The first time I fell for an Apple product was in my friend Mike Dubin’s car. We had met in the parking lot of a Tower Records in Carle Place, NY. I got in his Mini and there was this white cassette sized looking box, but a little fatter. It had a white cable sticking out of it. It had a few buttons, a wheel, and a digital screen. I asked him what it was.
“Pick a band to listen to,” he said, “literally anything.”
I decided within a split-second upon a local band that we were both friends with called Inside. He reached over, dialed up something on the wheel, and within seconds the first song from the Inside record was playing on his car speakers.
“Is that… is that an iPod?” I asked incredulously.
It was the first time I had ever seen one for real. I had heard about it though. 5 gigabytes of storage for 1,000 songs. It seemed unreal and impossible, but here it was and every song you could possibly want to listen to at that moment was stored right there in a box on Dubin’s dashboard. I fell in love with that little thing right there.
I’ll admit it. I am an Apple fan. Maybe not at the hardcore level where I won’t admit that all of their products are flawed in some way. I am, however, a fan enough that every time a new product is released I will drop what I’m doing to watch its announcement happen in real time, usually via a text and photo live stream through some third party blog. You got me, Apple. If any other company released a new version of an old product I probably wouldn’t ever know about it or realize it. But, for some reason, life stops whenever Apple holds a conference to unleash their newest, latest, and greatest unto the world.
I can look at the evolution of their devices and their contributions to the music world, a world that has given me purpose and a career, with much reverence. They have reinvented the way we listen to and purchase music time and time again. Whether it was via the iPod, or through iTunes, the App Store, or through the introduction of the iPhone, Apple has changed the game and forced a dying business model to figure out a way to stay relevant.
What we all didn’t anticipate was how we would eventually devalue music thanks to their technologies and the byproducts of their innovations. At once we had an entire catalog of music at our fingertips for purchase. We became digital hoarders. Our iPods became larger and larger. Most of us were storing increasingly larger collections of music that we listened to maybe once or never. It was so easy to buy, download, rip, steal, and store music. What we once put a price on became more of an all you can eat buffet.
This is why Apple foisting the newest U2 record Songs Of Innocence upon everyone via iTunes as a “gift” for the new iPhone release is not only some serious 1984-style invasiveness, it’s also the death knell of The Value Of Music. That a collective group of billionaires has participated in “the largest album release” of all time is not surprising. They have nothing to lose. They can’t lose. They are The 1% of the music world. Shit, U2 are The 1% of the world period.
Here we are in 2014, where everyone believes everything is owed to him or her. Everyone needs to have everything instantly. You want to watch Karate Kid 2 right now? Turn on Netflix. You need to order a new dining room set while streaming the new Interpol record? You have Amazon and Spotify apps on your phone. You could conceivably do that while walking to get your morning coffee, which you’ll pay for by momentarily switching from your Amazon app to scan your Starbucks card stored in your phone. You need to pull up the pitching stats for 1986 New York Yankees? There’s no need to even type anything in. You can talk to your phone and it will tell you that Dennis Rasmussen went 18-6 and Dave Righetti had 46 saves.
No one worked for any of that information or entertainment. It was just there waiting for them to consume it. There’s nothing special about any of it either. It’s just a crappy movie sequel, a decent record, some tables and chairs, and numbers about since retired baseball players. Now your art has to be part of this cultural white noise, thanks to the new standard set by U2.
Most people already have a hard enough time wanting to pay for music, even a modest amount, so giving it away sets the wrong precedent. Not that there shouldn’t be music made freely available. All artists can and should do this at some point in their careers. It’s called promotion. It is however detrimental to the way we view how all artists will have to release their music. For free, straight to iTunes. If it’s good enough for U2 you will have to make it good enough for you, dear struggling artist.
I remember hopping in a van to criss-cross the United States for months on end, playing shows and selling our CDs out of cardboard boxes. We purchased them for close to 7 dollars a piece from our label, Victory Records, in a time where digital distribution was already catching on pretty hard. The problem we started to face was that people already wanted to get our record for free. They were digging it up on Napster. They were trading burned copies with their friends. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that people were even listening to us and seeking it out in the first place, but it hurts to put your heart and soul, your time and energy, fussing over visual and sonic details, spending all the money you were given, only to have some kid in Cheyenne, Wyoming tell you that he already got your songs off of Limewire. So, you stuff the CD back into the box and that little lunch you had planned for yourself tomorrow disappears. Thanks to some illegally downloaded copy of our record we were only able to put so much gas in the van.
Now U2 has gone ahead and said, “It’s okay. Give it all away. In fact give it to the people who don’t even want it.” Easy for you to say, Bono and The Edge and the Bass Player. You have all the space and time and money in the world to do whatever the hell it is you want to do. With the whole planet looking in their direction, with the biggest technological company on their side, with the most used music entertainment software and distribution method at their disposal, U2 “released” a record for free. More precisely, they forced it on everyone who uses their products.
I am fully aware this isn’t the first time an artist has used their status to promote a record by giving it away for free. Radiohead did a ‘pay-what-you-like’ experiment with In Rainbows.Jay-Z released his album Magna Carta Holy Grail for free via Samsung, but even that required downloading an app. This is the first time an album has been gifted - whether you wanted it or not. To 500 million plus people. Opening your iTunes app that morning must have felt a lot like getting that ugly sweater from your old Aunt Sally on Christmas. “Aw, you shouldn’t have.”
No really, Apple. You really shouldn’t have.
Why are you gifting me the music of a band that I haven’t found relevant in over 25 years? Don’t you have something in those secret iTunes algorithms, that suggests music and feeds ads to everyone, that can also calculate how quickly I’m going to delete this from my already oversized music library? Don’t you realize that by giving away the music of hyper-wealthy and unfortunately influential rock stars, that you are damning the model you created; the model that worked to suppress the free illegal trade of digital media by attaching a monetary value to it. This sends a message that every artist must work towards recording an album and unleashing it upon the public for free. That’s because Apple did it and Apple is right. Forever and ever, amen.
Yes, I realize that it is an option. I don’t have any responsibility one way or another to download the U2 record to my phone or my computer. I never will either in case you’re wondering, but it still irks me that it’s there. It’s the sign of shitty things to come. Welcome to the new technological musical world order where they tell you what you like.
Basically, this whole thing could have been 2 words: Fuck U2.
I’ll still buy an iPhone 6 though. When’s that coming out?