Why Artists Avoid iTunes

By Branko Miletic

By Branko Miletic

These days, you could be forgiven in thinking that every band, musician and just about anyone else that can hum Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’ wants their material to be sold via Apple’s online iTunes store – after all, Apple’s music app has revolutionised the music industry. It has turned the Napster generation into the ‘pay to play’ generation and pushed music into every digital nook and cranny possible. But not everyone wants to play with the big Apple from Cupertino.

Unless you just walked out of a cave in central Afghanistan, you would have heard that The Beatles are finally on iTunes. It was almost a relief for the band as much as the fans, with the laconic, Ringo Starr going as far to say, ““I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes,” said Ringo Starr. “At last, if you want it—you can get it now.”

But why the delay? Like almost anything, it is all about the money. Paul McCartney will deny it, Ringo Starr will deny, as will Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison.. Some will point to the stoush between the Beatles and Apple over the Apple trademark of their logo, but that was settled over three years ago. There are even cynics suggesting it was EMI as the stumbling block because they wanted a bigger piece of the pie. However, McCartney in particular has always been a canny operator, and hasn’t ended up being the richest Beatle due to his lack of business nous. And don’t get too complacent – the agreement is set to end in 2011 sometime.

It’s not just the biggest names in the music business that don’t allow their recordings on iTunes – Kid Rock and Cold Chisel can’t be found on their either, however Jimmy Barnes can. Other big names avoiding the limelight include AC/DC, Bob Seger and Garth Brooks.

When asked, some of these music mega-stars have over the years pointed out that iTunes is all about singles and not albums, which is at odds with their own artistic philosophies.  One who pushes the ‘iTunes is all about singles only’ line is AC/DC guitarist Angus Young who was quoted in the UK Telegraph in 2008, as saying: “We don't make singles, we make albums," he said."If we were on iTunes, we know a certain percentage of people would only download two or three songs from the album – and we don't think that represents us musically."

Brooks not only agrees with this perception but has gone as far as to say that Apple’s iTunes was bad for artists such as him.  “Until we get album-only downloads, then they are not a true retailer for my stuff, and you won't see my stuff on there."

Bob Seger too has been extensively quoted as saying that he objects to single-song sales. As for Kid Rock, he has been quoted several times over the years as saying he doesn’t want to be on iTunes because he is wary of people who tell him that he must be on iTunes – but with Kid Rock, you can never be sure whether he is being genuine or just stubborn, since you can download his full albums from Amazon and the Rhapsody MP3 store.

But ask the musician’s labels and related song owners, and then you also enter the murky world of corporate subterfuge.

When asked, AC/DC song catalogue owners Albert Music gave a stern “no comment” when asked why the heavy rockers weren’t on iTunes,  and the same was true for Mushroom Records, the label behind Cold Chisel, who didn’t bother to even answer the question but at the same time did also admit that it was “up to the artists and their marketing team as to whether or not they want to be up on iTunes or not”.

This of course neatly dovetails Apple’s official response, which was predictable. “It’s really got nothing to do with Apple—it’s up to the individual band and/or its label. iTunes is a shop and if the band or label does not want to be there then that is their decision,” said local Apple spokesperson, Fiona Martin.

And just to add to the raft of carbon copy responses, the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) predictable response was, “It’s up to the individual artist whether they want to be on iTunes. Other than that, we don’t have a comment”, was the response of the ARIA PR representative.

iTunes like all retailers takes a cut of the product’s profits as a fee for marketing and stocking a certain product. However at the same time, iTunes is not some little corner store from the other side of the Black Stump either. It has managed to push music sales to such great heights on so many different hardware platforms that it would be hard to believe there are musicians out there that would not want access to just about every eardrum on the planet. According to Apple, as of February this year, over 10 billion tracks had been downloaded from the iTunes store.

Perhaps this is why the ranks of the anti-iTunes musical army get smaller and thinner with each passing year; however the question still remains: is it because of artistic issues or is this all about the money?

No-one really wants to admit that it’s about the dollars and cents- artists don’t want their fans to think that they are a bunch of money-hungry corporate types who are loathed to part with a few dollars for their songs to be sold on iTunes. After all, you actually can download full albums from iTunes- something that I have done quite a number of times.

At the end of the day, whether the likes of AC/DC, or old time rockers like Bob Seger like it or not, digital downloads are here to stay. It is very unlikely – given Steve Jobs’s penchant for being stubborn – that Apple will change its business model when it comes to iTunes. As fans get younger, and are more au fait with technology, the likes of Brooks and others will probably not have much choice about joining services like iTunes. It’s either that, or risk having your music ending up in the digital equivalent of a music vault with little or no access.

What artists would you like to see on iTunes?