The Who star used a radio industry lecture on Monday evening to call for Apple, now run by Tim Cook, should employ A&R executives to spot new talent and provide financial and creative support to emerging artists.
Townshend also hit out at illegal downloading, saying: “If someone pretends that something I have created should be available to them free … I wonder what has gone wrong with human morality and social justice.”
The guitarist made the comments delivering the inaugural John Peel lecture at the 2011 Radio Festival in Salford, broadcast live on the BBC’s digital radio station, 6 Music.
Comparing music publishing to the banking industry, Townshend said: “Is there really any good reason why, just because iTunes exists in the wild west internet land of Facebook and Twitter, it can’t provide some aspect of these services to the artists whose work it bleeds like a digital vampire Northern Rock for its enormous commission?”
Townshend said iTunes was a “fantastic piece of software” but offered only distribution and royalties to the singers and bands whose work it sold.
He said the late Steve Jobs’s creation should also look to support artists in other ways, providing free computers and advice to the 500 artists it feels merited it most, and help them with marketing, copyright and distribution. Like a traditional music label, in other words, but one that makes money.
He also posited the idea of a place on iTunes where artists could share their music “like a local radio station”.
Townshend said his “inner artist” thought Jobs was “one of the coolest guys on the planet” but admitted he had once said in an interview that he “wanted to cut Job’s balls off”.
“If Apple do even one of the things on my wish-list [my inner artist] will offer to cut off his own balls (they’ve only ever been a distraction after all),” he added.
Townshend said people who share music for free in the belief that cash would eventually filter down to the artist were “in a kind of denial”. “I once suggested that people who download my music without paying for it may as well come and steal my son’s bike while they’re at it,” he added.
He also used his speech to call on the BBC to “rise to is the challenge of using some its resources to sidestep editorial censorship, and give the listeners the kind of licence they got when they tuned into John Peel”.
The Who star admitted he had “never been close friends” with Peel, and said the DJ was “not always an unconditional Who fan”.
“John Peel played some records that were so bad that I thought he was taking the piss sometimes,” he added.
“But he listened, and he played a selection of records in the course of each week that his listeners knew (partly because the selection was sometimes so insane) proved he was genuinely engaged in his work as an almost unconditional conduit between creative musicians to the radio audience.”
John Plunkett, The Guardian