Music’s New Gatekeeper


There was a fascinating story in Friday’s WSJ about Apple’s new role as taste maker in music. There has clearly been a shift in persasion, power and authority in the music business; A void was created as Radio abandoned its listeners, and as Clearchannel took the hamburgerhelper route. Bob Lefsetz notes in a commentary Why CD Sales Are Tanking:

"Despite the rags and blogs, music is just not a general topic of conversation amongst the public now.  Oh sure, young ‘uns are still music passionate.  But too often the music is just the grease, what you dance to, make love to.  As for the oldsters, they’re positively lost.  They want to buy, but they don’t know WHAT to buy.

You used to trust the deejay.

For a minute there you trusted Starbucks.

Until there’s a trusted outlet with some mass and momentum, music sales will remain in the dumper.  Rather than wine and dine programmers, labels should develop and support new gatekeepers.  Who tell people what to buy!"   

The Journal piece is all about how cubicles dwelling denizens at Apple have become "music’s
unlikely power brokers."

I cannot remember the last song that "broke" on the radio for me. I’ve actually discovered more music on Apple’s commercials than I have on FM over the past 5 years. The Original iTunes commercial featured The Propellerhead’s "Take California" (on Decksandrumsandrockandroll).
It is funny to look at that original commercial, only a few years old
now, and think back as to how groundbreaking the concept of "1000 songs, in your pocket" actually was; today, its a gimme. I also heard the Black Eyed Peas for the first time as an iPod advert; the same for Steriogram’s "Walkie Talkie Man."

Here’s an excerpt:

"iTunes is housed at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters in a cluster of nondescript cubicles that could easily be confused with a software-development group but for a smattering of music posters on the walls, according to people who have visited or worked there.

The iTunes staff includes people with music pedigrees, including Alex Luke, a longtime deejay who is the director of music programming and label relations. (Mr. Luke still sits in occasionally for stations like Los Angeles’s Indie 103.1 FM.) Bruno Ybarra, who co-founded a house-music record label, manages relationships with independent music companies. Denzyl Feigelson, a South African who was a manager for singer Paul Simon’s "Graceland" tour, is a music editor for iTunes in London. In all, dozens of iTunes editors and label-relations staffers collaborate in meetings and discussions throughout the week to determine what the home page of the iTunes Store will look like when it is refreshed every Tuesday.

Apple is a rare growth story in the music business. It nearly monopolizes digital-music sales, just about the only growth area for the beleaguered industry, which saw CD sales fall for seven years running. ITunes sold 1.2 billion songs last year compared with 30 million in 2003, its first year in operation, Apple says. The company says it passed last year to become the fourth-largest music retailer in the U.S., behind Wal-Mart Stores, Target and Best Buy, a claim that isn’t disputed by music companies. At the end of last year, Apple was selling five million songs a day at 99 cents each."

Via Wikipedia, here is an overview of nearly every song from Apple’s commercials:

iPod Date Song Artist
1G 10/2001 "Take California" The Propellerheads
3G 04/2003 "Hey Mama" Black Eyed Peas
3G 04/2003 "Rock Star (Jason Nevins Remix)" N.E.R.D.
3G 04/2003 "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" Jet
4G 06/2004 "Channel Surfing" Feature Cast
4G 06/2004 "Walkie Talkie Man" Steriogram
4G 06/2004 "Saturday Night" Ozomatli
4G [U2 Edition] 10/2004 "Vertigo" U2
4G 01/2005 "Ride" The Vines
shuffle 1G 01/2005 "Jerk It Out" Caesars
4G 06/2005 "Technologic" Daft Punk
4G 06/2005 "Feel Good Inc."


nano 1G 09/2005 "Gimme That" The Resource
5G 10/2005 "Original of the Species" U2
5G 10/2005 "Lose Yourself" Eminem
5G 10/2005 "Sparks" Wynton Marsalis
nano 1G 04/2006 "Cubicle" Rinôçérôse
5G 04/2006 "Love Train" Wolfmother
5G 08/2006 "Someday Baby" Bob Dylan
nano 2G 09/2006 "The Audience Is Listening Theme Song" Cut Chemist
shuffle 2G 09/2006 "Who’s Gonna Sing?" Prototypes
5G 01/2007 Flathead The Fratellis


This site has ITMS links to every Song from iPod Commercials


Music’s New Gatekeeper
March 9, 2007; Page W1

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. adam commented on Mar 14

    great list, but i think wiki has an error (believe it or not). I think the Wolfmother song is “Joker and the Thief”.

