Pete Townshend Makes Required Annual 'Blame iTunes' Appearance, Global Deathclock Reset

from the last-unicorn-in-captivity-given-stay-of-execution dept

It must be fall again. The temperature is dipping low at night. The leaves are changing color and attracting gawking, mouthy tourists (Northeastern US only). Football (the American version) is all over the tube almost all week long. (The non-American version has no season as far as I can tell — it simply is, existing without beginning or end.) The kids have gone back to school. The lawnmower has been garaged. And Who guitarist Pete Townshend is back to his regularly scheduled programming, (re)asking the age-old rhetorical question: “Why isn’t iTunes also the recording industry?

To be sure, it’s a loaded (and damn near incomprehensible) question. You may remember last year (November 2nd, 2011, to be exact) when Townshend broached this very same subject during his long, rambling “John Peel Lecture.” At that point, Mr. Townshend called iTunes a “digital vampire” and suggested that Apple should do such incredible things as hire “20 A&R people from the dying record business,” provide free computers and music software to 500 artists per year (as recommended by the previously hired A&R reps) and license “best selling artists” to other organizations like “record companies” [?], “bookshops,” etc. Despite the solid round of mockery that greeted his inaugural proclamation, Townshend apparently feels a yearly appearance is needed, possibly in the interest of the “greater good.”

Mistaking iTunes/Apple for a “publisher” is Townshend’s most egregious and most repeatable mistake. iTunes doesn’t publish. iTunes is a storefront. Yet, despite the fact that iTunes is simply the point of purchase, Townshend still believes that Apple/iTunes should behave more like a record label and less like the best digital Point-of-Sale most labels have.

Townshend said that his issues with the company stem from the fact that “they don’t put any of their profit back into music.”

No, Pete, “they” sure don’t. But neither did a multitude of other music retailers over the years. However, iTunes does something that Tower Records and Musicland never did: put about 70 cents of every dollar back in the artists’ pockets.

It’s such an easy target, though. Easy enough that one, if so inclined, could take an annual roundhouse swing at its oversized chin. First of all, there’s the skynormous market cap. (“Apple Now Officially Bigger Than Microsoft, The Beatles & Jesus Combined!”) The headlines make it seem as though Apple is using $20 bills for memo pads and $100 bills for shims to even out that one slightly off leg on the desk. (No matter how finely appointed the desk, there’s always one leg that just won’t keep up with the rest.)

Secondly, there’s the popular argument that without all this content created by others, iTunes would cease to exist. The same could be said about every successful music retail chain but, oh lord, no one will ever make that claim because that was The Golden Age of the Recording Industry. Only now, when the barriers are gone and the playing field is level and “evil” entities are willing to throw 70% of every sale right back, is it suddenly “exploitation.”

But still… huge market cap… dying recording industry… other stuff… Townshend’s conclusion from this mess of nostalgia and conflation is: Apple could be doing more. The level playing field and massively popular (and powerful) distribution point just make it worse:

[A]rtists have to fend for themselves a lot more these days, he said, noting that the old record companies “paid advances they nurtured young bands, and they let you make a couple of bad albums in the hopes that you might make a good one.” Townshend argued that while the internet has allowed for greater distribution, and there’s a lot more talent out there, but “people have to do it on their own, completely, without any help.”

Pete. The labels are still around. They’re not nearly as dead as the very vivid and very public pantomime performances aimed at legislators would seem to indicate. They stopped this “nurturing” well before iTunes sprung up. They may have been more willing to throw good money after bad, but they never just “let” anyone make a couple of bad albums. They may have tolerated a couple of bad albums from certain top tier artists but they were never happy and they certainly weren’t interested in “nurturing.” If they spent more time with the underachievers, it’s because they were hoping to prevent the band’s shite lightning from striking twice.

But even if the labels were as benevolent and caring as you picture them, Pete, and even if iTunes was the lousiest deal ever to hit recording artists, the fact remains that trying to hold a storefront, a freaking point-of-sale, responsible for the future of recording artists is asinine. It’s even more ridiculous to claim that not only should iTunes save recording artists, but that it should save them by doing everything the old way.

Of course, this isn’t just Townshend’s annual delusion. Various spokespersons for various flailing industries have suggested that Google save journalism, that the government save writers and that ISPs save pretty much all of the above, as well as the movie and recording industries. Despite being provided with a number of technological advancements and new markets, the legacy players still cling to the belief that the tech world owes them a living. These claims will continue to surface periodically, held out like talismans in a futile attempt to ward off the future by clinging to the past.

