The really amazing thing about iTunes

Most people, when they talk about iTunes and the iPod, rave about the seamless connection, the reliability, the simplicity, the ease of us, and so forth. And those things are fantastic, it’s true. And they were not easy to do. Not at all. But the real accomplishment of iTunes, the truly backbreaking work, is something that nobody ever sees. And yet it is tremendously difficult work and I want to take a moment to thank the people who do it. I’m talking about the work we have to do to negotiate with these criminals in the music business and keep them in line. Honestly, you can’t believe how these guys behave. They lie. They cheat. They go back on their word. They stab you in the back. They look you right in the eye and tell you something, then turn around and swear on their children that they never said any such thing. You ever see the Chuck Norris movie where he’s taken prisoner in Vietnam and they hang him upside down and put a bag of rats over his head? That’s what it’s like when you have to deal with these guys. They’re like a cross between Tony Soprano, Bill Gates and the monster from “Alien”. They’re so evil we had to hire a special team of extra evil lawyers who used to work in the music business so they know all the tricks.

Here’s what I mean. You spend years negotiating with these sons of whores, and they fight you on every sentence, every word, every angle; and then you finally strike a deal and you think, Okay, we’re done. But no. You’re not done at all. Signing a deal means nothing. It’s like it never even happened. They just keep at you, every day, pushing, cheating, pushing some more, changing the terms, trying to raise the price of songs above 99 cents or to find a way to get a bigger slice for themselves. They know more ways to screw you than Paris Hilton. They’ve spent decades working on it, and practicing on recording artists. And let’s face it, swindling a musician is like stealing lunch money from the kids who ride to school on the short bus. What’s amazing is not that the labels are so clever but that they’re friggin brazen and shameless and awful. They’re like guys who steal purses from old ladies, and then brag about it. Even when you catch them cheating on a deal, they don’t even apologize; they just move on to the next swindle. It’s like being attacked by bees; you’ve got this swarm of crooks all feeding on you, taking their little bites and leaving their little stingers in you.

Now their new line is they’re using Microsoft against us. “Hey, Ballmer’s giving us XYZ, so you gotta do that too.” I tell them, Look, if you push us too hard and you’re gonna put us out of business. Their answer: “Who gives a shit? Some other a-hole will make a music box. Sony, Samsung, Nokia, the list goes on. Look, Jobso, you need us more than we need you. What are you gonna do? Go hire geeks to write songs for you? No. We own the content. That means we’re in control.” You ever meet Lyor Cohen at Warner? First time I met him I thought he was one of the bodyguards. He looks like he should be working as a bouncer at a club someplace. Or a repo man. But no. He’s an executive. He wears a suit. And a very big shiny stupid wristwatch. Yes, Lyor takes himself very seriously. So we all have to pretend to take him seriously too. The others aren’t much better. Tommy Mottola? Every time he opens his mouth I have to fight the urge to burst out laughing. Then you’ve got the rap guys, who are just ridiculous. It’s like, Let’s talk business, and then if you wanna buy a dime bag on the way out, they can take care of that too. Hell, even the big guys like Levy at EMI and Stringer at Sony aren’t much different; they just use better language and know how to hold a knife and fork. Man oh man. Every time I shake hands with these guys I check afterward to make sure I still have my watch and wallet. Then as soon as the meeting is over I rush to my room and take a long, hot shower. If I’d known a decade ago that I’d have to deal with these skeevbags I might not have even done the iPod, honestly.

Thing is, they’re in a dying business, and they know it. Sure they act all cool because they hang around with rock stars. But beneath all the hoopla and hype, all these guys really are is distributors. That’s it. They’ve got big warehouses and they control the distribution of little plastic boxes that happen to have music in them. We all know what the Internet does to distributors. Look around at the music retailers and see how well they’re doing these days. And the tide is rising. Next to go are those big stupid warehouses. The label guys know it. Which is why they’re fighting like cornered rats.

My feeling is if you’re gonna do business with rats then you gotta hire a bunch of Jack Russell terriers to go in there and snap their necks. That’s where our Apple lawyers come in. Then I personally take the opposite approach. On the rare occasions when I actually have to sit in the same room and breathe the same air as they’re breathing, I just go all Zen on these guys, and say things like, “Let’s let the lawyers hammer out the details.”

Problem is, the movie guys are even worse. In the pecking order of evil, they’re like three rungs above the music guys, and one rung below John Doerr but with a few fingers reaching up and almost grabbing hold. This is why we don’t have much video content on iTunes yet. Not because we don’t want to, but because dealing with these crooks in Hollywood is like walking into a buzzsaw. Day after day after day. There’s no concept at all of making a fair and equitable deal where both sides benefit. No. It’s all about how much can you chisel out of the other side. And look. I’m not complaining. We’re making money. Lots of it. And we’re gonna make even more money down the road. History is on our side. All I’m saying is, next time you click on iTunes, and download something you love, and you listen to that song and it restores that sense of childlike wonder to your life, say a little silent “thank you” to that pack of evil motherfrigger Apple lawyers who made it possible. Peace out.