What started out as a revolutionary way to consume music, has today turned into a formidable, tyrannical beast that feeds on cash and freedom and keeps its minions on a leash. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but that’s how I feel about iTunes.
It’s not just the nonstop software updates, nor the constant inexplicable errors that I
experience; it’s the fact that you don’t really own the music that you buy.
With iTunes, you’re only buying a nontransferable license that gives you the right to listen to music, and this is subject to “Usage Rules” that Apple can change whenever they want, giving them all of the power over your content. If they wanted to, they could just take back your music for any reason without an explanation or a refund. And when you kick the bucket, don’t even think putting your iTunes collection in your will; it’s not allowed. Maybe that’s not a big deal to some people, but for me, it’s the principle – we’re buying music that we don’t really own in the end, giving us a false sense of ownership, and that’s unfair to consumers.
And let’s not forget the control-freak nature of Apple. If you haven’t noticed, your iTunes music is in mp4 format, as opposed to the standard mp3 (which you can do anything you want with it). An mp4 is a restricted audio format that makes it difficult to copy and/or move around the files on your computer, and it can only be played through a limited number of devices and software. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand the idea of not having complete control over my music.
If you encounter any problems or errors using iTunes, good luck getting assistance. If you want to talk to a customer service rep, you’ll have to pay for it. Otherwise you’ll have to rely on combing through message boards and YouTube tutorial videos to find an answer, which, I never find.
I believe that with iTunes, we have traded our ownership rights and freedoms for convenience (it’s ridiculously easy to buy iTunes music), but I don’t think it’s a fair trade. That’s how I came to realize that buying music directly through the artist or the record label can be much more beneficial to both parties, especially if it’s an independent label.
One of my favorite record labels is Polyvinyl Records, for so many reasons. First of all, my all-time favorite band is on this label. But also, when you buy an album, whether it’s a CD, vinyl record, cassette, or digital copy, you get an instant download link that you can access as many times as you want, from any device you want, as opposed to iTunes’s one-time-download policy and five-device limit.
Polyvinyl, like most other independent labels, is a small business, and because of that, you get to experience all kinds of perks by shopping with them and being a devoted customer. They have weekly giveaways on social media, from posters and albums signed by their artists, to concert tickets, to anything else from their store. Also, they regularly have sales and bundles that you can take advantage of. (When was the last time you’ve seen an iTunes sale?) On a couple occasions I bought 5 CDs for $25. The same purchase would have cost me at LEAST $50 through iTunes, and I would’ve only been “leasing” the digital copies, rather than owning the digital AND physical copies that feature breathtaking album art worth putting on your shelf.
And when it comes to customer service, you have access to real people who are helpful and appreciate your business.
But I think the most powerful thing that has drawn me to shopping with record labels is the fact that you establish a direct connection and relationship with the label and the artists. You can be confident that buying your favorite artists’ music supports them, and only them. And their interests lie in the pursuit of their art, rather than strictly in commerce.
So the next time you want to buy a song or album, before clicking the “buy” button, first consider, is it really worth it?