Apple Music chief Jimmy Iovine decried freemium—and free music in general—during his remarks at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday. “These companies are building an audience on the back of the artist, and it really bugs me” Iovine declared of purveyors of unlimited free streaming, describing it as “a shell game.” He also took potshots at the tech-company culture (or lack thereof).
It was an implicit swipe not only at YouTube but also at current streaming-music leader Spotify, which has declined to eliminate its free tier; Daniel Ek’s tech giant has argued that the ad-supported free element is vital for onboarding users who can be migrated to the subscription tier once they’ve experienced the service. Spotify currently claims about 20 million paying users.
At the Summit, Iovine (who admitted “I have an express from my brain to my mouth”), asserted that Apple could have many more users with free streaming but wanted to develop a service that fairly compensated artists. As it is, he declared, he and his team have “built something powerful enough that it will work.” Of course, Apple hasn’t released any numbers reflecting user retention since the end of its first trial period; pressed on the point, Iovine insisted, “I wouldn’t be here if things weren’t going really well.”
“Just because you go to Burning Man doesn’t make you Hunter Thompson.”
He seized the opportunity to praise the “lightning” response of Apple’s Tim Cook and Eddy Cue to Taylor Swift’s critiques over compensation during the service’s initial free trial period, noting, “Taylor was impressed.”
But arguably his most withering words were reserved for tech companies that were involved in music without understanding culture. “The bottom line is most media companies are technologically inept, and most technology companies are socially inept,” he opined. “Just because you go to Burning Man doesn’t make you Hunter Thompson.”
“The media business needs to have tech people and give them stripes and the tech businesses needs to give media people stripes,” he added, “or it’s going to keep being the Star Wars bar in Tatooine.”
That last reference ostensibly compares the free-music landscape to the motley criminal underworld of that sci-fi cantina. Iovine stopped short of explicitly comparing Ek to Greedo.
Speaking of streaming and Star Wars, our uncultured brick of an anniversary issue is coming your way soon.