it as such. No need for that part of the trial. No need for him to try the old open-wifi gambit.

But what do you want to bet that if Townshend sues, he’ll turn tail and run? He’ll just contradict himself and say that he’s not infringing after all and try to split hairs once again. He’ll come up with some rationalization about how this is a homage or an attempt to help Townshend sell t-shirts.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Record labels put other talent into the mix: Apple just SITS THERE.

Or if the RIAA continues crafting the laws in their favor to the point where there is no choice anymore, people will use them instead and congratulate them on their “contribution”.

If that happens, if RIAA legislates themselves into a position where there is no choice any more, I suspect that one of two things will happen: A.) People will ignore the law and RIAA will keep pushing for more and more laws to outlaw choice, each which fail to produce results, or B.) The government will be pushed to enforce the law and the public will revolt. Maybe the third thing will happen: C.) Congress will finally ignore the RIAA, but I doubt that will happen as the bag full of benjamins and a system that effectively hides corruption will keep that from ever occurring.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Record labels put other talent into the mix: Apple just SITS THERE.

You missed the one that actually would happen, if it doesn’t get the people to buy, they will just make a law to get people to pay without buying by adding it to the taxes or with levies or whatever.

Nope, I believe that falls into category B (or maybe A, as they do with music CDs.)

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Record labels put other talent into the mix: Apple just SITS THERE.

“Don’t help promote at all.”

Nope, providing a simple to use platform adds zero value to the equation. That’s why the RIAA told Apple to go screw themselves at the last negotiations where the RIAA thought Apple was getting too much money. The RIAA took their other option and took their music off of iTunes.

Oh wait, that didn’t happen. Apple stood firm and the RIAA gave up since they know iTunes does more to sell the music then they can.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Record labels put other talent into the mix: Apple just SITS THERE.

Like the brick and mortar leeches of yesteryear Apple just SITS THERE doing absolutely nothing but maintaining and growing a retail distribution channel that services millions of customers. Clearly this task is easy, I mean who isn’t running a wildly successful and profitable online store these days.

Don’t dare lecture anyone on ‘complexities and reality’ when your is “retail outlets just SIT THERE” and “record labels put other talent into the mix” so it’s ok they take 85-90% of the remaining royalties.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Record labels put other talent into the mix: Apple just SITS THERE.

“Apple just SITS THERE. Don’t help promote at all.”

Blockbuster just SITS THERE. Don’t help promote at all.

The library just SITS THERE. Don’t help promote at all.

Fox just SITS THERE. Don’t help promote at all.

Showcase just SITS THERE. Don’t help promote at all.

Tower just SITS THERE. Don’t help promote at all.

Borders just SITS THERE. Don’t help promote at all.

Do any of these sentences make sense to you? They don’t to me.

Planespotter (profile) says:

It’s a shame that the actual radio programme isn’t easily accessible to people outside the UK as you really have to listen to his delusional rant. 17 minutes in when he starts ranting about Apple/iTunes and seems to get them mixed up mentally with recording labels and not a “store” is truly perplexing.

What really got my goat was how it was part one of a series of lectures under the banner of John Peel, a British radio DJ who started out in the US, became a “pirate” radio station DJ before becoming the most respected mainstream DJ on BBC Radio 1, John Peel did more to bring new artists to the masses than any other radio DJ, for his name to be taken and used in a series of lectures only to have Pete “Dinosaur” Townshend rant on about stuff he clearly doesn’t understand is just offensive.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

I pirated my first Who albums by copying a friend’s records onto tape. I replaced the tapes with mp3s thanks to CDs from the public library or CDs I bought used. The Who is one of my favorite bands, but I’ve never seen them live and I doubt I’ve ever given Pete a dime of my money directly. The internet had nothing to do with any of that.

But it’s true that the internet is destroying copyright. Copyright needs serious reform. Until regular Joes and Janes started getting sued for infringement, I never gave a second thought to copyright. Now that EVERYBODY I know infringes (some more frequently than others) I can see that a law that makes every single citizen a criminal needs to be changed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s not the law that needs to change its the habits of the people. That is exactly what the RIAA is attempting to do, make it more expensive to obtain content illegally than it is to purchase, or at least make it so difficult to do so, without the possibility of being caught, that it isn’t worth it.

