CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter – Friday 7 Oct 2011

By | Published on Friday 7 October 2011

Apple Malt

When Apple launches a new product, you can be pretty sure that it will dominate the headlines for days. There are few news stories that can overshadow such an event because Apple has become so good at turning its product launches into just that: events.

Sadly, the one thing guaranteed to do it happened this week. Just 24 hours after Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the new iPhone 4S, his predecessor Steve Jobs, the man who developed the theatre and spectacle of the company’s announcements, succumbed to the cancer he had been suffering with since 2003.

It was only in August that Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO, taking on the role of Chairman instead. Although he had taken a number of leaves of absence from the company in recent years, usually prompting wobbles in Apple’s share price, he being so tied to its vision and ethos, he’d always returned (most recently against doctor’s orders to launch the iPad 2) seemingly with as much drive as ever.

However, two months ago he wrote in his resignation letter: “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come”.

I think most of us knew what that meant. Any man who can brush off pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant is going to have to be very ill indeed to admit that they can’t carry on. But still, I’m not sure any of us quite expected Jobs’ death to come so quickly and it is incredibly sad that a man with such a talent and flair for business died aged just 56.

As the news spread, tributes began to pour in, and such a respected figure was he that even the protesters occupying Wall Street, campaigning against the capitalist system of which Apple is part, felt the need to mark the sadness of his passing.

What this means for Apple as a company isn’t yet clear. Those wobbles in share price have become less pronounced more recently, and as Tim Cook (who had been established by standing in for Jobs whenever he was away) is generally seen as a suitable new leader, the company itself seems perfectly stable in business terms. Also, Apple’s long lead times on new products means that we’ll be seeing new devices that Jobs had a hand in producing for some time yet.

And so influential was he for many new entrepreneurs now rising up the ranks, such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Spotify’s Daniel Ek, his outlook will likely continue to resonate for many years to come.

Just the fact that I’m writing about him here, and assuming that you’re not wondering why I’m talking about some tech guy in a music publication, shows what influence Jobs had. Because, of course, he did do hugely important things for the music industry too. Whatever you think about it, this business would be a very different place without iTunes. By adding a music store to Apple’s music software in 2003 as a means of feeding the already dominant iPod MP3 player, digital music was gradually brought to the masses.

The iTunes Store still has around 75% market share in the digital music space despite facing competition from countless rivals over the years, including all the traditional players in music retail. That’s a huge achievement, and it seems unlikely any of its competitors over the years could have achieved something similar had the Apple platform never existed – either because they are targeting a niche audience, or because their technology is a turn off to many. Apple have always approached digital music with a mainstream agenda, and with a technology the masses can use.

And, of course, all this was just a tiny part of Jobs’ overall achievements. Earlier this year, Wired published this great piece on Steve Jobs’ life in business, how he thought and how he worked. Reading it, it’s hard not to be impressed and inspired by him.

But what else happened this week? Sadly, guitarist Bert Jansch also died younger than he should have done. Both as a solo artist and with his band Pentangle, Jansch was an innovator. Along with John Martyn (who died in 2009) he redefined folk music in the 60s and proved hugely influential to musicians across many genres right up to the present day. And, of course, he continued to perform almost until the end of his life, cancelling what would have been his last performance less than two months ago in August.

Elswhere the trial of Conrad Murray, the doctor accused of killing Michael Jackson by negligently administering a fatal dose of surgical anaesthetic propofol as an insomnia cure, rumbled on this week. The prosecution continued to wheel out witnesses who seemed to show that Murray was not only negligent in many areas, but really in over his head to care for someone like Jackson.

Various paramedics and doctors noted that Murray never mentioned that he had given the singer propofol as they attempted to revive the dead or dying Jackson, and some noted it should never had been administered in a domestic setting anyway.

Three of Murray’s girlfriend’s (though not his wife) also testified, one saying that packages had been delivered to her house, with a pharmacist confirming that those packages had contained four gallons of propofol. However, the Las Vegas-based pharmacist also said that Murray had told him the house was actually his California medical practice, something he did not actually have on account of not being licensed to practise medicine in the state.

