by Kelvin Wade
Rocker Jon Bon Jovi recently blasted Apple CEO Steve Jobs in an interview in Sunday Times magazine saying Jobs “is personally responsible for killing the music business” through iTunes and iPods. Bon Jovi reminisces of the days of his youth when he’d buy an album based on the artwork, not knowing what it sounded like.
Bon Jovi must not remember how many times he bought an album based on the strength of a hot single on the radio only to find out that the rest of the album sucked. Remember that? For me it was pretty much any Jermaine Jackson album I purchased.
Steve Jobs didn’t kill the album or the music business. Even before the arrival of MP3s, the music industry was pushing singles. Of course, the music industry has always sold singles. 45 RPM records used to help drive the business. Then the industry moved to cassette singles and CD singles.
Once MP3s became the de facto standard for audio files, there was a titanic shift to the electronic medium. When Napster came along, it was a game-changer. Kids spent countless hours at their computers sharing music. For the first time ever, people could have all the songs they loved without having to pay for it. And often one could find songs that were out of print, obscure or difficult to find all from the comfort of home.
Steve Jobs didn’t do any of that.
Yes, Jobs’ iPod was revolutionary but it was merely the next logical step from the Sony Walkman. He made portable digital music chic. And he proved that music could be sold online even in an environment where people could obtain music for free. With iTunes consumers didn’t have to worry about receiving virus infected files, bogus or mislabeled files, or becoming the target of an angry record company lawsuit.
One could argue that iTunes helped save the music business at a perilous time. Millions of people actually went from freely sharing files to buying them. Online music services, of course, haven’t stopped file sharing but they have provided a welcome revenue stream for artists.
It’s true that there was something special about albums. It enhanced the listening experience to have the lyrics and liner notes and artwork. And there are many albums that work best in their entirety, such as The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” The Eagles’ “Greatest Hits 1971-1975,” ACDC’s “Back in Black,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Prince’s “Purple Rain,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” Run-DMC’s “Raising Hell” as well as Bon Jovi’s own “Slippery When Wet.”
But today’s kids download singles because music is delivered in a wider variety of venues than ever before. Back in my day it was TV or the radio. Today, in addition to videos and the radio, new pop music is used in commercials, video games, movies and television shows in a way never heard before. When I was a kid, it was years between the time a song came out to the time you heard it in a commercial. Now songs debut in commercials.
This diversity of music delivery coupled with the ease and low cost of buying singles has had the effect of diversifying individual taste. When I was in high school, kids generally stuck to a genre: rock, country, new wave, R&B etc… I remember sitting in my rocker friend Jim’s souped up Pinto (Yes, a Pinto) blasting Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Jim kept saying, “This isn’t really soul because it’s more rock than soul.” As if listening to soul would’ve gotten him arrested by the Headbanging Patrol.
These days it’s not unusual to find people with Jay-Z, Nickelback, Justin Bieber and Carrie Underwood on their iPod.
I understand Bon Jovi’s anger. There was a time when you had to have talent to be in a band. You had to practice and gig in horrible places hoping to make it. Groups took care in putting together albums, not just singles. Liner notes and artwork and photos of the band rounded out the musical experience.
Now anyone marginally talented can make their own music on their computer, press their own CDs and market it.
I feel his pain. When I first started writing for publication, one had to have the ability to write compellingly and coherently. Now everyone with a laptop and an Internet connection fancies themselves a wordsmith.
Times change. Rock on.