On the celebration of the 10th Anniversary of iTunes, Apple celebrated by giving everyone with an iTunes Account, about 500 million people, a free copy of U2’s album “Songs of Innocence.” Some have surmised that this heralds the death of the iTunes Store, as musicians can no longer charge for downloads of their music. Instead, many are arguing that we are now in the era of music streaming, where no one wants to pay to download or “own” music anymore, when they can simply stream music wirelessly from the cloud-based music services now available. While it’s true we are in a time of transition from the CD and download era to “music everywhere” services, there will be life to download sales for some time. Network bandwidth is never free. Never has been, and never will. So there will always be a market, and a price premium, for offline storage of protected works, whether that is books, movies, or music. That said, it is a fact that downloads are declining due to the availability of these streaming services. For musicians, we once again, must adapt to these changes but these challenges are nothing new. Musicians have already been dealing with how to sell their services for hundreds of years.
The issue that the U2 deal raises, is what we musicians, must do to support the creation of our art. Actually, we are not alone in this struggle. Whether you are a painter, a ballerina, a sculptor, or a musician, artists all face this common challenge. So let’s look at how artists have raised support for centuries.
Although the terms of the deal between U2 and Apple are unknown, it’s clear that Apple, with permission from the band and their label Island/Universal Music, bought the rights to the master recordings, either permanently (less likely), or for a limited time (more likely), and the songwriters waived their rights to mechanical royalties (being paid per copy sold). So this makes Apple “patrons” of U2’s music. Let me explain.
There are three ways that people support the arts:
1. CUSTOMERS – People buy the works that artists create. This could be a Dutch Master painting at an auction, or a T-Shirt across a six-foot table at a show from a local band. Plain and simple commerce.
2. SPONSORS – Sometimes a person or business may want to have access to the audience of the artist. Often this is because the interest of the sponsor is aligned with the demographics of the fans of the artist. The most recent example of this is Honda’s ad campaign with Demi Lovato to reach minivan driving moms.
3. PATRONS – These are people who simple love the artist enough that they simply want to give money to keep their creations coming. Kings, queens, governments, businesses, and individuals have all done this over the course of history. And Apple just became one of the biggest patrons of music in the modern era. They loved U2 because a decade earlier, Apple wanted to bring the magic of iTunes to the fans of U2 through a sponsorship. Apple needed U2 back then. But now, both are so big that they both don’t need each other. Arguably, now U2 needs Apple. But however you slice it, Apple is U2’s patron.
So this brings us back to you, the everyday musician. Are you developing all three types of people who support the arts so that you can have a career? Because in today’s environment, among music streaming services, and the set of people who will download, and maybe buy the last few CDs available at your shows, you are going to need all three types of supporters. And U2 is reminding you that you need to pay attention to business.