I made a promise some time ago that I wouldn’t buy another CD until the iTunes Music Store was available in the UK. In truth it’s years since I bought a CD anyway. Twenty years ago I had a modest record collection, most of which were bought with record tokens received as birthday and Christmas presents. Most of what I listened to was on tape – cassette tape, nothing fancy – and a lot of that was recorded from John Peel’s evening show on Radio 1. At the time, I used the same excuse that kids (and grown-ups) use now when sampling the delights of LimeWire – the “I’m just listening to it to see if I like it, I’ll buy it if I do” lie.
Around that time, I was sharing a flat with a guy who had a pretty serious collection of music, and we made compilation tapes. We had tapes for every occasion: driving, pre-club, post-club, picnics and “entertaining” (think Barry White, then try to get it out of your head). When we went our different ways, I was horrified to find that our tapes were actually mostly his tapes. So I was light on music again. Around this time CDs were beginning to appear, so I decided not to buy any more music until I owned a CD player. In the following years, I relied on scrounged tapes and girlfriends’ record collections.
Not that I wasn’t contributing to musicians’ livelihoods. Between the ages of 16 and 24, I saw at least one band a week – often going to as many as five gigs per week. From The Cramps and The Cult to Dead or Alive and Divine, I think most bands that played in the Eighties received some of my dole money at some point. But when it comes to buying their recordings, I’ve been sadly stingy.
When I lived in the US, I did finally get a CD player and bought a fair few discs – though when I returned to the UK it didn’t take long before I was burgled and my CD collection was lifted in one fell swoop.
I’ve made only occasional purchases of music since then, unwilling to replace the now-massive collection of songs that have passed through my hands in one form or another. Occasionally I’ll admit to downloading some rarity from the 1980s if it gets stuck in my head. But my experience of Napster and all those that came after was pretty poor.
Aside from the moral and legal drawbacks, the convenience factor never really worked for me. If my obscure indie nonsense was even available on Napster, it was invariably the wrong version, bit rate, track name, band name or just the wrong things. With the development of broadband, I could at least afford to make mistakes – but it didn’t make the experience any better. I was still downloading the wrong thing, just quicker.
It was a few years ago, after iTunes was launched – but before the Music Store existed – that I figured out that I could spend a lifetime correcting the song titles, album titles, and band names. I would happily have paid to get all my music correctly labelled, neat and tidy in the right album, genre, and so on. In fact, I would have paid as much as 79p per track. So I think the iTunes Music Store is fantastic. But I was still unsure if I would actually use it.
I had claimed that it was a matter of convenience that I didn’t spend my Saturdays trawling through record shops (or whatever you call them now). I claimed that I would happily pay for the music in an easily digestible, well-labelled form. Now, it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is.
After a month or so of the UK iTunes Music store, I can report that I have spent money. I haven’t gone crazy, but I have spent about £50 on music in the past month.
Whatever people say in public, it’s quite possible that their buying habits are affected by the availability of pirate MP3 material. I’m unlikely to ever go plundering for any MP3s online if they’re available on iTunes. If I want a song I’ll be checking iTunes first. I tend to be a little ahead of the general public’s trends as an early adopter. It might take a year or two – even three or four – but I’m firmly convinced that this is how people will buy music in the future. Indeed, it’ll be the only way they will buy music.
£50 might not sound like much, but it’s about as much as I have spent on music (not including live performances) in the past ten years. That’s £50 that the music industry wouldn’t have seen had it not been for iTunes. I think that will make a difference, and I think it will become apparent to the music industry very quickly. If this pattern continues – and there’s every chance it will – that will mean an extra £600 per year for the music industry. That’s enough to keep the Scissor Sisters in feather boas, the Streets in shell suits, and David Bowie in ciggies for another month (please don’t die this month, David – it’ll ruin my column).
This brings me to the other side effect of buying music on the iTunes Music Store – the feel-good factor. OK, so you may not get a warm, glowing feeling adding to the coffers of mega-groups like Pink Floyd or Guns ’N Roses – but how often do you think Five Star or Men Without Hats see a royalty cheque these days?
OK, they might be bad examples, but you know what I mean. It’s just that some heroes are too long forgotten: who wouldn’t want to contribute to Adam Ant’s psychiatric bill or Pete Burns’s next plastic surgery?
With the Music Store I can buy a Bay City Roller a pint; buy Shakin’ Stevens new suede shoes; or pay for a new wig for Alvin Stardust, by buying their Best Of albums on iTunes. At last, I’m contributing to the music industry. After years in the wilderness, I’m a customer again thanks to Steve Jobs.
Of course, not everybody that I’d like to pay back is on the Store. Although the indie labels are beginning to show up, they’re still lagging behind. I’m worried that people looking for the first time will think that there isn’t much there for them, not knowing that hundreds of artists and songs are being added every week.
I look forward to the day when I can contribute to the Bauhaus, Sex Gang Children and Xmal Deutschland retirement funds. For some reason, none of them have shown up on the Music Store yet. Perhaps they don’t need the money, but I feel I owe them some for all the tapes I made. MW