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Pete Townshend: iTunes a 'vampire,' not helping bands enough

updated 06:05 pm EDT, Mon October 31, 2011

Who frontman says Apple should focus on bands

The Who lead Pete Townshend used a presentation at the John Peel Lecture to chastise Apple for not doing enough to support bands. He argued with the AP attending that iTunes "bleeds like a digital vampire" artists whose music it sold but didn't encourage. He suggested that Apple should pay more independent artists directly, rather than favoring distributors, and let artists stream their music instead of one-off downloads. He even proposed Apple take on label-like tasks, such as running talent scouts to find undiscovered bands and promote them itself.

To some extent, iTunes already fulfills some of the goals. While not as simple, some artists have had direct access. Apple has also been conducting early experiments in letting artists stream music, such as a Red Hot Chili Peppers stream in the run-up to their most recent album launch. The company still tends to prefer agencies, including relatively hands-off conduits such as TuneCore, and doesn't have an option for artists who want more permanent options for streaming.

Famous musicians such as Bon Jovi have accused Apple of killing music before. Typically, though, these have been veteran artists used to the traditional physical store model and not those who have adapted to downloads. Coldplay recently took the opposite approach to Townshend and kept its album Myxo Xyloto off of Spotify and other streaming services as they don't often make significant revenue from plays.

Townshend in his speech was more even-handed in arguing for broader change. He saw both sides needing to adjust their approaches to music, although he contended that some fans were too selective in what they they were willing to pay for.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Makosuke

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Not with him on that

    I can sort of understand where he's coming from, particularly being a musician from back in the Big Label era, but I think he's sort of got it backwards.

    It's quite easy for an indie band to get on iTunes, and while it's true that Apple doesn't promote them, it does put them on a fairly equal footing with every other band apart from front-page placement (for which there's only room for, what, a dozen acts?). You're going to show up in the "others bought" list, and any other sort of list or social media as everybody else, and once somebody hits your album page, you're just like everybody else.

    Sure, that means that big bands / acts with label promotion dollars behind them are going to sell more, but in the age of flat content and social media, every indie has the chance of making their own shot all on their own.

    You post that YouTube video that goes viral, and you've sold 100K songs overnight without having to sign on with anyone and 70% of the profit going right into your pocket.

    And you DON'T go viral but have a nice little fan following buying 100 albums a month, and you STILL get 70% of the profit from that.

    Good luck getting ANY percentage of the profit from album sales after you get that initial advance from the big label, unless you sell into the millions.

    Sure, small acts might not get the big-label talent scout to find them and elevate them to the big time, but more often than not they probably don't need it thanks to YouTube and Facebook, and without question there's now room for a hundred--probably a thousand--times more small-time bands to make some actual money off of consumers instead of never being "discovered" at all.

  1. BigMac2

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Blame music record

    "He suggested that Apple should pay more independent artists directly, rather than favoring distributors"

    It is not Apple business to negotiate contract with artists, I don't know exact statistic but at least 90% of professional artists should be already lock with big records. iTunes Store is not better or worst than any other music retail store, artist who are not happy of the current industry should blame records label at first, they made more money on 99 cents track then selling tunes on CD.

  1. PJL500

    Joined: Dec 1969


    makes a change...

    from vampire labels draining the consumer so that a bunch of middle men could get mansions in the hills - all the while being focused on corporate rockers like The Who and ignoring new talent. Go iTunes!

  1. jmelrose

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Apple Corps vs Apple Comp

    Also might be an issue that Townshend hasn't considered, and that is whatever agreement Apple Corps music label has in allowing Apple/iTunes to distribute music. Acting as a distrbutor/label may be explicitly off the table for Apple Computer and its subsidiaries, i.e. iTunes.

  1. Sandman619

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Because Apple has a successful model for digital music sales, they have to step in for the failed music labels ? Get a life Cheers !

  1. 1golfdoc

    Joined: Dec 1969


    itunes forever

    i have been ripped off by the music industry for over 40 years. every time i get a decent collection, they change the format. from records to 8-tracks to cassettes to cd's and finally iTunes. i'm stopping with iTunes, now if i like a song i can just purchase that song. the Who had some decent songs but i won't buy any more of their stuff because of Pete's whining.

  1. doctor9

    Joined: Dec 1969


    How's iTunes Store different?

    How is iTunes Store different from a brick & mortar record store in its selling practices? Did record stores sidestep distributors? Did record stores promote indies over commercial? Did record stores run out talent scouts to find new music?

    For all that bombast, he should give his own money to these causes rather than blaming iTunes for a method long ago established as acceptable by all aspects of the music industry including artists.


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