wed 24/07/2024

Pete Townshend: the internet is killing music | reviews, news & interviews

Pete Townshend: the internet is killing music

Pete Townshend: the internet is killing music

The Who's main man bemoans the death of 'John Peelism' at the hands of iTunes

Pete Townshend: out of touch or nail on head?

Earlier this week Pete Townshend asked whether “John Peelism”, the ethos of supporting and celebrating small, independent artists at a grass-roots level, could survive the internet. His implied answer was clearly "no". Townshend levelled the accusation that Apple, the owner of iTunes, is “a digital vampire Northern Rock” which doesn’t support or invest in the musicians whose work they sell, particularly the more independently minded ones, but rather sucks them dry before moving on.

Claiming that “iTunes exists in the Wild West internet land of Facebook and Twitter”, he went on to suggest that this Dodge City of MP3 enterprise is a top-heavy cartel that doesn’t contribute anywhere near enough to support the smaller artists who prop it up.

The wider inference of all this belly-aching is rather stark. Digitalisation has transformed music and the means by which we consume it in the past decade, yet Townshend believes there is very little about the switch that could be said to actually benefit either the music or the artist. He may have a point. Alongside his claims about ruthless short-termism, lack of sustained support and the negative drain on sales and income, perhaps the factor that has done most to undercut the achievements of music-makers (and the one which most consistently angers them) is the degraded impact iTunes has had on the default sound quality of most modern music. Simply, what we hear after downloading a track is often a million miles away from what the artist intended us to hear. It’s a worry that theartsdesk expressed earlier this year in one of our most keenly debated articles, "Opinion: RIP Sound Quality?" Read it and weep - or disagree.

And what of Townshend's other points about the internet and music: out of touch or nail on head?

Apple is 'a digital vampire Northern Rock' and iTunes 'exists in the Wild West internet land of Facebook and Twitter'

Share this article


Well, he makes some good points, but from what I can see remains fundamentally wrong. As a voracious consumer of recorded music and avid live music attendee, the digital space has afforded me the opportunity to acquire and share music and experience live music in a way I couldn't have imagined just a couple of years ago. Leveraging (sp?) new on-line platforms such as alongside iTunes themselves means that I can try new music inexpensively, share my finds (often using a band's youtube channel), and then invite friends to come with me to see live shows using songkick. I know very well that a significant proportion of my disposable income is still going the way of new and established bands as a direct result of the digital platforms offered to and used by the music business.

I think he certainly has a point. I came across simliar conclusions about Spotify recently. And as an independent/niche artist, I do agree that massive 2 dimensional platforms such as these are making alot more money out of our music than we are. Youtube is a fine example of this too. The PRS perforners' rights society here in the UK had a big fight on its hands trying to get youtube to pass on royalties to the musicians and as for the advertising, don't get me started.. Unfortunately, it seems it's the price we pay for getting our music out there on more platforms in the hope of expanding audiences and maybe generating an income if we are lucky/popular enough. As for MP3/sound quality debate, as a passionate sound engineer I would share those concerns. Audio expert Rupert Neve is particularly concerned about MP3's as they cut off at a frequency (Around 14 Khz) that can leave the ear/brain irritated. But I would also argue that music has always largely been consumed on 'low' quality listening devices - eg. transistor radios, wireless etc.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters