Apple is closing iTunes. That’s a big deal for lots of reasons. Steve Jobs introduced iTunes in 2001 as a “digital jukebox” so listeners could buy, download and play their songs anywhere they went. It was a way to help fans purchase digital music instead of pirating it, and it worked that way for almost 20 years.
But times change, and indie musicians need to change with them. Here are three things Apple closing iTunes is telling indie musicians everywhere.
1. Boosts Even More Streams.
The most obvious thing Apple closing iTunes tells us is that the future wants us to own less digital music. As we pointed out in our post on how Streaming Is Changing Music Production, music fans have owned less and less of the music they listen to with every passing year. That’s a good thing for artists because they keep more control over their music, and it’s a good thing for fans because it’s far less expensive to stream. But it’s true: listeners own their music less, now.
What does it mean to “own” digital music? We haven’t really owned it in any real way since the creation of the CD. In the case of iTunes and other suppliers, though, it means to download it, have it on our device, and have it available without an Internet connection.
When Apple closes iTunes (the actual day they’ll shut it down is TBD) you’ll still be able to download your music for offline play, but you won’t be able to copy that music to a different device or email it to anyone, including yourself.
Most importantly, you won’t be able to buy songs outright, download them, and have them for yourself pretty much forever. You’ll only be able to buy the temporary right to listen to those songs. And when you stop subscribing to Apple’s new streaming service, Apple Music, you won’t be able to listen to them, anymore.
What this means to indie music artists is that Apple users will get even more comfortable streaming their music rather than buying CDs or digital copies. If you’re not on the streaming train yet, the time to get onboard just got closer than ever.
2. Shows Listeners Have Options.
Of course, Apple closing iTunes doesn’t mean Apple’s not going to provide music, podcast and video services anymore. Instead, Apple’s splitting iTunes into three different apps for three different kinds of media. Instead of getting music, podcasts and videos through iTunes, Apple users will use Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple TV+.
While it might seem easier for users to access all media with the same software, the truth is that users have been using specific programs for all three for years. People use different software because every program is different. Each does a specific job and some do a job better than others. The more focused a program is on a specific job, the more likely it is to do a better job than a program trying to do everything at once.
What this means to artists is that they can and should talk to their audience in a variety of ways. If the only thing you’re communicating to fans is music, you’re missing out.
Most musicians know that there’s money to be made in popular videos, but most don’t know that the most popular video on YouTube is a music video (“Despacito,” Luis Fonzi and Daddy Yankee) with almost 6 billion views. Music on YouTube is growing, too. You can tell because a previous most-watched video, “Gangnam Style” by Psy, took five months to hit a billion views. “Despacito” took 91 days.
And what of podcasts? Indie artists should be talking to their audiences that way, too, if they can. How do we know? Because major music names keep investing in them.
Pandora recently kicked off their Podcast Genome Project. Tidal also has their “On Air” podcast network. And Spotify, the world’s biggest music streaming platform by number of subscribers, is proving the point by both becoming “the next Netflix” and the second-biggest streamer of podcasts.
If Spotify thinks they should get into videos and podcasts for maximum exposure, shouldn’t today’s indie artists? If Apple thinks it should have separate apps for music, video and podcasts, shouldn’t artists make art for all three, too?
3. Proves That No Platform Is Forever.
Apple closing iTunes says plenty about how music has changed, but it might say one thing louder than anything else.
No single platform stays on top forever.
Back in 2008, iTunes was the largest music store in the United States. By 2010, it had grown to be the largest music store in the world. At one point, iTunes was also the biggest digital movie source for renting and buying, with over half of the whole market.
By 2017, though, iTunes was already having a hard time against Amazon and Comcast. With Apple’s announcement that they will close iTunes completely, it’s clear that the platform which once ruled the digital music and video world just doesn’t cut it, anymore.
The lesson this teaches artists isn’t just that it makes sense to distribute to as many platforms as possible. Neither is it just that musicians should explore every avenue to reach their largest audience. Rather, it’s that ambitious musicians can’t reach their full potential without staying on top of new ideas in music. Even the mighty iTunes can’t survive if it can’t keep up with new ideas.
If you’ve got something really popular the public is eating up and can’t get enough of, always watch the newest ideas. If you don’t, you might learn the hard way that no platform is forever.
End of iTunes; Start of Something New
New ideas in music means much more than styles, fads and fashions in songwriting, itself. They mean everything from the equipment used to make music, to the devices used to listen to music, to the software used to use devices to play the music. In some ways, maybe nothing proved that more than iTunes.
Apple has all kinds of new ideas in the wake of iTunes, and for sure some of them will be very exciting for artists and listeners alike. And anyhow, any modern artist should be thrilled to do half as well as iTunes did in its prime. That kind of success would put them in the same category as Michael Jackson and The Beatles.
So let’s remember iTunes for everything it did for digital music in the 21st century. Let’s also learn from what its closure teaches us about making music now.