Various voicemails, text messages, and emails from Murray’s phone were also presented, one of which showed that, in the days before Jackson’s death, his then manager, the now also deceased Frank DiLeo, was concerned about the singer’s health, despite the doctor telling ‘This Is It’ promoters AEG Live everything was fine.

All of which might make you wonder what the defence have been doing as the prosecution wheel out all their witnesses. Well, yesterday they did get tough with the investigator from the LA coroners office who reviewed Jackson’s room shortly after his death. She’d messed the review up, the defence argued, throwing doubt on some of the proseuction’s forensics.

In other Jackson news, the big tribute concert at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is due to take place on Saturday. Although considering how shambolic the organisation of it seems to have been, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was called off at the last minute. Earlier this week, late additions to the bill the Black Eyed Peas announced they were pulling out, and then yesterday it was revealed that a pay-per-view live stream of the event on Facebook (due to be the first of its kind and only announced last weekend) could not go ahead because no one had thought to get the appropriate licences.

On the business side of things this week, Citigroup was taking final bids for EMI. Five, possibly six players are thought to have offered to buy all or part of the major label, half of whom are the other three major labels. Sony received outside backing for its various bids, and whatever happens now it seems certain that EMI will very soon cease to be a British owned company. Whether that actually matters or not depends on your point of view.

Speaking of music company sales, Napster was bought by Rhapsody, the latter being the biggest subscription service in the US and the former being, erm, not. It’s thought that Napster will be shut down in America and simply merged into Rhapsody in a bid to up its user base. It’s not so clear what the plan is for the brand internationally, but if Rhapsody chooses to use its new purchase to roll out worldwide, essentially rebadging Napster, this would mean the disappearance of one of the most iconic names in digital music (albeit not iconic in relation to its current form).

This week we also wondered if a ruling on how people are allowed to access TV coverage of football could have wider ramifications for music licensing. A European court decided that if technology allowed, telly-viewing Brits should be able to get their football matches from other European TV companies, rather than paying Sky for them. And if that’s the case, there seems little reason why Germans, who are unable to access Spotify in their own country, shouldn’t be able to access the UK version of the software if they feel it is better than what is otherwise on offer in their own country. And while we know for certain the FA don’t like the former scenario, the major record companies and music publishers likely wouldn’t like the latter one either.

Finally in music news, my favourite story of the week came out of the Tory party conference. Primal Scream were livid when they were told that Home Secretary Theresa May had used their song ‘Rocks’ to close her speech at the event. So angry were they that they felt moved to issue a statement saying just how very very angry they were about it.

Then someone pointed out that it was actually a Dandy Warhols song that May had used.

Our features this week saw me interviewing Plaid’s Andy Turner about the duo’s new album, ‘Scintilli’, Yann Tiersen curating a Powers Of Ten playlist, and Eddy Temple-Morris wondering what on earth has happened to Steve Jones’ voice since he arrived on US soil to present ‘X-Factor’.

This week’s Approved column featured Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds, who has been spending the week recording and releasing new music from his living room, psyche duo Psychic Dancehall, dark Swedish pop from Karin Park, and brilliant new pop singer-songwriter Foxes.

Also, we brought you full streams of Radiohead‘s new remix compilation, ‘TKOL RMX 1234567′, Rustie‘s brilliant debut, ‘Glass Swords’, James Blake‘s new EP, plus William Shatner taking on Black Sabbath. Meanwhile, having recently recorded a six hour song, The Flaming Lips one-upped themselves by announcing that they are to record a 24 hour long song released in a limited edition of five hard drives embedded in human skulls.

And, as ever, if you’re tired of reading but want more of that good CMU information pumped into your brain, check out this week’s podcast (which you can stream below). We don’t normally discuss deaths on there, because the tone of the show doesn’t really lend itself to it, but this week we felt we had to make an exception in the case of Steve Jobs and Bert Jansch. As well as them, Chris and I discussed the Conrad Murray trial, the EMI sale, Rhapsody’s purchase of Napster, MySpace’s plans to relaunch as an entirely music-focussed service next year, and Primal Scream’s aforementioned identity crisis.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU