An Open Letter to Jon Bon Jovi On What’s Really “Killing The Music Business”
When my wife—a huge and long-time Bon Jovi fan—asked me to spend over $300 for two floor seat tickets to your Valentine’s Day show in Toronto, there were two reasons that I said yes. First, I really love my wife, and would do almost anything for her. Second, I looked through my iTunes collection and realized that there were more good Bon Jovi songs inside than there were for most of the musicians I “love.” Once my wife assured me that your concerts focus mostly on the songs I liked, I plunked down the cash for the seats, and spent the next four months watching my wife smile every time we discussed Valentine’s Day.
To be totally honest with you, the concert was great. We both had a lot of fun, snapped pictures and video clips from the floor, and told our friends and family how much we enjoyed it.
But now you’re putting our happy memories in jeopardy. For whatever reason, you told The Sunday Times Magazine during an interview that “Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business.” I’m not going to try and tell you all of the ways that you’re deeply, profoundly wrong. Instead, I’m just going to focus on a few of them.
(1) My wife has carried around all of your albums (and many more) on Steve Jobs’ Apple devices since she bought her first iPod years ago. I know from personal experience that she taps into your collection at home, in the car, and on vacations—literally at the drop of a hat, whenever she wants. If she hadn’t, I would have forgotten about your band back in the 1980’s. No CD player or radio station would have changed that, I can guarantee you.
(2) When we got married, her music collection became mine and vice-versa. It’s because of her collection of Bon Jovi music—and her constant access to it on Apple’s devices—that I could look at my iTunes library and realize how many of your songs I liked.
(3) We attended your concert in Toronto a month ago. Photos from that concert were uploaded to Facebook using our iPhones, and from my digital camera using a Mac. And when I was testing the iPad 2, guess what I used as examples to show off how the new version of iMovie can edit videos from digital cameras? Sample concert footage. And it looked pretty great, too.
Jon, you lead the world’s top-earning touring band, which made $146.5 million on its last tour alone. If the music business is being killed, you’re still doing exceptionally well, so it’s hard to understand why you’d be complaining about anything right now. But let me take a guess or two.
In the interview, you seem to be upset that kids no longer buy an entire album based on the cover, and suggest that people would be better off not knowing what it sounds like before they make a purchase. I’m sorry, but that’s just crazy. Yes, Apple lets people buy singles rather than entire albums. It also lets people preview tracks before buying albums, and recently extended those previews to 90 seconds per song. This way, potential customers can be sure they’re getting what they want before hitting the buy button—a good idea because those of us who aren’t making tens of millions of dollars a year don’t want to buy bad songs, or worse yet, entire albums full of junk. Singles and previewing let us pick out the tracks we like, rather than having to pay for filler. And there’s a lot of filler in the music business these days.
Taken on an iPhone 4
During the concert in Toronto, and presumably many others you’ve performed over the years, the audience clearly wanted to hear your hits. Crowd noise dimmed significantly every time you said you were going to play “new stuff,” but the energy level went through the roof whenever a classic track started to play. As an aging rock star—granted, one who puts on a hell of a show—you must hate that each stadium full of people just wants to hear the songs you put out 20 years ago. You surely want to point fingers at the system that distributes your music, the way people consume music these days, other performers, and anything other than the music itself for not catching on. At one point in the concert, you knocked Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and seemingly Madonna and Justin Timberlake for not being real musicians. As talented as you may be, it’s obvious that you’re angry about popular music for some reason.
You shouldn’t be. If you don’t realize it already, iTunes, the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Mac have given you a platform that would have been inconceivable when you were a kid. You constantly live in your fans’ pockets, on their computers, and inside their cameras. That attachment leads them, and in some cases their spouses, to keep listening to you, watching you, and paying you for more. The more good music you make, the more Apple has empowered you to make money on it in some way, and to spread the word to others. Like me. Like the friends we reached on Facebook. And so on.
Steve Jobs isn’t the problem here. The music industry is the problem—too many bad songs are the problem. It’s the reason the audience doesn’t roar when you talk about playing a new track or two that were added for a re-release of your greatest hits. If your greatest hits were from the last three years, imagine how much money you’d be making on album sales even beyond your touring.
Speaking just for myself, the next Bon Jovi concert I’ll consider attending now will be one with a completely different set list of tracks that I like as much as the ones you released 20 years ago. All you have to do is start recording them, and I promise that my wife or I will purchase them. So will the rest of your fans. Until that happens, and other musicians start churning out great music by the album rather than the song, the industry’s going to be in trouble. And if it keeps blaming the system rather than itself, it will deserve its fate.
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