If everyone decided to start stealing cars should they make car theft legal? Just because everyone does it doesn’t make it right. If everyone jumped off a bridge would you?

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Copying music is not the same as stealing. It’s more like sharing a car, which a lot of people do. If I could share my car and still not go without a car, I would and not think twice about it, and so would everyone, just like they do with music.

Copying music is beneficial to the copier. Jumping off a bridge is not. So that’s a bad example too.

If I can get a CD from the public library, should I still go out an pay for it? If yes, then why have the library? Or should the only people that have access to Beethoven, Vivaldi, Coltrane, and The Who be people who can afford to pay for it? Is culture only for the rich? Libraries were created so everyone could have access to culture.

And what’s the difference between the library and the internet when it comes to access to culture? The internet is a giant library.

I agree the law needs to be changed, but in the opposite direction the RIAA wants. Copyright terms need to be reduced, and artists need to register their copyrights so that ownership can be easily determined. Sampling needs to be legal and permissible. Infringement penalties need to be reduced. The music industry’s business practices need to be investigated. There’s a lot of ways to change the laws, and they aren’t about changing my habits, but the industry’s habits. Honestly, if you have to resort to changing laws to keep your business going, you’re doing it wrong.

The RIAA is not the boss. The people are the boss.

bob (profile) says:

There's a difference, though, between iTunes and record labels

Most record labels charge 85%+ for handling all of the distribution, advertising, promotion and other things. iTunes only wants 30% for distribution. So it’s not fair to compare them.

And as a distribution system, iTunes has plenty of flaws. It’s terribly biased toward the top 1%. Being on the top sellers list seems to be the only way to move merchandise. If you want to sell anything, you’ve got to do your own promotion which is hard to do when iTunes is taking 30% off the top for doing not much more than running an FTP server.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: There's a difference, though, between iTunes and record labels

doing not much more than running an FTP server

LOL. Yeah, that’s all the most successful digital content network ever is – just a glorified FTP server. Any idiot with an apache box could have built iTunes, gotten it onto most of the computers in the world, put it in everyone’s pocket on a revolutionary device, built the iTunes store, negotiated dozens of complex licensing deals, stocked it with well-organized content, and maintained and promoted it for a decade. I don’t know why everyone acts like Apple actually accomplished something or did any work to get where they are.


Re: Re: There's a difference, though, between iTunes and record labels

> negotiated dozens of complex licensing deals,

That’s the only real trick there: having the clout to be invited to the table.

The rest is just window dressing.

As a sales frontend, iTunes is a fairly uninspiring web store wrapped around a proprietary application. There is nothing spectacular in it’s design, it’s graphic design, or it’s “organization”.

Others have done and continue to do better.

The main thing was convincing a monopoly to play ball.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: There's a difference, though, between iTunes and record labels

“It’s terribly biased toward the top 1%.”

I hope you’re being sarcastic here.

“Being on the top sellers list seems to be the only way to move merchandise.”

You’re doing it wrong…

” iTunes is taking 30% off the top for doing not much more than running an FTP server.”

Why don’t you set up your own server then, if it’s that lucrative…

Anonymous Coward says:

Making a copy does not take anything away but sharing an album with 100,000 people who had every intent to actually purchase and album before they were able to download it for free certainly does.

I agree with him that the moral fiber of the population has changed such that far too many people do not see the effect of their actions. They just think to themselves that everyone else is pirating content, so they feel foolish for paying for it. If everyone did that there would be no musicians.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They just think to themselves that everyone else is pirating content, so they feel foolish for paying for it. If everyone did that there would be no musicians.

There would be amateur musicians.

More seriously, the problem here is that you (and Pete) don’t understand why the system used to work – so you have no clue about how to fix it.

People NEVER paid for music. They bought records. Yes, that’s right, the physical object – which up to sometime in the 80’s cost enough to make to justify the price tag. The cost of the music was like a tax on the physical product – and it was a smallish tax – the artist only got 2% (source ? Pete Townsend!).

The problem now is that the cost of the physical copy has dropped to zero (there is no separate physical object anymore). So funding music by a private tax on copies (which is what copyright is) won’t wash – no one will pay an infinite tax rate.

