People are paying for songs on the iTunes Music Store because they think it’s a good way to support musicians. But iTunes misses a huge opportunity. Instead of creating a system that gets virtually all of fans’ money directly to artists– finally possible with the internet– iTunes takes a big step backwards. Apple calls iTunes “revolutionary” but record companies are using the service to force the same exploitive and unfair business model onto a new medium.
It’s too expensive
Let’s start simple: the iTunes Music Store is not a good value for customers. Apple says many users are buying whole “albums” for $8-$12 each. That’s less than the $16 store price, but used CDs at Amazon or ebay cost $5, and those come with liner notes. If you don’t care about liner notes, you can burn the CD from a friend for 25 cents and send the musician a buck. In both cases, you end up with a real CD, and you can always use iTunes to rip it onto your computer or mp3 player. And you don’t have to deal with restrictions on how you use it.
Lossy means loss iTunes AAC files don’t sound as good as CDs. AAC is a “lossy” compression format: it shrinks the sound file by throwing away subtle nuance and texture that a computer program thinks you won’t be able to hear. The thing is, you can hear it. You might not notice listening to your iPod on the subway, but if you get home, lie back on the couch, and listen to your new iTunes album on a real stereo, it won’t have the same nuance, punch, and presence that a CD has. A burned copy of a real CD will always sound better than a burned iTunes album.
“But I don’t really care about compression”
Then you’re in good company: lots of people just want to hear the songs they like and don’t mind listening to compressed music. The majority of those people (the sensible ones) choose peer to peer filesharing programs like Kazaa or Acquisition to get their mp3s. Downloads are fast, there’s a bigger selection, and peer to peer sharing doesn’t prop up the music industry. Plus it’s free.
If you build a shiny new house on a landfill it still stinks
Apple says iTunes is “better than free” because it’s “fair to the artists and record labels.” That’s simply not true. First of all, Apple gets 3 times as much money as musicians from each sale. Apple takes a 35% cut from every song and every album sold, a huge amount considering how little they have to do. Record labels receive the other 65% of each sale. Of this, major label artists will end up with only 8 to 14 cents per song, depending on their contract. Many of them will never Artists Get Ripped Off. even see this paltry share because they have to pay for producers and recording costs, both of which can be enormous. Until the musician “recoups” these costs, when you buy an iTunes song, the label gives them nothing. (Sources: major label musician’s cut Apple’s cut For a thorough explanation of how recouping screws musicians, see Confessions of a Record Producer by Moses Avalon)
So why does iTunes give artists such a raw deal? Because it’s the exact same deal that artists have always gotten from the big five record companies. Despite huge new efficiencies created by internet distribution –no CDs to make, no distributors to store and ship them, no CD stores to build and run– artists receive the same pathetic cut. That is the disaster of iTunes. Instead of using this new medium to empower musicians and their fans, it helps the record industry cartel perpetuate the exploitation. Apple might say it’s not their fault: after all, they didn’t write the unfair record contracts. But when Apple supports and profits from an obviously unfair system, while telling customers that it’s “fair to the artists”, they are just as guilty. For years, Apple Computer has built a reputation for straightforward business.
So If Apple honestly believes that the iTunes system is fair for artists, we challenge them to display the artist’s cut next to each song and let their customers decide:
If the artist’s cut were clearly visible, more people would want to buy music from independent labels, which give musicians a bigger share of each sale. Apple should make the Music Store open and transparent, so that customer choice can push major labels to do better. The major label mess was built on secrecy; when people can finally see how it works, it will have to change.
Keeping progress at bay
iTunes is just a shiny new facade for the ugly, exploitative system that has managed music for the past 50 years. Thanks to peer to peer filesharing, we finally have a chance to break the major record label system– but every iTunes user who pays 90 cents on the dollar to middlemen props up the old regime and delays the day when corporations finally lose their stranglehold on music. Now that’s something to feel guilty about.
Love not guilt
If you want to support the musicians you love, the best way to begin is by downloading the song for free on a filesharing network. Then send them what you want to give, no middleman. 14 cents. 99 cents. 10 dollars. A site like musiclink.com, though still rudimentary, makes this a little easier and is a step in the right direction. Weed (weedshare.com) is an ingenious new system where songs can be distributed on p2p networks but must be paid for after 3 plays. Instead of pursuing dead-ends like iTunes, we can develop p2p and direct contribution systems into a full-fledged music economy that sustains many more musicians than the current one. If downloading and contributing is made just as easy as iTunes, it could work and it would work. After all, iTunes is already voluntary.
Since we first created this page about iTunes in August 2003, there have been some positive developments. Apple, which had previously indicated that they would only allow artists signed to record labels to offer music on iTunes, has begun including music from CD Baby. CD Baby allows any artist to join their service and takes a very small cut from each song (about 9 cents). This leaves the artist with about 55 cents from each sale, which is pretty decent– though it could be a lot better. Additionally, as noted in the “victory” section above, Apple has stopped saying that iTunes is fair for artists, which was our primary concern. The key factor for deciding whether a music purchase is good for artists is the record label– some purchases on iTunes leave artists with fair compensation, but buying major label music not only leaves the artists with pennies, it also supports a system that marginalizes every independent musician.
To sum up
iTunes can be a good deal for independent labels and musicians (see side bar) and there’s no reason for them to boycott– labels get a somewhat bigger cut than they would from a CD sale and artists on indy labels get much bigger cut than those on major labels. But most people don’t find out about music on the internet, they hear it on the radio (that’s why the majors sell 85% of all music). If the major labels can eventually use iTunes and similar internet services to survive, independent labels will stay locked off of mainstream radio. Which is why this is not an anti-Apple page– we own Macs, we run Panther, and we know how much better Apple’s computers are. It’s precisely because Apple did such effective design on the iTunes Music Store software that it becomes dangerous. An unusable, unsuccessful music service won’t keep major labels in control, but iTunes and copycats might. In practice, iTunes is already a voluntary contribution system — all of their music is available on filesharing networks. It proves that people will contribute to artists if it’s easy. Even more will contribute if the artist gets more than 10%.
thanks to www.downhillbattle.org for the article. They have many more articles of interest to musicians -they certainly are united in our vision.