The Death of iTunes
CONFESSION: I am an iTunes kid through and through. My lime green iPod Mini is still sitting on my shelf at home (and man, does it look clunky in 2019). I still carry around my 160GB iPod Classic for music on the go, refusing to use Spotify because I tried it in 2014 and didn’t like it, and my phone battery runs down quick enough without also using it as a music playing device. In light of the news that Apple is shutting down iTunes after two decades, I invite you to reminisce along with me about the contributions that the platform has given pop culture as a whole but, more importantly, us as individuals…
The year is 2004. It’s been 4400 days since an Australian PM was last knifed by a challenger and you’re up late against your parents’ wishes watching Rove Live and wondering how Rove is on such familiar terms with the nation’s mothers. An ad break plays, but instead of going to the kitchen for a chocolate Paddle Pop, you stay, transfixed by the screen… The background flickers neon pink, green, then yellow! Silhouetted on the screen are mysterious figures dancing and screaming along to crunchy guitar riffs! From their ears dangles a mysterious white, plastic product, which you are now sure you must possess…
There had been unsuccessful attempts to market portable mp3 players before, but with the release of the iPod Mini, Apple made them sexy. Their success is in no small part because of the hip tunes that sound tracked these ads – launching music careers in the process. Take Jet, whose album Get Born went on to sell 3.5 million copies worldwide after Apple used their track Are You Gonna Be My Girl in one such advertisement. Feist (1234), CSS (Music is My Hot, Hot Sex) and the Ting Tings (Shut Up and Let Me Go) are just a few other music artists whose songs I guarantee you’ll recognise if you hear – potentially because of the power of these iPod advertisements.
LIFE AS AN ITUNES KID
Receiving a computer with iTunes was an exciting time. First, you had to burn all your existing CDs to your hard drive – a clumsy process, accompanied by much computer-whirring, but there was nothing more satisfying than scrolling down and seeing all the items on your shelf digitalised, and adding album art and classifying and rating all your music until it was perfect.
Flirtations with Limewire may have exposed your computer to spyware and malware and the possibility that complicated_avril_lavigne.mp3 would be a basement recording from an unintelligible glam rock band from Sweden. But these little digital surprises also peppered your music library with unexpected demo and cover versions of songs that had you grabbing defensively for your iPod when they played accidentally while you were commanding the AUX cord – awkward!
Nothing was better than coming away from Christmas or birthdays with a huge sum in iTunes giftcards (completely understandable why the ATO wanted so many of their debts paid off in this way), and weighing up the merits of purchasing a whole album versus the $1.69 individual songs that you enjoyed was always an intense and painful process. Every week, the iTunes store offered a free download from an up-and-coming Australian band – including many now-defunct music acts like Starky, Cloud City, Lost Gospel, and Modular Lounge, who I only mention here for posterity as they have long since faded from the collective consciousness of the pop culture landscape.
WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG?
In hindsight, a key misstep was the decision to auto-download that U2 album to everyone’s iPhones back in 2014. Our music libraries had become so personal that this commercial intrusion felt like a betrayal that rapper Tyler, The Creator compared to ’waking up with a pimple or… herpes.’
As on-demand streaming technology advances to encapsulate all forms of entertainment media – movies, books, tv shows and music – it seems the days of buying something to own it are behind us. The way of the future is the subscription model.
Is this a problem? Maybe not. It sure is more convenient to sit on the couch in trackies and wait for your Uber Eats order while scrolling Netflix titles than to leave the house and trudge down the aisles of Blockbuster, running the risk of actually having to interact with other humans and getting slugged with a late fee if you forget to return your DVD on time.
But I can’t help but think that something has been lost. There’s a kind of joy in browsing a library of music you have spent years cultivating, stumbling across songs you used to listen to in high school that you almost forgot about and you might not have found again if you solely relied on Spotify or YouTube algorithms to remind you of your favourites.
It’s a pleasure to pay outright for something you love and own it forever, instead of renting it (along with a whole heap of other titles that may or may not interest you) month after month. Especially when the subscription model becomes the dominant way to buy computer software, costs can become prohibitive and extortionate – case in point, the Adobe Creative Cloud, whose monopoly over the market guarantees they can increase their prices pretty much however they want each month and if you can’t afford the outlay, tough luck. You lose access to the product.
There is much more than can be said about this cultural change – the impact on artists and content creators, the tendency towards disposable trend-focused content to appeal to algorithms set by tech companies who provide the platforms whose changing whims we are now completely at the mercy of… but I’ll leave you with an anecdote from my personal life. One night, it fell to me to select a music video for the group to enjoy on YouTube. With the world’s entire catalogue of content at my fingertips I went entirely blank, unable to think of a single song that would be appropriate for the moment.
So, I clicked on YouTube’s hot playlist and let the computer decide what we would listen to, instead. Is this the way of the future?
(Whose iPod Classic still works just fine, thanks so don’t peer pressure her into downloading Spotify!)