Apple iTunes: the day Steve Jobs killed rock ‘n roll

Take a good look at this picture. This, my friends is a 1956 Fender Stratocaster®.
Savour this moment. Because you’ll never experience it through an iPod.

The Fender Stratocaster - the guitar that made rock and roll

iTunes gives you fast downloads and lots of stuff to load on your iPod or iPhone.
What you’ll never get to listen to is great music quality.

You’ll never hear that Strat. Sure, you may hear something that’s a bit like a Strat, something will be missing. And while video has innovations like Blu-Ray and HD,
iTunes is sending audio back to the dark ages, a blurry sketch of the real thing.

So why is Apple killing music?

The big money squeeze

The answer lies in bangs per buck. Its all about money. And money and music rarely mix. iTunes needed to give you your “music” fast, make each track small enough to fit it on your mobile device and put in some code to stop you copying it.

So the detail – the mojo if you like – in the great music we listen to was squeezed out when it was forced into the corporate strait jacket Apple wanted it to wear so it makes a profit.

No FLAC, thanks, we’re Apple

Audio files like iTunes need to be compressed to be usable. There are two ways to do this. You can take the original track and squeeze the life out of it to make it as small as possible. This is the encoding used by default on most players.

The other method involves compressing the music only as far as no losses occur – so called “lossless” encoding. This results in a far bigger file, slower download speeds and more capacity being used on the player.

There is a free, Open Source high quality compression method available. its called FLAC. It would have worked just fine. But FLAC has no Digital Rights Management (DRM).

If Apple had chosen FLAC it wouldn’t have been able to prevent you copying your music. Apple wanted to stop you doing that, so they wrote their own lossless encoder.

If you do chose to use the Apple lossless decoder, battery life plummets and you risk playback drop-outs – little gaps as the processor tries to keep up with the music stream. This is caused by the extra “payload” imposed by the DRM module.

Into music’s dark ages

Most of today’s rock stars were influenced by the music they heard coming from record players or rock FM radio as they grew up. Now, what most of us have is dull, lifeless samples of once great music served up to us by iTunes.

The knock-on effect

I guess it could be argued that losing some detail or musical nuance is a small price to pay to be able to listen to music in such an accessible way.

But the truth is, personal music players have become a lot less personal, with MP3 connectivity in cars and adapters to allow them to be listened to in the home. Many DJ’s and other PA-based systems now use digital sources to mix or for soundtracks for events.

Its sad to think that all the development that music reproduction has gone through, from scratchy gramophones to high-sample rate, multi-bit and bitstream converters has come down to simply the cheapest, crudest technology possible.

People should be able to listen to music as the musician intended it to sound, not what some corporate “suit” wants us to hear.

Even YouTube provides little more than a clue of how great that ’56 Strat actually sounded.
The day iTunes was launched was the day for many, the music died.