Steve Jobs' thoughts on music


It’s not rocket science to make a decent device that plays music. Apple evangelist, Guy Kawasaki admitted in an interview with Bloomberg that the real genius behind Steve’s iPod is iTunes. [1]  This may explain why the Macworld audience only politely clapped at the unveiling of the Apple iPod; whereas, the crowd went wild for iTunes.
Steve demonstrated his iTunes player by selecting an audio file of a poem by Dylan Thomas:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The poem asks that we don't lay down and die without a fight. Steve’s iTunes was a life preserver thrown to a music industry drowning in an ocean of music pirates like Napster. His iTunes allowed people to buy songs legally for a price low enough to compete with Napster’s $0. Before beginning serious work on the iTunes idea, Steve had sent for the big-four music companies to visit his office. He demanded, “If I can’t sell a song for 99 cents, I am not selling it.” Steve decided he would get a thirty per-cent cut of any music sold on iTunes. The then Executive VP of Universal Music Larry Kenswil told Bloomberg that Steve’s approach was unlike any other CEO the big four had ever dealt with. There was no negotiating with Steve. These were his terms and he was not shifting. After these four men had killed the 'single' music format in the '90s, Steve reanimated it as a binary stream. Seven years later, iTunes became the biggest music retailer in the U.S.[2]
An average billion songs per year are legally purchased via iTunes. It could be argued that Steve has saved ten billion songs from piracy. However, there are those who still believe that audio theft deserves the highest national priority. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has declared war on pirates so that starving artists like his ex-model wife won’t lose precious royalties. Nicolas is listed as number 56 on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people, Steve follows at his heels at number 57. (Both men were born in '55). Nicolas decided to call his piracy task force Big Brother.[3] Perhaps The French President doesn’t understand the negative connotations of the phrase in the same way that Steve does.
Steve likes to show his appreciation to those who buy music rather than pirate it. On February 24th, 2010, Steve made a phone call to grandfather of nine, Louie Sulcer of Georgia.
'This is Steve Jobs from Apple.'
Louis replied, 'Yeah right,' "
Louie later told Rolling Stone, "I have a son that loves to play tricks and he does that every now and then — calls me and imitates somebody."[4] Steve tried to explain to Louie that he had just downloaded the ten billionth iTunes track when he bought Johnny Cash’s "Guess Things Happen That Way". An exasperated Louis said to Steve, "Come on now, who is this?" Then he looked at his caller ID that simply read "Apple". Steve gave the 71-year-old $10,000 credit to spend on more iTunes stuff.
Of course, Steve’s revolutionary music shop did not impress 77-year old Yoko and her Apple Corps lawyers. She refused to allow the Beatles’ richest fan to sell her property on his fancy software for almost a decade. Did she understand that every Beatles song could be pirated in minutes? In August 2010 Yoko stated, "There's just an element that we're not very happy about, as people. We are holding out”.[5] When Yoko said "we", did she really mean “me”? Perhaps she was holding out for more money from Steve. On the other hand, Paul McCartney showed his support for iTunes by appearing in 2007 Apple commercial encouraging everybody to "dance tonight" with their iPod. Three months after claiming she was "holding out", Yoko finally relented and allowed Steve to sell his beloved Beatles music on his beloved iTunes. Ringo Starr’s reaction was “At last, if you want it - you can get it now”.[6]
Clearly, the long wait was not the boys’ fault.  Anybody who wants Beatles music on their iPod would have ripped or pirated it by now. However, this did not matter to Steve. It was a personal victory. At 3pm on the 17th of November 2010, Steve celebrated by filling the entire apple homepage with an iconoclastic 1969 Bruce McBroom photograph of his boyhood idols.  During the following month, Steve programmed all his stores to play his favourite dozen Beatles songs over and over and over and over again. One Sydney Apple genius confessed to this author that since the Beatles loop played at her store, she has grown to hate the fab four. She now cringes at the opening refrain of “Yellow Submarine”.
It could be argued that Bill Gates has more in common with The Beatles than Steve. The Beatles’  “Please, Please Me” mass-market approach is pure Microsoft. Steve’s company is closer in nature to the group’s darker twin - The Rolling Stones. Both Apple and The Stones are brands that purport to represent an avante garde rebellion suitable only for acquired tastes. Consider Steve whilst reading the lyrics of The Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil:

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith

But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby

As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
'Cause I'm in need of some restraint

So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I'll lay your soul to waste, um yeah

Steve has never had to chase The Rolling Stones to licence their wares on iTunes. The old rockers dumped fifty years-worth of music onto Steve's lap from the day iTunes began. The Stones have always been there for Steve. In September 2009, The Stones performed at the iPod event named after one of their many classic tracks "It’s Only Rock and Roll, But We Like It."
On the other hand, another rock veteran complained very publicly about Steve and his iTunes. Jon Bon Jovi told Sunday Times Magazine that the "magical" experience of buying albums in a store is dead now that Steve made it too easy to buy individual tracks from iTunes.


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. …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.

After The San Francisco Chronicle re-reported the article, there were many comments claiming that Jon killed music industry with his music. They complained that his cynically crafted albums contained two or three guaranteed chart toppers while the rest of the albums were filler. The general consensus was that lazy musicians were now forced to make every track a good one or no one would buy it. [7]


It’s easy for Jon to wax nostalgic about fossicking for vinyl gems at his local music boutiques. He was lucky enough to grow up in New Jersey. Before iTunes, country folk could only browse for music at the one lonely row of vinyl at Kmart. Meanwhile, the local AM station would play the same 34 songs ad nauseum. Steve's iTunes enlarged the musical world of remote places by allowing people in small communities an ocean of music in a desert of mediocre music outlets.  A kid in outback Australia with an internet connection could drown himself in more music than he could possibly hear in one lifetime. 


There are still some artists who don’t want to be iTuners: AC/DC, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Garth Brooks, Def Leppard, and Tool. Steve has never chased these musicians to join the iTunes library. He doesn’t seem to mind if trailer park residents can’t buy Highway to Hell via Apple. Hillbillies are not his demographic. If you watch the iTunes online tutorial, you will see the cheerful demonstrator typing “Steve’s iPod” into the username field. Yes, this is Steve’s iPod, and only he gets to decide what music is played at his party.

[1] Bloomberg.com (2010, October 14) Bloomberg Game Changers: Steve Jobs [Video]. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/video/63690380/

[2] NPD (2008, August 5) The NPD Group: iTunes Continues To Lead U.S. Music Retailers in First Half of 2008. Retrieved from http://www.npd.com/press/releases/press_080805.html

[3] Chrisafis, A. (2010, December 29) Nicolas Sarkozy's internet police warn 100,000 illegal downloaders. The Guardian.

[4] Elmer-DeWitt, P. (2010, February 26) Steve Jobs' chat with the iTunes winner. Fortune Magazine.

[5] Newman, J. (2010, August 6) Time to Give Up on The Beatles on iTunes. PC World.

[6] Apple.com (2010, November 16) The Beatles Now On iTunes. Retrieved from: http://www.apple.com/ca/pr/library/2010/11/16beatlesonitunes.html

[7] San Francisco Chronicle. (2011, March 14) Jon Bon Jovi slams Steve Jobs for 'killing' music Retreived from:: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/dailydish/detail?entry_id=84985#ixzz1JBGSkgPS


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