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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Jovi to Jobs: iTunes Gives Music a Bad Name!

Posted on March 15, 2011 at 3:10 PM

Bon Jovi feels like the music industry has been shot through the heart, and the person to blame is none other than Apple’s supreme-commander-leader-number-one, El Jobso. And while his Steveness probably never on a steel horse he rides – don’t you just picture him floating around in a hoverchair lined with gleaming skulls or maybe cruising around silently in some kind of gloss black Prius with fuel cells powered by 5G technology – that hasn’t softened Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, angry-ey when pissed outlook on the turtleneck wearing, iGenius. No. Not one little bit. Or byte. And it looks like not even a brand new 3G, 64-Gig, white iPad2 is going to change Jovi’s Bad Medicine.

In an interview published this yesterday with The Sunday Times Magazine, Jovi laments, "Kids today have missed the whole experience of putting the headphones on, turning it up to 10, holding the jacket, closing their eyes and getting lost in an album; and the beauty of taking your allowance money and making a decision based on the jacket, not knowing what the record sounded like, and looking at a couple of still pictures and imagining it."

Now, besides the obvious health issues of using communal in-store headphones and the massive hearing damage of cranking them to 10, there are some points I agree with here. I can remember taking money – not allowance money, mind you; no. Papa Sciacca never believed in such a fairy tale. Though he once created this large list of chores that could be done and if all were completed to his personal inspection satisfaction, I could earn UP TO a DIME A DAY! This was so insulting even to young me, I told him I’d rather just do it for nothing. – down to the record store and spending hours flipping through piles of cassettes and CDs and deciding what album I was going to invest in. Or from hearing a single track on the radio and then rushing down to the record store wanting to explore more of what that artist had to offer. And this was usually done with friends; browsing together, checking out what they liked and sharing what you liked and maybe broadening each other’s horizons along the way. For boys born in the 70s and hitting their formative years in the 80s, trips to the music store – much like the arcade – were an important part of the social and self-discovery period.

Then Jovi goes all Thorn in My Side on El Steve-o, his feathered mane getting all nostalgic and accusatory. "God, it was a magical, magical time. I hate to sound like an old man now, but I am, and you mark my words, in a generation from now people are going to say: 'What happened?' Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business."

Pretty powerful stuff to call Jobs “personally responsible” for killing the music business. It isn’t like he’s Simon Cowell or that fat-dude responsible for creating all of those boy bands. But does JBJ have a valid point here or is he just livin’ in the past? Well, he DOES sell his own music on iTunes, so I guess he doesn’t hate the iStore too badly. Though he might feel a twinge of guilt every month when he gets that direct-deposit confirm statement from his accountant. “Damn! That much, huh? Wow! I HATE iTunes! It’s killing the music industry! Don’t people understand! Now, where do we stand on my Aventador pre-order? They got the custom leather embroidery request, right?”  I just don’t think it’s fair to load the entire music industry’s demise onto Jobs’ shoulders.

The MP3 genie was out of the bottle long before iTunes, and whether it was some new version of Napster or BearShare or Limewire or Kazaa or just any of the bit torrent sites, once people got a taste for free pirated music, that wasn’t going to change. Jobs used iTunes as a way to legalize it and make money on it; money not only for himself but also for the artist. And in some ways, you could argue that iTunes SAVED the music business. With over 10 billion downloads and accounting for 70% of worldwide digital downloads, the iStore has moved a lots of music. And it has helped to launch some people. Think any of you would know Feist's "1-2-3-4" or Yael Naim's "New Soul"? iMagic certainly catapulted those artists careers.

I think a more accurate statement is that iTunes has helped to kill the ALBUM. Now, it is just so easy to cherry-pick tracks -- take the "New Soul" song for example; buying just the hit single and being done with it. When you take away the physical ownership of the CD and jewel case and pack-in booklet and replace it with data and a PDF download, it just doesn’t have the same…magic. There is definitely some of the “magical, magical time” lost when the purchasing experience is reduced to “click to buy" -- downloading -- adding to library -- done! And because now music sells primarily by single downloads, where is the artists’ motivation to craft an entire album? If you look at my Top 10 album list, these are all filled with great songs, many times telling a complete story over a 10-12 track arc.

What iTunes has done is to allow people like Willow Smith to become incredibly successful literally overnight based on a single effort. Jump in the studio, Auto-Tune out something, throw some techno-beat onto it, upload it to the iTunes store and sit back and sell a million downloads. Because outside of the studio time, there’s no cost. Unlike the risk of signing a new band with a unique sound that needs promotion and a slow building groundswell of support and whatever other magic sauce recipe of luck and talent and timing is required to “make it.”

As far as iTunes and iPods and headphones being responsible for killing the music experience, I have to disagree. The portable, personal experience has been an important music discovery tool ever since Sony introduced the first Walkman. Growing up, my musical experiences were initially headphone and Walkman based. Until I graduated to headphone and Discman based. And then updated to a “real” pair of headphones after someone allowed me to experience the difference. And then car stereo based. Before ultimately moving on to a dedicated, home sound system. But those were all important steps to the discovery process. Learning that music was important to you and that you strived for a better and better listening experience with each step. Today’s headphone purchaser could be tomorrow’s [insert preferred name of crazy high-end rig here] owner.

Certainly there are still artists out there making great and interesting music. Talent and creativity will survive through iTunes just as they have survived through everything else. And doubtless a lot of these bands – good, worthy, deserving, talented bands – have been “discovered” on iTunes as well – or Bieber-ized on the YouTubes – but the experience certainly doesn't feel the same. And while Jovi is focusing on Jobs and the death of the music industry, I think at the root of it, we are hearing Bon Jovi's lament for the sweet, dreamy, sometimes painful nostalgia of the past. I’m sorry, Jon, but what they say is true; you can’t go home again... Next stop...Willoughby!

You can read the original article at MSN here.

Categories: March 2011, Music

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