How iTunes can save music

Isn't it time that iTunes began helping people to broaden their downloading habits?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Perhaps your ears have, like those of some of my married friends, recently been assaulted with the words "Hey, have you heard the new Jonas Brothers album?"

Perhaps you, too, are concerned about the future of the world, especially with the current confusion as to whether President-elect Obama prefers the iPod or the Zune.

It is time, therefore, for action. And the action should surely begin with iTunes. This most influential of services can and should be more than just an ingenious convenience. It should be our little musical helper. You know, the tuneful shrink that whispers in our ear when we are about to take a dubious musical direction.

One look at this year's Grammy nominations tells you this is the right moment. I am not convinced that even the members of Coldplay believe "Viva La Vida" was their best (or even second best) creation. Yet there it is, with a seemingly endless stream of nominations.

So how about a little Steve Reich? CC Laertes

And this in a week in which the band was sued by guitarist Joe Satriani. He believes his track "If I Could Fly" was recorded with excessive similarity by the English melancholians. And the song Mr. Satriani believes is excessively similar to his own? Why, the Grammy-nominated (and iPod ad-featured) "Viva La Vida."

So here's what iTunes should do. Every time a user attempts to make a dubious purchase, iTunes should send a message.

Imagine someone is downloading their third Josh Groban track of the day (or of the week, or of the year). A sensitive iTunes algorithm would immediately suggest: Are you sure you want to do that?

Or, perhaps: If you really want to feel miserable, why don't you try a little Leonard Cohen? Or Morrissey? Or 'Button My Lip' by the devastatingly soothing The Miserable Rich?

Or even: We love you, dear customer. But there comes a time in your life when you should enter the world of Shostakovich. This is that time.

The listener would then be offered a free Shostakovich download. Perhaps, in the event of severe Grobanal behavior, the listener might even be made to go cold turkey- no Josh Groban downloads for the next year. Or ten. I know it sounds severe, but we are trying to save world culture here.

Perhaps you feel I am unfairly picking on Mr. Groban's dulcet tonsils. But did his Christmas opus really deserve to be, as the San Francisco Chronicle shivered this week, the second best-selling album of last year?

Which reminds me. It was beaten out of top spot by "High School Musical II." Now will you agree that something needs to be done?

Of course, the software should be democratic enough to allow for some dialog.

Perhaps the purchaser would like to explain his or her urges: I know Josh Groban isn't much good, but there's this girl in class who really likes him a lot. And I like her a lot. iTunes might then answer: Yes, but has she ever heard Van Morrison's 'Crazy Love'? Please believe us, that song can have a very liberating effect on just about everyone.

And what if a customer attempting to download Coldplay declared: I think Gwyneth Paltrow is really cool and I want her family to have even more of my money?

Well, iTunes might reply: But don't you remember Gwyneth singing with Huey Lewis? Isn't that reason enough to try a little Bats For Lashes?

iTunes is a brand with so much positive equity that it is surely in a unique position to help us march to a more enlightened tune. It can make the point of purchase a moment of musical truth.

And it can help adults and children alike to bring sweet and refreshing music (Low vs Diamond, Bang on a Can, Les Blanks, Piotr Andreszewski, to name but four) to their ears.

Even to the ears of those who sit next to them on various forms of public transportation.