Steve Jobs is like that old ad for BASF – he doesn’t make the computers, digital music players or cell phones, he just makes them better. How? By thinking like the people who will ultimately use the MacBooks, iPods and iPhones that his company, Apple, unleashes on the world.
On Sunday night, the world will watch the annual Grammy awards unfold. Amidst a sea of self-congratulation, the stubbornly out-of-touch music business will again refuse to face some obvious truths. First, lawsuits won’t make people buy music, and second, encryption schemes won’t stop them from stealing it.
Which brings me back to Steve Jobs. In an open letter published on Apple’s website last Tuesday, he called for an end to digital rights management (DRM) schemes – the many ways record companies lock up their online music. His declaration carries some weight, because iTunes is the world’s largest legal download service, and the iPod is far and away most popular music player.
Jobs made a call to simple, common sense. In a world, he wrote, where last year 2 billion songs were sold online, “while over 20 billion … were sold completely DRM-free and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves,” how can anyone stop piracy?
On the other hand, if the industry took all the money wasted on making CDs that aren’t bought, the warehouses where they’re stored, and the fleets of trucks that deliver them, they could change the world and save their business.
When faced with the choice of a drive to the mall or a click of a mouse, what will most people do? But music purchased through most download services is fraught with problems that often render it unplayable. Tech-savvy fans turn to free (and currently illegal) download options for convenience as much as price.
If only the industry could agree upon a way to monetize this practice. They view Napster, which ushered in MP3 file trading in 1999, as the beginning of their end. Left out is the fact that CD sales rose, not fell, in Napster’s wake.
In making millions of songs easily available to casual listeners, Napster sparked an explosion of interest in previously ignored music. The industry responded by litigating them out of existence. Eight years later, they still haven’t learned that more fans means more business. Hopefully, Jobs’ modest proposal will spur them to find fresh ways to face this challenge.
On to live entertainment:
Thursday: “The Male Intellect,” Claremont Opera House – It’s a weekend for laughter, with Dubac’s critically acclaimed one-man show tonight, and Brooklyn funny woman Mary Dimino Friday at Hullabaloo in downtown Claremont. Dubac hilariously explores the confusing gulf between the sexes, while the down-to-earth Dimino looks at life from a female perspective, including this funny take on weight: “I started as a woman, and ended up Spongebob Squarepants.”
Friday: – Pondering Judd, Salt Hill Pub – A first-time appearance by this Seacoast Americana combo, who can pick and grin like Nashville cats, and then kick out the jams with e-Phish-iency (sorry about the pun, it’s been that kind of day). They’ve opened for Guster and the Saw Doctors, and were just named best rock band of 2006 in a recent Portsmouth poll.
Saturday: Last Kid Picked, Newport Opera House – Local heroes hold down the musical end of Winter Carnival for another year. They’ll play everything from “My Prerogative” to “Boys of Summer” – the Ataris’ version. Newport boasts the oldest winter carnival in the country; this is the 91st year. LKP hasn’t played every one, but they’ve done a bunch. The best part about this show, perhaps, is that it’s indoors.
Sunday: Mike Monaghan, Center at Eastman – Saxophonist Monaghan freelances with the Boston Pops, and has worked with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Anita O’Day. Sunday’s show begins with the Bill Wightman-led JOSA Ensemble, who will then back Monaghan. There’s a real chemistry between Wightman’s band and the musicians he recruits for JOSA that makes each performance special and unique.
Tuesday: Altan & Paul Brady, Hopkins Center – This is a great double bill of Irish music, featuring Altan, a six-piece traditional band, and Brady, a terrific songwriter who’s given songs to everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Bob Dylan. Brady will do his own set and sit in with Altan. His soulful voice should blend well with lead vocalist Maihread Ni Mhaonaigh’s pristine soprano.
Wednesday: Jerry Douglas, Iron Horse – He didn’t invent the Dobro, a resonator guitar turned flat and played with a combination of steel sliding and finger picking. But to hear the sounds emanating from Douglas as his hands float and dance across the instrument, you’d be forgiven if you thought otherwise. He often backs people like Allison Krause. To see him up front is a real treat.