Pete Townshend, guitarist and brain behind the legendary English rockband The Who, gave a smoldering criticism of Apple and their signature iTunes software while speaking at the 6 Music inaugural John Peel lecture in Salford, England, Monday night. The lecture was dedicated to John Peel, a well-known english DJ who passed away in 2004. Drowned in Sound writes that Townshed was scheduled to speak on the topic "Can John Peelism survive the Internet? In an age of free downloads and a disposable attitude to music, can creative people earn a living, and without radio how can the 'unpolished' music that John Peel championed find an audience?"
The Who guitarist's speech on music piracy shifted to a heavy criticism of Apple and their iTunes software:
"It seems to me that a conversation between my inner artist with the late Steve Jobs would have been impossible. I seem to remember that once in an interview I let my artist out of the box for a minute too long and he said he wanted to cut Jobs's balls off. As I force my artist back in the box again, I hear him say that in fact he really likes his iPad and loves to noodle with GarageBand. 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, cut his balls off, look at my red Vespa …etc. Irrational."
Townshend's gripe with Apple centers on his belief that iTunes has hurt the music industry by eliminating elements of music publishing, such as editorial guidance and creative nurture, that are integral to the creative process. In his opinion, all iTunes provides is distribution and banking, and "some marketing."
After listing what he sees as what musicians historically get from music publishing, Townshend outlined his ideas of how Apple can provide for the elements it takes away. The most jarring comment from The Who guitarist came when he said:
"Now is there really any good reason why, 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 Northern Rock for its enormous commission?"
Some of Townshends ideas included Apple employing talent scouts "from the dying record business" to give guidance to new acts. and to provide financial and marketing support to the best ones. For the future of the industry, Townshend said:
"Musicians need to be heard, to be judged, if possible to be paid, but also allowed to believe they had more than a single chance to get a hit. Software systems that offer this model will survive and prevail – loved and embraced by musicians of every sort – whatever happens financially. "
Townshend took time to echo past statements condemning those who download and share music illegally, saying that the internet was "destroying copyright as we know it." Townshed made the point to acknowledge that those who illegally download music "may as weel come and steal my son's bike while they're at it...I wonder what has gone wrong with human morality and social justice."
BBC notes that iTunes accounts for more than 75% of all legal downloads and have declined to comment on Townshend's remarks. While harsh on internet music piracy, Townshend stated he found himself at a dilemma:
"A creative person would prefer their music to be stolen and enjoyed than ignored. This is the dilemma for every creative soul: he or she would prefer to starve and be heard than to eat well and be ignored."
Since Townshend made his comments, music critics across the internet have discussed his harsh words, with many in disagreement with the rock legend.
Ian Port of SF Weekly wrote, "While we're all for supporting musicians, Townshend's diatribe was sorely misguided and misinformed." Port backed his claims with five points he feels the rockstar overlooks, including "If it weren't for Apple and iTunes, we would have more internet piracy, not less," and that "Apple is a business-- a large, shrewd, brutally self-interested American corporation."
Felix Cohen of The Guardian notes:
"Broadcast media is losing its power as the sole arbiter of cultural significance, and sites such as those you mention (and many more), plus Twitter, Facebook and so on allow us to find and support many more artists who don't feel a need to make a straw man of their 'inner artist'. Innovative business models such as KickStarter in the US and PledgeMusic in the UK are helping people to get the resources they need to bootstrap albums, tours, creative products and art, and, as you note, banking and distribution are provided by the platforms at Amazon and Apple"
What do you think of Townshend's comments? Is iTunes a good thing or bad thing for the music industry?
Video from the event featuring Townshend's harsh words towards Apple: