Hakkasan, sometime in the late 1990s. The music industry is gathered around a huge banquet table, feasting on the bloodied corpse of Britpop, cackling through mouths sopping with Seahorses platinum discs and anally oozing cash.
Then – FZZZT, BLAMBLAMBLAMBLAM! – the lights go out, there’s gunshots in the dark, and when the lights come up again the industry lies face down in its stir-fried ostrich, blasted through the back of the head with bullets of pure internet. The music industry has been murdered! But whodunit? This sounds like a job for… um, Jon Bon Jovi?
“Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business,” J.B.Jo told the Sunday Times Magazine this week, the latest cry-baby millionaire finger-pointing like a demented Jarvis because he suddenly can’t afford to get his space station re-upholstered.
And, to a degree, you can see his point: by inventing the iPod and the iTunes means of distribution, Jobs is largely responsible for stripping music of its physical form, and it’s only natural that we have less value for something we can’t hold, study, covet and show off. It’s rare now to feel that possessive thrill of ownership; instead we feel we’re buying access to a tiny iota of some central musical mind-hive, and where’s the power and achievement in that?
Music, for most, has become as intangible as a list of computer files and the vibration of eardrums. When we used to pay actual money for CDs we paid for the expensive-to-produce object – the disc, the crystal case, the booklet full of shit collages of on-the-road Futureheads Polaroids. Now we pay purely for the sensation, and who wants to pay a tenner for a sensation? Apart from Wayne Rooney, obviously.
But blaming Steve Jobs solely for the death of the industry because he gave us some brilliant new technology is a bit like blaming John Logie Baird for The One Show. You can accuse him of cynically holding back simple improvements on Apple products in order to rush out a more expensive ‘update’ six months later, sure, but single-handedly condemning future generations of Jovis to poverty? Really? No, let’s look at some of the other chief suspects, inspector…
Alfred Marshall Mayer
In 1894, one Alfred Marshall Mayer, scientist and scholar, discovered that one tone could be rendered inaudible by a second tone of a lower frequency. At that point, for Lily Allen’s sake, he should have burnt his books, cut out his tongue and never spoken of such devilish witchcraft again for as long as he lived.
Because his discovery would ultimately lead to the invention of the MP3 – a self-replicating cell of musical syphilis to the likes of Jovi – and at no point along its 100-year development path would anyone go “hey, maybe we should put a bit of boffin-y code in here somewhere to make these things un-transferable between bog-standard pleb computers, or we might get in serious trouble with Metallica”. I mean, my MacBook goes crashdown ape-shit every time I try to play a Peep Show DVD on it – how fucking hard could it have been?
The Establishment, of course, will point the finger of blame for the piracy explosion at the door of Napster, or Pirate Bay, or Weshareanysong.com, or that Boston student who got fined $22,500 for every of the 30 songs he’d illegally downloaded, or whichever peer-to-peer file-sharing service is currently trying to argue that it was just an innocent Justin Bieber chat-room m’lud, and the bigger boys made them do it.
But the best known P2P sites were all relatively underground, small-fry outfits before Lars Ulrich announced in 2000 that he was planning to individually sue his own fans for downloading Metallica’s music, as well as slapping a hefty writ on Napster itself. At which point the web-illiterate general public turned to the internet and said “we can do what now?” and Napster’s user base shot up to 26.4 million inside a year. Suddenly everyone on Earth knew that the Global Rock Giveaway was now on! Good PR job there, Lars! Ba-doom-tsh!
It’s easy to blame Simon Cowell for pretty much everything wrong with the world – indeed, geologists are working on the assumption that he’s behind the Japanese tsunami until they’ve found conclusive proof otherwise. But for filling a full decade of the charts with carbon-copied warbling bilge that’s constant, 24-hour, radio-throttling proof that music is now utterly without worth, he’s got to take some of it on the chin. ‘It’ being the business end of a flame-thrower, preferably.
‘Released from the commercial shackles of the modern day music industry’ (i.e. too stinking fucking rich to care anymore), Radiohead’s revolutionary ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ approach to the release of ‘In Rainbows’ helped cement the general consensus that even the most hotly-anticipated albums should now be valued at roughly three eyelashes and a wet fart.
Some production plant worker on the make
Ever wondered how so many major releases manage to ‘leak’ weeks or months upfront of release? Crafty studio workies? Maybe. War Games-style rock hackers? Arguably. Music journalists uploading review copies? Are you KIDDING ME? We LIVE for the pathetic one-upmanship of hearing this stuff ages before you!
Nope, chances are your ‘leak’ came to you via a back-hander to whoever’s ‘quality checking’ the CDs as they roll off the production lines in Peking, in order to make a mint on the thriving black market. I mean – music industry profits crashing, Chinese economy rocketing. You do the math.
Yes, you. Stop looking around, you know who we’re talking to. We know you’ve done it. We know you’ve burnt off a copy of ‘Angles’ already to try to get in the knickers of Angie in accounts. C’mon, show us the receipts for that entire Pixies back catalogue on your iPhone. Can’t huh? For shame…
Missed anyone? Who do you think is responsible? Spotify? Glee? Rastamouse? Your suggestions, please, below…