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Companies: apple

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Comments on “Pete Townshend Makes Required Annual 'Blame iTunes' Appearance, Global Deathclock Reset”

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36 Comments
Vidiot (profile) says:

Funny how in his appearance on “The Daily Show” last week, he actually stroked Spotify and seemed to acknowledge (positively!) that today there are infinitely more bands, more new music, than when the Beatles/Stones/Who/Kinks were the only bands pushed by the record companies. I actually wondered if he’d turned over a new leaf… but no, it seems.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s possible he’s just dumb and hasn’t properly analyzed the inconsistencies of his own argument. A little depressing, but it’s at least more forgivable from someone whose primary work hasn’t been political than from someone like Chris Dodd or the majority of our Congress.

Townshend reminds me a bit of an insecure fundamentalist Christian. He was more or less raised with the idea during his formative yeas in the industry with the idea that copyright makes the world go ’round. The labels who made him successful told him this. He was successful. So, he believed them. Even as he recognizes the value of new services like Spotify, he hasn’t yet got rid of his older, ingrained values. Just like a an insecure fundamentalist can hold seemingly contradictory ideas between their transition from ingrained, raised-to ideas to more modern ones, Townshend is still professing belief in the **AA Gospel even as he recognizes value and import outside it.

Zakida Paul says:

Re: My favorite part...

If anything it was tougher for bands to make it back then. Driving from sweaty gig to sweaty gig in a smelly Ford Transit van, playing a gig every night of the week and writing new material in between.

The Internet has given musicians a fantastic platform which musicians can use to reach fans and build a lasting connection. This is what the dinosaurs fail to realise.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: My favorite part...

He’s talking about two different kinds of successes:

1- The band that is actually a success with the public and managed to build a good fan base. This has greatly increased.

2- The band that is a RIAA accounting success. This is actually negative after they started using Hollywood Math 2.0. According to it no artist can ever be a success because piracy. And Google.

artp (profile) says:

$100 bills as shims

“$100 bills for shims to even out that one slightly off leg on the desk”

I’ve had this great new idea! We could put the desk legs on flat, round metal disks that are screwed in to the leg of the desk, with a locknut to keep it where we want it. I call them “leveling pads”.

Since I haven’t started manufacturing them yet [the patent lawyer wants his money first before I can make anything], could you please send a stack of $100 bills over? My desk has one leg that is about an inch shorter than the others, and it is really ticking me off!

๐Ÿ˜‰

morisato (profile) says:

Good grief. How could Techdirt get their information so wrong. Now, I read Techdirt quite a bit, and I’m familiar with a lot of Mike’s posts about the music industry and I seem to recall that a lot of his posts have been about educating the online community.

This is a good thing.

But, how could Techdirt writers get their facts so wrong?

I take issue with the following statement, published in this very write-up: “iTunes does something that Tower Records and Musicland never did: put about 70 cents of every dollar back in the artists’ pocket”.

Did I miss something? This write-up makes an outlandish claim that $.70 out of every dollar goes back into the artists pocket. THAT IS SO WRONG AND INCORRECT ON SO MANY LEVELS. According to what Techdirt has written on before, music artists do not ever see any revenue from iTunes, and when they do, it’s of so little that music artists cannot survive on it. The music industry, publishers and executives get the majority of that money due to the heinous nature of their book-keeping. Music studios try to wriggle, squirm, lie and cheat just to get out of paying their artists any money and the RIAA is an even bigger joke.

Hate to say it, and this isn’t being disrespectful or sarcastic, but Tim Cushing really should learn to do some research before he makes such outlandish claims that iTunes pays music artists 70 cents on every dollar. That is just as outlandish as the RIAA actually paying music artists for the lawsuits that they collect on.

Truth: The music industry does not pay its artists.

I really needed a good laugh.

JWW (profile) says:

Be careful what you wish for

If Apple were to start signing artists and become a record company, they’d be smart enough and different enough to destroy all of the other record companies.

Does Pete really think that Apple couldn’t offer nearly every modern artist a better deal that would make them more money than any other record company? Does he really think that Apple couldn’t promote new artists into stardom? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen someone be the free artist of the day and then 2-3 months later they’ve become a big star.

Ironically if Apple did anything like what Pete is asking for, they’d be able to completely destroy the record industry.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Be careful what you wish for

If Apple were to start signing artists and become a record company, they’d be smart enough and different enough to destroy all of the other record companies.

Perhaps so, but Apple is just as mean, nasty, and almost as ethically questionable as the big labels, so there would be no functional difference in the end.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Why isn’t iTunes also the recording industry?”

It’s not often that someone’s own question invalidates his argument and makes him look like a moron, but here you go. Can you imagine someone in 1996 saying “Why isn’t Tower Records also the recording industry?” or “Why isn’t Blockbuster also the production studio?” and NOT getting laughed out of the room? Yet, here we are – a *retailer* is being blamed for the decline of an industry because they’re not involved in manufacturing the goods they sell? What a bleeding idiot.

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