Over There (in the UK)

April 28, 2003 at 10 PM

B Sharp Major

Finally, someone “gets it.” Apple launched a new online music store today, one which uses the power of the Internet to satisfy the music listener’s craving for new music now while charging a “fair” price.

The wonder really isn’t that this happened, it’s that it didn’t happen sooner. The music industry’s absurd obsession with music piracy has led it to strangle its biggest untapped market: online sales.

I took a spin in the new iTunes 4 to try out the music store. While only Americans can currently purchase songs online, anyone can browse, and man, this is one slick interface. It’s never been easier to find a song, play a high-quality preview and decide in a heartbeat if you want to pay 99 for it. (That’s $1.44 Canadian.) As Greg Storey points out, nobody’s wallet is going to be happy about this. And ~stephenf has a tidy review of the goods and not-so-goods.

For the moment, the music store’s library is fairly limited (“200,000 songs”), but one imagines it will quickly grow. But just how big? If there is any problem I see, it’s that, so far, this is a deal between Apple and Big Music. That is, independent record labels aren’t invited to the party. Pity, because the best contemporary music is coming from anyone but EMI, BMG, Universal, Sony and Warner, and the small-time indies have the sales to prove it. That, though, is a symptom of an illness different from (but related to) music piracy: the way the major labels and their co-conspirators, radio and MTV, decide who will be the Next Big Thing.

The great fallacy of the music industry is that to be a successful artist, you need to sell millions of copies and have your face and boobs/crotch plastered across the world in a dizzying array of cross-promotional marketing. A musician can make a very comfortable living by making and selling music to a small, dedicated audience, but not with the sort of contracts the big five record labels normally foist on new artists. (“Here’s an absurd thwack of money to spend on parties and drugs, which you soon must pay back to us entirely when we fail to make you a big sensation!”)

It’s a complicated story, but there is a simple truth: you can obey the marketers’ wishes and listen to the radio-approved hit (and hey, they’re not all bad: I like Beck as much as the next guy), then go and pay $17.99 at the store to have your officially-licensed copy. Pat yourself on the back because your musical choice is mostly benefitting a shareholder, not your favourite musician. Or you can fire up your web browser, find one of the many web sites devoted to good music, and sharpen your musical tastes on your own terms. And if you find an artist you like, you really ought to pay for the music in the end, because hey, most of us don’t and can’t work for free. Musicians are people too.

On that subject, I recommend Chinatown by The Be Good Tanyas, one in what is sure to be a long line of copy-controlled CDs. (For the record, my office Mac seems blissfully unaware of this fact.) I don’t like the idea of a CD that won’t let you make copies, but this is unpretentious roots music at its finest from a trio of charming Vancouverites, and I’m guessing it wasn’t their idea.


This is not helping me study for exams.

— adrienne | Apr. 29, 2003 — 8 AM

Nor me write this proposal (about online music).

Interestingly, rumour has it that Apple has launched a bid to purchase Universal Music. Iiiinteerestink, no? I guess if there is one multinational corporation that I wouldn’t mind contronlling music, it would be Apple. Rip, mix, burn, baby, burn!

Brett | Apr. 29, 2003 — 5 PM

First off, my post on was not aimed at you, M Attaboy, ‘tho I will take issue with the statement that “the best contemporary music is coming from anyone but” the big Five: Um, Radiohead, Outkast, Daniel Lanois, Youssou n’Dour, Jean Leloup, Coldplay, Badly Drawn Boy, Orchestra Baobab, Afro-Cuban All Stars, Ryan Adams, to name a few? Still, you’re right: Apple should get the indies on board. It would be a great coup and a great boost to vitality and originality or popular music. I would love it if the new store became an easy way for non-western artists to distribute their stuff, without having to depend on the sometimes flaky boutique labels. Most of all, I want this available in Soviet Canuckistan!

M-J Milloy | Apr. 30, 2003 — 9 AM

I can’t really argue with your list, M-J: those are all examples of great music, and I listen to most of them myself. (To nitpick though, Badly Drawn Boy is the product of an indie label in England.)

My point though is that if you take any good independent label and take a cross-sampling of their artists, you find they almost all have redeeming value. Whereas talented, original music artists are the exception on the major labels.

Also, how many times over the last few years have we heard this story: talented local musician makes big with huge record contract, only to rip it into pieces a couple years later because the big label only wants “hits”?

Major labels are big, dumb and slow. That bands like Radiohead get away with being “creative” is a testament to how much financial trust they’ve earned. I strongly believe, though, that if a less famous band tried to be similarly experimental, they’d get shot back to the studio.

— Luke | Apr. 30, 2003 — 10 AM

In an interview with Steve Jobs at Time Magazine, he says indies weren’t there for launch because all their time and energy was spent negotiating with the majors, but now they intend to pursue them as well. I imagine that will make Henry Rollins happy (who I suspect is Steve Jobs’ Hulk-like alter ego, if you listen to the similarity of their voices…)

aj | May. 1, 2003 — 12 PM

Previously: RSS & XML IMHO

Subsequently: Share Your Music Really Really Easily

April 2003
the Archives

In Earshot

I only really read it for Canucks coverage, but even still it’s nice that The Vancouver Sun finally redesigned its hideously awful website to look like it was designed this century.

On pizza box art

Web 2.Origami

Welcome to Obama, Japan

The Toronto Star shows where and how the seats changed in the 2008 election

“In Earshot” RSS feed

In Frame

Photo of Madrid Modern Photo of Wasp Photo of Hairy and Stripy Cactus Photo of Stripy