I really thought they had solved the problem this time. Remember Napster? No, hang on. Do you remember cassette tapes? No, sorry. It’s Friday. Do you have ears?
There is a very simple truth that our favourite bands discovered before their third album: their job is to make music. They hired a record label to sell the music and make money from it. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Because the bands, even on such a small crumb of the cake, got rich. They got lawyers. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Artists make art, and the agents make money. Once the recording artists got money, and lawyers, they got smart. They saw they were getting crumbs. Tom Petty went on a tour to fund his court case to win back the rights to his music. It was only one of many legal disputes. Most recently, he won writing points against Sam Smith for his single Stay With Me. Tom really won’t back down.
In the late 1960s the music business lost its way. It became more business than music, and the Beatles were one of the first acts to see just how much money was being made from their work, with little going to them. Brian Epstein, an undoubted genius, tied them up to a contract that would be regarded as slavery now. There are persistent rumours that Simon Cowell drives a hard bargain. Who owns the pie? That is the question in any business, and it is always the people who have the equity. In capitalism, the money talks louder than the drum.
Everyone I knew at school had a recording tape deck. Every single one of us, aged 8 or so, sat down with our finger on RECORD for the weekly radio chart show. We taped it. We played it to death. Until the next week. We paid for nothing. And nobody cared.
When the 90s had almost gone, we got the internet. And we let rip. Literally. Napster had been born. No longer did we have to wait for a song to come on the radio. No adverts, no aged paedo breathing over the final notes. Crystal clear sound that was as good to our ears as a CD. The MP3 generation was the one after mine. But we saw the wave coming, and we grabbed our boards.
Then, the record companies shut it down. Realising they had to do something, they buddied up with a little known tech company called Apple. And no, it’s nothing to do with the Beatles. Honestly!
Apple’s iTunes was cheaper than an album, and it let you ‘borrow’ a track for a few years. Of course, we didn’t read the contract. We thought we owned the music. But we didn’t and we don’t. It turned out to be a little fork in the road, a kink before the technology caught up. Mobile music streaming was coming fast.
And then we got jobs. And the price of CDs went through the floor. Never again have I ripped music. It’s just too painful, too tricky, and my music service only costs a ton a year. It’s basically free at that price. For the keepers I still get CDs, for when the revolution comes. As it will. I’m considering a record player, but not seriously. Have you seen the price of the records?
But I really thought they had cracked the nut this time. The powers that be love streaming so much because you don’t actually download a file, like in those happy MP3 days. You never ‘see’ the digital files because they are locked down. Until they weren’t.
I didn’t even know you could rip a streamed song. But it turns out to be easy. And a lot of you are doing it. Why, I really can’t say. Music has never been cheaper or more plentiful, and it will continue to get cheaper and more plentiful.
But one thing is certain: they are coming for you. And if that turns out to be too hard, they will switch technology again. They will tighten up the security, lock down their operating systems. Because Apple is a tech company that makes a lot of money from music. And there are many, many others. Some say too many. There will be a time of reckoning, when someone buys Spotify, the biggest. And that someone will either be a record company or a cartel of them. And we all know what happens when those grabbing buggers get involved.