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Cue: iTunes Festival artists perform for free, for fans and promotion

updated 12:45 am EDT, Thu October 3, 2013

Apple VP also pushes iTunes Radio as better way to premiere albums, events

Apple's Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, has disclosed that artists who appear at the company's yearly iTunes Festival in London are not paid to do so, and use the free concert in London (at a venue that seats a relatively paltry 2,500 compared to the stadiums many of them regularly perform in) as both a chance to put on a show for the fans as well as an opportunity for worldwide exposure and promotion of their latest work.

Cue spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the hugely successful month-long festival, which drew 20 million requests for the 75,000 possible free tickets (which were drawn on a random lottery). It featured both massively popular acts like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Kings of Leon, Justin Timberlake and Elton John, usually paired with up-and-coming artists as openers who may nor may not be well-known.

Cue described the appeal to artists as being able to perform in a more intimate venue than they customarily do (the historic Roundhouse auditorium), and yet through streaming video obtain a worldwide audience -- meaning the show can be performed for hard-core fans and yet also be used to help promote the artist and their latest work. Music and videos of the performances can also be sold in the iTunes Store, though repeats of selected performances are available for free through the iTunes Festival app for a limited time.

"The artists come in, and they're not getting paid. They're here because they know that this is an opportunity for them to play for these fans and in many cases kind of go back to when they were starting out in a smaller venue, get really close and personal," Cue said. "You've got this venue that is truly historic and holds 2,500 people, so you're gonna see these artists that always play in much larger arenas. [Plus] it's all kinds of music. On one end, you've got Lady Gaga and on the other end you've got Ludovico, the Italian pianist."

There is something in the festival for Apple as well, which shoulders the costs of both staging the month-long series and webcasting it. The concert is exclusive to iTunes users and iOS device owners, giving Apple a hip edge with the younger demographic. Cue told EW that the company also tries to "pick a diversity of music ... we've got folks like Ellie Goulding, for example, who is now a headliner here ... if you go back about three or four years, she was actually one of the artists that played before she was a big star, and we've got a lot of those, [artists] that have started here."

Asked about how Apple measures "the level of success" of the iTunes Festival, Cue rejected the traditional measures of success such as sale of products or tickets sold and instead said the level of enthusiasm for the mostly-British audiences and reception among fans in other countries is what is driving it. "It really is special, because it's this combination of things that you just don't see -- there's no scalping. We got over 20 million requests for tickets, and so these are the lucky winners; they're huge fans of the artist."

"Obviously, it certainly helps when you watch somebody -- a lot of times you discover somebody or you get to hear their new songs from their new albums. We've had a lot of debut albums here this month, so that helps," Cue acknowledged. "But at the end of the day, it's a secondary piece. The primary thing is for them to get close with the fans and get fans to have that experience because over the long term that's going to help them in every way."

Asked about how the US-based (for now) iTunes Radio is coming along, Cue said that "the most important thing for me, what I was hoping for and what we've been working very hard to get, is what the quality of the feature is. At the end of the day, that's the most important. Part of it is we thought we had an advantage: We thought we could present radio stations for the first time to a customer that's really tailored to them."

He added that while Pandora or Spotify could be seen as competitors, "competition on anything is good, because it makes everybody better. Our goal is to be the best. We thought we could bring something that customers would love more than any other service out there and that's what we want to do, and certainly I think competition will make things better for everybody so we can get better and better at it."

On the topic of using iTunes radio to add to iTunes' reputation for turning "streaming album premieres" -- an increasingly popular promotional tool -- into pre-orders and sales, Cue indicated that such events would probably shift more to iTunes Radio than from the iTunes Store where such promotions had previously been located.

"For example, there's a Justin Timberlake album that's on iTunes Radio as of [last Thursday] for the first time, so the first time we ever premiered an album on there." Cue added that he thinks that "when you go to a store and you go to the Justin Timberlake page and stream it from there, that's great -- but that means you went to the store. iTunes Radio lets you discover it without you having to think about it."

by MacNN Staff



  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    I wouldn't dress up what's happening here. For these artists, a show where the seating is a "relatively paltry 2,500 compared to the stadiums many of them regularly perform in" is a feature rather than a bug.

    They get a lot of what they like best--attention directed at themselves--without losing much of what they like second best--money. When it's free, make the audience small. When it's paid, make it as large as possible. They're hoping some of those "20 million requests for the 75,000 possible free tickets" mean more pricey paid tickets.

    Personally, the often egotistical, extravagant, and vain lifestyles of these artists (need I name them) leave me with no desire to listen to anything they might say or sing. I'm more impressed by an elderly woman who totters around her neighborhood with her poodle, picking up litter, than by most of them. And why Apple wants to promote such people by hosting this iTunes Festival is beyond me. I'd be more impressed by an Apple-sponsored 'don't litter campaign' featuring that little old lady. Long ago I learned that anyone obsessed with looking cool isn't cool.

    Psychologists are pointing out that for a number of years those now passing through high school, college and young adulthood score higher for narcism than previous generations. These artists and their near-saturation impact on lives in an age of iDevices is one reason why that's happening.

    And if you want something that'll make you shudder, imagine living in a society filled with people as vain, selfish and self-obsessed as many of these artists. It won't be a pleasant place, but if current trends hold, that's where we are headed.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    You kids get off my lawn! ;)

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    I think it's pretty fair to say that inkling has no inkling whatsoever about the music business, nor about how musicians think and work, nor what their work actually entails.

    It's about getting attention, yup. But narcissism don't pay no rent. It's a job, and when you've got a production crew of up to 100 people needing to feed their families, or even just your own family (and those of your band and sound guys), you make very careful decisions about which gigs to play, and under what conditions.

    Chalking the motivation of all artists who play this festival for free up to narcissism is just an asshole attitude.

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