It’s been almost a decade, but The Beatles’ music is finally available for purchase in a digital downloadable form – exclusively from iTunes. Fab Four fanatics, and anyone with an iTunes account, may pick and choose favorite Beatles tunes to listen to at leisure. Or, they could just buy and download the entire digital collection of every Beatles song recorded – complete with live footage, lyrics and album art – for $149. Albums and double-albums may also be purchased digitally for the first time. This new paradigm is clearly a victory for Steve Jobs, who had his sights set on The Beatles throughout the whole ordeal.
“We love The Beatles and are honored and thrilled to welcome them to iTunes. It has been a long and winding road to get here,” Jobs said last week in a press release. “Thanks to The Beatles and EMI [Electric & Musical Industries, Ltd.], we are now realizing a dream we’ve had since we launched iTunes.”
Now wait just a second.
After a long buildup, the introduction of The Beatles’ music to iTunes has undoubtedly made us all question: What took so long? Making tracks by The Beatles available to download digitally would have no doubt made them even more marketable. As good as “Blackbird” sounds on vinyl, it couldn’t have hurt profits to offer it for an iPod, since surely many millions of fans would have been quite willing to fork over the $1.29 all these years.
Rumors went around initially that the recent death of Michael Jackson – who owned a 50 percent stake in the publishing rights to 250 Beatles songs - could have been a factor, since the King of Pop left behind hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid debt with his estate. However, Jackson’s publishing rights actually had no influence over the situation with Apple, since the licensing rights for the Beatles’ brand and music is owned by Apple Corps, a company unrelated to Jobs’ Apple Inc. that is owned by The Beatles’ surviving band members and deceased members’ estates (HowStuffWorks).
It seems that Apple Corps and Apple Inc., who have had trademark issues since the ’80s, had to let a long series of legal matters settle before talks of selling Beatles music on iTunes could become a reality. There were points along the way where fans grew optimistic - such as the licensing of The Beatles’ remastered catalog for a “Rock Band” video game last year, and the presence of Beatles members’ solo albums on iTunes - but, ultimately, it depended on Apple Corps, Apple Inc., former Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, widows Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, and The Beatles’ record company EMI signing on to make it happen (HowStuffWorks).
The reason why The Beatles (and those with control over the group’s music) had been reluctant to get on board with digital music brings to light other prominent hold-out bands, which turn out to have very legitimate rationales for being wary of Steve Jobs’ warm embrace.
Def Leppard, Garth Brooks, AC/DC, Bob Seger, Neil Young, Kid Rock and Tool are among just a few that have stood firm in their skepticism of the music distribution site that sells upwards of 20 million songs per day.
Frontman Brian Williams of Australian rock band AC/DC (or what most of us now would consider “classic rock”) perhaps put it best, telling Reuters in 2008 “Maybe I’m just being old-fashioned, but this iTunes, God bless ‘em, it’s going to kill music if they’re not careful.”
Kid Rock was, shockingly, less poetic in his characterization of what he believes iTunes is doing wrong. “I have trouble with the way iTunes says everybody’s music’s worth the same price,” he said in The Rolling Stone. “I don’t think that’s right; there’s music out there that’s not worth a penny. They should be giving it away, or they should be making the artist pay people to listen to it. There’s other stuff that’s worth a little more. That’s the great thing about America, we’re not scared to pay what something’s worth.”
I think it’s safe to say Rock’s songs would be among the first added to a list of music “not worth a penny.” However, his claim that his choice to keep his single “All Summer Long” off of iTunes was a big reason Rock N Roll Jesus skyrocketed to one of the bestselling albums of the year is probably a valid point; had it been sold on iTunes many fans would have purchased the hit song alone, causing sales of his album to go down considerably.
Almost simultaneously to The Beatles’ iTunes debut, the rockers of Led Zeppelin also broke their long-standing grudge. Until now, the band had complained of the poor quality of sound that iTunes’ music provides to its users as opposed to CD’s and other forms of music distribution. This was a view shared by folk legend Neil Young, who told The Rolling Stone in 2008 that he hated digital music and was developing his own process to make it better (and he did, to some extent, for The Neil Young Archives).
The Beatles and the band’s legal affiliates, who released a boxed set of multiple digitally remastered monophonic recordings last year, The Beatles in Mono, are setting up an interesting dichotomy: Will listeners go for a higher-quality physical collection of Beatles music or opt into the newly available tracks from Apple Inc. that will undoubtedly have a diminished sound quality (typically 128-256 kbps)? Only time will tell, but the fact that music by a group as legendary as The Beatles’ can be mass-consumed so easily is ultimately going to be daunting for some people who see this event as a harbinger of music’s demise.
However, let us, for now, celebrate for all of the happy mouse-clickers out there. Recognize that this is a major triumph for every screaming fan of British rock and roll out there (especially those that have not quite mastered the finer points of importing ripped tracks into an iTunes library). Respect the hype. Rejoice on behalf of those that have been just sitting around waiting for the day that they could just sit around and wait forThe White Album to download. Fab Four, welcome to iTunes.