s Robert Anton Wilson pointed out, few of our ancestors were perfect ladies or gentlemen. The majority of them weren’t even mammals. And while I don’t subscribe to David Icke’s theories about reptilian aliens lurking among us, there’s still plenty of low-life slime out there that even a garden worm would be embarrassed to be remotely related to. Sure, most of them do have opposing thumbs... the slime that is, not the garden worms. But in a lot of other respects, evolution apparently hasn’t done them any real favours. And, because so many of them seem to work in the music and recording industry, they don’t feel obliged to do the rest of us many favours either.
Strangely enough, garden worms aren’t greedy. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a single example of any other animal, mammal or reptile that understands or displays the notion of greed. Now humans... well, that’s another story. You don’t have to look very far for examples of low-life that have raised that notion to a position of high art, and have even managed to convince an awful lot of others that it’s definitely a notion worth striving for. They’re also the ones that try to convince the rest of us that programmes like Pop Idol and The X Factor are about discovering ‘talent’ and not just about exploiting a bunch of morons who are more interested in becoming ‘famous’ than becoming famous for anything in particular.
OK, extinction is a frightening prospect for any species. And for the slime in the record industry, climate change and the smell of the tar pits is probably getting a little too close for comfort. Despite the attempts to create dumbed-down product for an ever-decreasing market, normal album and single sales just can’t satiate their evolved level of greed anymore. Record labels are traditionally used to people buying proper albums and, in the process, paying for a lot of crap songs they might not have wanted. But thanks to all that cool digital stuff out there, all that has changed. Apple alone has sold about 22 million of its iPod digital music players, and more than 500 million songs through the iTunes Music Store. The iTunes Music Store lets consumers pay for only the songs they’re interested in, which makes sense if you’re interested in music. But from the record companies point of view, freedom of choice doesn’t do much to keep the labels’ revenues up. Which is why Apple and the major record labels are heading towards a major jihad over iTunes Music Store pricing.
It seems that it all started at the recent Apple Expo in Paris where Steve Jobs told the audience that some record companies were pushing for higher prices on the company’s iTunes Music Stores. This is despite the fact that by cutting out manufacturing and marketing costs, record companies already make more profit by selling a song through iTunes than on CD. Steve went on to observe that these demands just mean they’re “getting a little greedy”. Needless to say, the record industry didn’t like that much. Following Steve’s comments, Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman went all tyrannosaurus rex and decided that if Apple is “artificially” fixing low prices to promote sales of iPods, then the labels should get to ‘share’ in those iPod revenue streams. They also think they should be able to charge more money for newer hits than they charge for back-catalogue titles as well. They also think, as Bill Hicks once observed, that it’s OK that John Lennon is dead and Barry Manilow – or substitute any one of the plethora of mediocrity being churned out by the industry – is still making albums. Although other labels like Sony, EMI and Universal didn’t respond immediately in public to Steve’s comments, you can bet that in private, they’re all thinking along the same lines as Warner.
Fortunately, for the moment, Steve Jobs says Apple plans to stand firm on this one because the evidence is that customers think the current price is ‘really good’ where it is. If anything, some users would probably like to see the price come down a bit. The other salient point seemingly lost on the record companies is that iTunes has been successfully competing with other illegal download sites, providing a means to buy songs legally for a fair price. But if the price goes up, guess what? A lot of music lovers will go back to piracy. And then the record companies will really start moaning again. As for Apple giving the record industry a slice of the iPod/iTunes revenue... well, that would take an evolutionary leap capable of producing a whole new species of flying pigs.
Sadly enough, somewhere in the overall scheme of things, pretensions have managed to dramatically outstrip reality, making many thinkable thoughts socially unthinkable. Why? Well, I suppose in any given society, nearly everyone has the same semantic imprint which is reinforced daily by assumptions that are mechanically taken for granted – twisted notions that things like celebrity, bling and large dollops of cash are paramount. And, when confronted with evolution, even record companies, like the dinosaurs before them, will try anything to beat extinction, including biting the hand that’s feeding them. Let’s face it: the majority of these creeps are not perfect ladies or gentlemen. And I’m not convinced that most of them are even mammals.
Hopefully, this latest distended honk of greed is just one more evolutionary indicator of a bloated and dying species that genuine musicians and music lovers won’t miss in the slightest.
When it comes to unfair privilege and brute stupidity, I’m a strong supporter of extinction. With iTunes and the iPod, Apple has, in a very real way, changed the way people listen to and buy music. No record company was interested in exploring these avenues, nor did any of them provide help to Apple along the way. To now turn around and start demanding a piece of the pie as well as trying to be a bully on pricing is totally unacceptable. I’m confident that Steve won’t budge on this one. And even greedy record companies won’t ever stop real music from being produced, performed and heard. As the Japanese poet Basho wrote:
“The temple bell stops
But the sound keeps coming
Out of the flowers.”