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Unhappy Jack – Townshend blasts Apple

Pete Townshend has turned his guns on Apple, blasting its music service iTunes as a ‘digital vampire’ as the Who legend called for greater support and financial rewards for artists from online firms.

The guitarist – delivering the first annual BBC 6 Music John Peel Lecture at the Radio Festival in Salford, Greater Manchester – said writers and musicians should expect to be paid if their work was generating money for others. You can’t really argue with that.

Townshend also dismissed suggestions that sharing music helped to spread the word about artists. ‘The word ‘sharing’ surely means giving away something you have earned, or made, or paid for?’ Again, tough to disagree with.


‘It would be better if music lovers treated music like food, and paid for every helping, rather than only when it suited them. Why can’t music lovers just pay for music rather than steal it?’ he asked the audience of broadcasting executives. And this is where it starts being difficult to take him seriously.

The problem with Townshend’s complaints is that, while valid, they ignore the realpolitik of the situation. The music sharing genie is out of the bottle and it isn’t going back in. What he’s saying would have been a valid contribution to the debate in 2001. In 2011, he simply sounds like an old man grumbling about the fact that it used to be all fields round here.

Many people in the music industry still haven’t grasped that the internet just is; it doesn’t belong to anyone and it is practically impossible to fully police. Therefore, instead of complaining about what you don’t like, it would be far more useful to concentrate on promoting what you do like. Simply whining and suggesting that some unknown entity should do something about all the problems is redolent of the Daily Mail letters page.

However, he was on steadier ground as he reserved his greatest venom for Apple’s online music store iTunes. Townshend criticised it for creaming off profit without providing any support mechanisms for music acts. The company is the market leader of around 70 legal download services, accounting for upwards of 75 per cent of all music downloads.

So what to do? The fact remains that the music industry is evolving, kicking and screaming, at a pace which those within it find disturbing. Simply put, it is not in control of its own destiny. The rate of change over the last decade – Napster seems like something from a dusty history book at this juncture – have confused and disorientated those within it. They find themselves trapped in a cycle of constant reaction; everything they do is in response to some external factor.

So where do they go from here? Some pressure could be applied to Apple, but it would only be effective if it came from the very top of the industry. As for the dangers of filesharing, having lived through a decade of it – and come through home taping killing music just before CD burning was to do the same – it’s quite clear that music rolls on regardless. Perhaps Pete could try to come up with some solutions next time, rather than just having a right good moan.


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