The ‘godfather of punk’ Iggy Pop was lauded this week for his beguiling and amusing delivery at the fourth annual John Peel lecture in Salford, discussing “free music in a capitalist society”.
In an event marking the tenth anniversary of the legendary Radio 1 DJ’s death, the colourful former Stooges frontman laid out his view on the machinations of the music industry to an audience of its executives. Iggy has always been someone I admired for doing what he wants and the manner that fits him, an attitude which appears to be seeping out of modern music as musicians fully understand marketing techniques and their perception from day one.
His sage advice for his audience of music advice included these highlights:
Don’t force music on the public
Pop hit out at tech giant Apple, which he chuckled that he had bought cheap shares in in 1992, over its controversial U2 giveaway. He said: “The people who don’t want the free U2 download are trying to say, ‘Don’t try to force me,’ and they’ve got a point. Part of the process when you buy something from an artist, it’s kind of an anointing, you are giving that person love.
“It’s not the only point, these are not bad guys. But now everybody is a bootlegger and not so cute as before and there are people out there just stealing stuff and saying, ‘Don’t try to force me to pay,’ and that act of thieving will become a habit, and that’s bad for everybody.”
Stay away from the drugs
A surprise piece of advice from the man who has indulged a fair bit during his 67 years on earth, Pop warned music execs off the drugs. “Stay away from drugs … and [TV] talent judges,” he chuckled. He also recounted an encounter with Virgin tycoon Sir Richard Branson when the music label boss first tried to sign him up. “He was very softly spoken but I’d just smoked a joint and couldn’t make a decision,” he chuckled of Branson who “created a superior culture” at Virgin during his only full-served out record contract.
Don’t expect your customers to have any morals
The gravelly-voiced Pop warned that electronic devices had “estranged people from their morals, making it easier to steal music than to pay for it”. He said of the new, digitally empowered consumer: “We are exchanging the corporate rip-off for the public one, aided by power nerds, kind of ‘computer Putins’. They just want to get rich and powerful.
“Now the biggest bands are charging insane ticket prices or giving away music before it can flop in an effort to stay huge and there is something in this huge thing that kind of sucks.”
Don’t depend on music sales
“If I had to rely on what I get from sales I’d be tending bars between sets,” he said. “The biggest bands are charging insane ticket prices or giving away music before it can flop in an effort to stay huge. And there’s something in this huge thing that kind of sucks.”
Forget the devil is in the detail
Pop described money as a ‘detail’, warning that its importance should not be overstated in being creative. “I worked half of my life for free,” said Pop. “The masters of the record industry kept complaining that I wasn’t making them any money. When it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a huge unimportant detail.”
He said of the music industry that it was a “pond that is wide, but very shallow. Nobody cares about anything too deeply except money. Running out of it and getting it.”
Don’t resent the downloaders
Pop claimed those searching music out for free were merely “bored” and that, while stealing is wrong, he didn’t blame those who work hard searching out art for free. “There is a general atmosphere [in the music business] of resentment, pressure, kind of strange perpetual war, and I think prosecuting some college kid because she or he shared a file is a lot like sending somebody to Australia a couple of hundred years ago for poaching his lordship’s rabbit. That’s how it must seem to poor people who just want to watch a crappy movie for free,” he said.
Don’t be a music industry executive
Pop risked alienating his audience with a broadside against their type. He said of music industry execs: “You don’t want to know these guys. They usually come over from legal or accounting, they’re thinking of number one. Avoid them, if you’re an artist, they will make you feel good or suicidal.
"They can also make you really, really ubiquitous. When the company is your banker they will make you the Beverly Hill Hillbillies.”