Apple flexing it’s little tentacles, gazing at music industry

The LA Times is reporting that Apple is planning to buy, if it can, Universal Music Group from Vivendi. That’s Apple Computer Inc. For, oh, say 5 or 6 beeellion dollars.

For anyone living in a cave for the last couple of decades, or living outside of a cave but not really caring for music, or living outside of a cave and caring for music but not cognizant of the utterly shitey state of the music available in the mainstream and wondering why that would be, the music industry has for 10 or 20 years been undergoing a series of incestuous buy-outs which heated up into a giant orgasm of incestuous buy-outs over the last 5 years which have left us with, oh, say 4 actual big music companies controlling all the music available to you or me through conventional channels. And yes, the length of that sentence was justified. If you like art, passion, and music, the behaviour of the music industry is important to you. The people who run these companies have ridiculous amounts of control over what you listen to all the bloody time in stores and on the street and from other people’s stereos and even from your own radio if, god help you, you turn it on. The music industry is a big flaming heap of crap stoked by so much money and consumption that it generates temperatures near the sun’s and fortunes almost as big as the sun. Big. Big. Flaming heap of crap. The music that gets selected to play to you is carefully designed to appeal to the widest range of ADD suffering listeners due to it’s lowest-common denominator status and the generation of a rigid radio-freindly format to which all songs must comply. Once that music has been generated, the artists responsible lose all their rights to it thanks to, in the past, slimy small print and nowadays, official US legislation describing any and all music industry contracts as determing the art as a “work for hire” and thus allowing the industry to screw artists up front and in the daylight and in big, normal 12 point font. The companies then engage in a mutually parasitic relationship with the big radio companies (1 of which, clear channel, own fully half of all the radio stations in the US), a relationship in which play time is bribed and bought off without regard for what may pass for “better” or “worse” music given the state of music generation. Then you have to listen to the goddawful results of all this bullshit.

Except, maybe you don’t. In fact, increasingly you don’t. New information technology has allowed indie labels to, if not thrive, at least survive, and even newer developments in information technology can allow bands and artists to bypass music labels completley. Result: artists and music-listeners who are willing to do some extra work both have extra options for making that all important artist-listener link. Except, of course, that the music industry hates that with a blacker passion than you can possibly imagine, and has launched a vast and rancourous campaign to fight this cancer, spearheaded by the RIAA. The battle rages on around you, I promise.

So. The stage is set. Enter the Apple.

Just last night, I was having a friendly chat with my IT support guy about the culture of Apple. We both agreed that we like their computers for our own reasons, but given a little thought, that we don’t trust them. Apple has demonstrated as strongly as it was capable of given it’s crippled market share, a tendency towards control-freakism that would give Bill Gates a shiver of envy if he could work up a damn. Just this morning, I was lieing in bed thinking that it would be best if Apple could grab about 30% market share in the (small p, small c) personal computer market , meaning that sofware developers would all be obliged to create versions of their products which run on superior apple hardware, without being large enough to allow Apple to run wild in flexing it’s hegemonic tendencies.

Leonard Cohen on Apple:

“Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.
Well I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned:
When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.”

Steve Jobs has some massive original sin complex or something, which manifests itself in a desire to micromanage every part of personal computing, from the GUI to the apps to the hardware to the marketing to the distribution to the colour of the shoes the guy who sells you the shiny white box is wearing. So that’s point 1.

Point 2: Jobs also seems to like art. He also runs Pixar, the animation movie studio that brought you, um Toy Story I think and definitley some other films that excel in the “managing to be solid entertainment without actual doing anything challenging” department that hollywood attains to. So he likes art, but maybe not art as change or force. Which means of course, that he is an enemy of art.

Point 3: Apple to date has had an ambivalent relationship with new forms of music distribution. Their “rip, mix, burn” slogan is a practical rallying cry to music piracy, but at every chance they carefully demonstrate that they really mean rip mix and burn music that you already bought from legitimate conventional sources. Also they manufacture the Ipod. Same story. They ease the convenience and enhance the cool factor of music piracy, but literally wrap it in a plastic label that says “don’t steal music”.

Point 4: It was widely reported a month or so ago that it looks like Apple will be the first company to successfully negotiate deals with the music industry big 4 to start a direct-download-for-pay music service. So they obviously think there is a profit to be made in music distribution.

Point 5: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Conclusion: Apple as a music industry player frightens me.

I’m all for developing a for-pay connection between artists and listeners. File sharing is fantastic as a medium-term tool for destroying the rancid stagnant music industry status quo, but it doesn’t pay the artists and that should be fixed. And there is inevitably going to be some techy intermediary who facilitates the movement of music from artists to listener, even if it’s a miniscule scale compared to the huge capital resources of the the cd-duping, 18 wheeler full of cds and poster wielding, record store owning traditional industry. I just don’t want that connection to be made by Apple Computer Inc, maker of the one button mouse and potential fresh dictator of crappy musical style.



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