Planespotter (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Music and art has been given away since the first caveman smeared blood and ashes on the wall of his cave and used the bones of his latest kill to make noises on fallen tree trunks…

The difference now is that artists, or the people that control them, have spent the last 50 odd years watching people earn obscene amounts of money and they aren’t prepared to let that go… the funny thing is that by the time they realise that they’ve been fighting a losing battle they will have become extinct.

….The major record labels are having major problems. They?re a little puzzled as to what?s happening. And I sympathize with them. But as David Kahne said to me about a year ago, the major labels these days are like the dinosaurs sitting around discussing the asteroid.? Paul McCartney – The Beatles – 2007

JMT says:

Re: Re:

“Making a copy does not take anything away but sharing an album with 100,000 people who had every intent to actually purchase and album before they were able to download it for free certainly does.”

Where did you get these 100,000 people from, the ones you know were going to purchase? Oh right, made them up, which gives your argument great credibility. If you still think every download is a lost sale you’re far too clueless to discuss this topic.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“sharing an album with 100,000 people who had every intent to actually purchase and album before they were able to download it for free certainly does”

Perhaps – presuming, of course, that none of those people ever go on to pay anything and they never go on to promote the work to other paying customers. That also assumes that nobody who ever has a CD, vinyl or tape shared with them ever went on to purchase a copy.

But, by that logic, nobody ever buys a hit single because they hear it on the radio ever hour. Such idiotic assumptions are why you refuse to listen to anything that anyone has to say, it seems…

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m pretty convinced now that the likes of Townsend, Prince and Lars would fail as musicians just starting out today. Those guys *needed* the manufactured crutch of the RIAA to become successful. On one hand, you can see their vast talents, but on the other hand, you can clearly see their lack of vision and lack of business creativity. There is no way artists like that could connect with new fans today. I do wonder what kind of musical geniuses we’ll miss out on if these old-timers get their way.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So the basic takeaway here is…
Apple is rich.
Apple should pay me more.
Apple should change their model to suit me.
Apple should invest in new artists.
Apple should be the new Label.

Dear Old Guy,
Because you never read a contract your label is taking away more money than Apple ever dreamed of from your work. Trying to make Apple behave like the labels is a bad idea. Your a rich man, why don’t YOU give 500 computers away to up and coming acts? Why don’t you create an A&R team to swoop in and save these small acts? Why is your whim someone elses job. Once upon a time you could snap your fingers and they would do things for you… that time is over. Stop screaming at the kids on your lawn, recline on your mountain of profits, and remind yourself how its all so horrible… while other people live in cardboard boxes your bitching to get more money for yourself. How rich is rich enough?


Leonardo (profile) says:

iTunes is Vampire

30% for Apple is too much commissions for an artist to have their songs uploaded and downloaded off the platform.

And Apple says you have to go to an “aggregator” which then takes another 30%-40% so now an artist is down to 30%.

Both Apple and “aggregator” do not pay for any of the upfront costs on music production or promotional materials like video, so its a “riskless opportunistic” transaction.

Realistically the 30% should be shared between Apple and any “aggegrators” they impose for simply uploading digital files to their platform.

Else there is a case for Applle being a Vampire!

crade (profile) says:

Re: iTunes is Vampire

If it’s not a good deal, no one takes it and apple goes byebye. It’s a straightforward deal, they aren’t scamming people with shady promises and advances or trying to trick them like the labels do or anything. If 30% isn’t a good deal to get access to the market itunes gives you, don’t take it.

Leonardo (profile) says:

Re: Re: iTunes is Vampire

Nonetheless if I do not take Apple’s deal of 30% plus their requirement that small artists need to go to an outside “aggregator” which takes another 30%-40%, so I have new business partners that are taking 70% of the upside, yes even if I do not take that deal, Apple’s deal is a VAMPIRE deal and you do agree since you say just do not take the deal!

WDS (profile) says:

Re: iTunes is Vampire

I know nothing about “aggregators”, but according to “Uniform Motion” when they did their breakdown of what they made per method of selling (see their blog on their website or there was an article about it here as well), they get 70% of the sales on iTunes but have to pay 35 euro a year to keep it on iTunes, so they have to sell about 6 copies of an album each year before they start making money.

There is no mention of another 30% going to someone else.

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