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LONDON – Well, maybe it was Halloween, but The Who guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend certainly wasn’t pulling his punches. Speaking at a Radio Festival in Manchester, England on Monday night, the singer hit out at iTunes and the Apple empire, accusing it of having a stranglehold on the music industry that “bleeds [musicians] like a digital vampire.”
Townshend complained that, while iTunes provided distribution and royalty payments, it ignored other key elements of building a robust music industry. He called on the technology giant to introduce a program of nurture for fledgling talent instead of simply exploiting stars who had become successful.
With a wish list including editorial guidance from old-style A&R executives, financial and technical support, creative nurture, and support with the processes of posting music, launching new artists and licensing, Townshend said without these elements, creative people risked getting lost and their music unheard.
“A fledgling musician at the start of a career is a delicate thing,” he told the audience. “Even a rapper. You’ll just have to take my word for that.”
He also called for support for musicians and content creators to protect copyright, not only on specific platforms.
“Help artists protect their copyright, don’t just exploit the loopholes of grand theft. This is a minefield today. The internet is destroying copyright as we know it.”
Townshend said that while he was critical of iTunes’ master plan, he also thought that Steve Jobs had been “one of the coolest guys on the planet.”
But he insisted that Apple and iTunes had wider responsibilities to the creative community.
“Now is there really any good reason why, just because iTunes exists in the Wild West Internet land of Facebook and Twitter, it can’t provide some aspect of these services to the artists whose work it bleeds like a digital vampire?”
The tech platform could not be reached for comment.
Townshend also had some tough words for music lovers, describing the idea of sharing music without paying for it as “a kind of denial.”
“It would be better if music lovers treated music like food, and paid for every helping, rather than only when it suited them. Why can’t music lovers just pay for music rather than steal it?”
But he acknowledged that such a model would be tough for musicians themselves to accept.
“A creative person would prefer their music to be stolen and enjoyed rather than ignored. This is the dilemma for every creative soul.”
Townshend, who has written over a hundred works for The Who including the rock operas ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Tommy,’ was delivering the John Peel lecture at the Radio Festival. He donated his $11 speaking fee to the Musicians’ Union Benevolent Fund.
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