On Apple, 'The Album' and 'Beatles stories'

11 Jun 2003
U2's Manager Paul McGuinness talks about the potential for digital revolution ignited by Apple's i-Tunes - and what U2 and their new producer are up to in the studio.

Apple's online-music store sold more than 3 million songs in its first month. Among the 200,000 songs available at 99cents each, all three of U2's exclusive offerings have been among the most popular: "I Will Follow," and "Beautiful Day," from the 2001 Elevation Tour DVD, and an acoustic "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of."

For a music industry which saw sales fall eight percent in the first four months of 2003, compared to the previous year, many believe Apple's venture finally shows the way forward. While the I-Tunes service is limited to Mac users in the US at present, the company plans to launch a Windows version by the end of the year ­ and also make it available outside the US.

More here www.apple.com

U2.Com asked the bands' manager Paul McGuinness for his reaction to the development.. oh, and while we were talking, how the band are getting on with their latest recording.

Has the success of Apple's online-music store i-Tunes taken you by surprise ?

It hasn't surprised me. I thought it was potentially very successful when the band and I attended a demo of the system at Jimmy Iovine's house when we were in the States for the Oscars. Some people from Apple came over to explain it to us.

Jimmy and I had been talking about the possibility for some time and we had lots of questions, the biggest being how widely available it would be when just 3% of computers are Apples. Also, while those users are a very influential group - creatives, artists, writers - perhaps they are also an unrepresentative community and we wanted assurances that the service would be going out more widely to PC users.

In the end we felt there was no decision to take but to go with it. Other major artists like Madonna and the Beatles have declined ­ partly I think because they don't like the idea of individual tunes being downloaded. We took the view that when an industry is sick, and penicillin is available, they should start taking it as soon as possible.

The fact that we were able to supply some rare material, much of it new to a US audience, has turned out well. Those special items are doing extremely well.

Are there other U2 tracks that you are considering making available ?

We will let it sit for now. I didn't want to put out so many that it would appear like we were releasing a new album online. Three tracks seemed right.

Will the success of i-Tunes for Apple users be repeated with the Windows version later this year - and with European availability ?

The signs are good, I think it could be enormous with Windows. Of course Apple build these great machines, their objects look so good, and when the service is available to PC users it won't necessarily be with an I-Pod. They will need to make it easy for technophobes like me but we wish them well, we want this to work for the sake of the music industry.

What has gone so wrong for the music industry in recent years ?

Record companies have been so intent on controlling distribution and manufacture that they have only very slowly come round to the idea of electronic distribution. The kind of technology behind i-Tunes has been around for a while but while the record companies have done nothing to utilise it, a generation of people have become accustomed to stealing music - in the absence of a legal way of getting it.

But the Apple model illustrates that people are not inherently dishonest, that they would like a simple, easy way to pay for their music online.

Take a city like New York where people can now hook up illegally to cable services and avoid paying their monthly charge. In fact the vast majority still prefer to pay because not only can you guarantee quality but you can call someone to fix it if it breaks down. Until now there has been no legal and simple model for downloading music because the subscription version is unappealing to most music fans.

I also think it is the wrong approach simply to prosecute - for example, universities, where students have been illegally downloading music through a broadband net service. But the pity is that in many university towns now, the best retailers, the 'mom and pop' stores, independent retailers, have gone out of business because students are burning off CD's they have downloaded from the net. The solution is to fight technology with technology, to make legal downloading simple, efficient and cost-effective which is what the i-Tunes model is promising.

Is this the revolution the industry has been waiting for, can it change the way ordinary people buy music ?

I hope this proves to the recording industry that they must go down this route. The majors only have a one year contract with Apple, it is a 'suck it and see' approach but I would be surprised if it isn't a wild success by the end of the year. I look forward to being able to buy new music through i-Tunes from Ireland.

Talking of new music, you must have heard some of the band's new material ?

I have heard a lot of new stuff, they seem to have about twenty tunes on board at moment. I always say I'm no judge in the early stages. I'm better at hearing it when it's nearly finished. That said, it sounds very exciting to me, very rock and roll, very direct as you would expect with Chris Thomas producing. The band keep making him tell them Beatle stories!

Every now and again Bono goes off to do political work which provides a natural break. He and Edge have also just spend a week in France writing lyrics. Our studio set-up in Dublin has worked very well over the years and although we are sanguine about moving on, we would have been happy to stay there for ever.

So when do you imagine the new album will be released ?

Well I know Bono has been mentioning this year, and it would be great to have it out by the end of the year but I've no idea really, I am just reminding everyone that we must learn from past mistakes and not release it before it is finished.'

And the tour ?

Well, that I would expect for next year !


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