• Bridget Buckley

iTunes + U2 + Free = Armageddon Never in the history of the world have people cared so much about s


Okay, possibly an overstatement, but before you stake a claim on one side of the issue, here’s a few things worth considering.

Where there is passion there is invention and the members of U2 have both.

You can accuse U2 of many things but one of them is not a lack of invention. They are a band that wins big (think 2002 Super Bowl or 360 Tour) and loses big (think the giant lemon on the PopMart Tour) and frequently the line between the two is blurred. But good invention disrupts.

In this case, it is about rock, cause, pop and the ultimate branding of a rock star with a self-declared massive messianic complex connecting in a deeply disruptive way with corporate America.

U2’s relationship with Apple is not a new one, so it makes sense that they are the first ones to give out an album for free. In 2004, they worked with Apple to release a special U2 ipod and rolled out a silhouetted add featuring their new single Vertigo.

In 2005, during his Hall of Fame inductee speech, Bruce Springsteen commented on the fact the “smart, wily Irish guys” didn’t take money for being featured in that ad:

So the next morning, I call up Jon Landau — or as I refer to him, “the American Paul McGuinness” — and I say, “Did you see that iPod thing?” And he says, “Yes.” And he says, “And I hear they didn’t take any money.” And I said, “They didn’t take any money?!” And he says, “No.” I said, “Smart, wily Irish guys.” Anybody…anybody…can do an ad and take the money. But to do the ad and not take the money…that’s smart. That’s wily. I say, “Jon, I want you to call up Bill Gates or whoever is behind this thing and float this: A red, white, and blue iPod signed by Bruce “the Boss” Springsteen. Now remember, no matter how much money he offers, don’t

take it!”

U2 didn’t stop there. In February of 2014, they used Bank of America to give fans the opportunity to simultaneously raise one dollar for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, by downloading their song “Invisible” for free. The collaboration helped raise over 2 million dollars in less than a week and generated 2 million downloads of a song – which we now know – would have likely been on an album they were going to give away anyway.

So when, on September 18th, the public found out that U2‘s new album was sitting in their iTunes account, why did so many people lose their minds? Why is this free music causing such a raucous? After all, it’s been reported that at least 38 million people have actually listened to “Songs of Innocence.”

Is it because U2 is a band people love to hate and love to love?

Is it really about invasion of privacy or having something forced upon us?

Or…perhaps is it the realization that U2 and Apple got there first. Again.

Let’s think about the free album as part of the new business model for the music industry. Free music is nothing new. There are countless ways to get new music for free and the consumer doesn’t have to look very hard. Starbucks gives downloads for free at the counter. Sites like Spotify, Pandora and Youtube allow access to unlimited music for free. Bands release entire albums for free prior to the release date. Free music creates a buzz. Listeners want access to bands they won’t hear on the radio and those same bands need the exposure to get people to their gigs. It is a symbiotic relationship that is being redefined.

As I write this, I am listening to Pandora.com…for free (which for a small band might as well be giving away their music). I heard Rogue Wave for the first time so I went on iTunes and PAID for some of their songs. No, I didn’t buy entire albums, but I did spend money to have some of their songs permanently in my music library. Does that make some big sweeping generalization of me as a music listener/purchaser? Or is the opportunity to be exposed to new music without having to pay for it a gateway drug to a bigger and more profitable music addiction? They have to think of something because sales of recorded music have continued to go down since the introduction of iTunes 2003.

The problem might just be that U2 is bigger and more influential on Apple than Apple devotees want them to be.

So what about the privacy argument?

Let’s be clear, this privacy issue is a weak accusation at best, regardless of the protests. We lost our privacy long before U2 invaded our iTunes account. Use hotels.com to search for a hotel, the next two weeks of adds running across you screen deal with hotels. Has my privacy been tampered with or is it just trying to specifically advertise to the needs of the consumer? The age of technology is bringing information to the masses and we give up a bit of our control for the honor to search.

Would people be as angry if Amazon had mailed all of their music customers a free CD? Would people have been happier if Apple had used their Genius technology to give individuals an album from a band that fit into their own personal music DNA?

This is just the beginning of a larger change that consumers need to embrace.

We will look back at this “attack of privacy” as a start to a new musical movement. Maybe like Pandora, they will track the music in my library and provide free music in the genre in the hope that I will go and buy more from that artist.

People just need to relax about music showing up in their inbox for free because it isn’t going away. As Bono said during Jo Whiley’s BBC Radio 2 show, “Oh for God’s sakes… Really and truly — we get people who might want to delete it but nobody has deleted more U2 songs in the last five years than U2!”

Personally, I like free stuff…keep it coming.


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