  2. TheFinancialPhilosopher commented on Mar 14

    “Popular music” is generally marketed to the 18 to 25 demographic. That’s why us music lovers over 25 must find a way to find the music by alternative means — otherwise, we’ll continue to buy CD’s and MP3’s of our favorite songs from our youth.

    The biggest problem with the music industry today is that it costs so much to break an act that the big labels are not willing to take the risk with an act that does not sell 500,000 records out of the box (To sneak in a financial markets analogy, I also believe that investors today are too fixated on short-term results as opposed to sound long-term strategies).

    If the music industry made decisions 35 years ago, when I was a small child, like they do today, Led Zeppelin would have been dropped after the first album. Today, Led Zep is still in the top five selling artists of all time…

    Kent (aka The Financial Philosopher)

  3. lw commented on Mar 14

    The idea that music, which is produced spontaneously everywhere, should have centralized gatekeepers is just weird. Why would anyone except Sumner Redstone believe something so ridiculous? Who was Mahler’s gatekeeper? Django’s? There are the equivalent of independent DJs on dozens of great music blogs; try Benn loxo du taccu (African music) or tofuhut(eclectic older stuff, plus a great overview of other blogs). Only expensive entities (particle accelerators, movies with fancy simulated explosions) need a “gatekeeper” who is ultimately the accountants’ servant. Sample a lot and choose for yourself in cheap media like music, visual art, and poetry.

  4. Aaron commented on Mar 15

    Interesting, I discovered Telepopmusic from the Mitsubishi ads. Seems like the quality of music depends upon what your trying to sell. Both Mitsubishi and Apple are hardware companies.

  5. ballyache commented on Mar 15

    Why would anyone want to bother with broadcast radio when satellite radio is dirt cheap? The awfulness of broadcast radio is what created a market for satellite radio in the first place.

  6. Tom B commented on Mar 15

    I don’t care if my favorite company is promoting the likes of Eminem if it sells Macs. I get MY new music ideas from the Eyes of The World podcast (Grateful Dead); All Songs Considered (NPR); and from WNCU (jazz– a local station for me, but I also listen on-line)

  7. VennData commented on Mar 15

    I’m pleased to see the anti-gatekeeper level here. I always thought the P2: structure would wipe out the useless ‘Industry’ and get us to a more ‘listen to the song / see the band’ model. The RIAA ‘and their lawyers fixed that. ‘Artists’ who are so into their money should just list their stock on NASDAQ and get onto ne of those ridiculous bell ringing ceremnonies CNBC runs at us.

    Sumner Redstone will force people to get their homogenized culture in their business model. Murdock will buy the ‘listen to my band’ network, Myspace. They will continue to bet, invest’ profit as long as consumers of culture find the need to fit in overrides their feelings of passion for culture.

    Capitalism will always search for ways to profit off culture. Look to your network of friends, non-commercial web sites and go see some shows. Fight the Man!

  8. marc h. commented on Mar 15

    I’m biased here, of course, but the WSJ article (and this interpretation of it) seems to leave out the many tastemakers who, y’know, AREN’T TRYING TO SELL YOU SOMETHING.

    As someone who doesn’t like most of those songs from Apple commercials, I’d suggest people find a trusted source for reviews and recommendations instead. Isn’t that where people used to find some of their favorite music — from a cool friend, or a hip older sibling, etc.?

    With the Internet, there are more places than ever to find out about new music. Even if webzines like Pitchfork (who I write for) or Stylus aren’t your cup of tea, a blog like Fluxblog, Said the Gramophone, or Stylus might be. You can even stream from a variety of blogs at — mp3 blogs are the new radio!!!

    Plus there are still print publications like Spin, Paste, the Wire, and Filter in addition to the aging Rolling Stone. No, they’re not perfect, and they require a bit more effort, but once you find one that lines up with your tastes you could start a lasting musical relationship.

    The iPod is a life-changing device, but there’s no reason to let Apple tell you what to put on it.

  9. marc h. commented on Mar 15

    I should also mention free, listener-supported radio stations like WFMU in New York and KEXP out of Seattle (with live and fully archived streaming at KEXP’s “John in the Morning” show used to be a ritual for me.

  10. SJGMoney commented on Mar 15

    “I cannot remember the last song that “broke” on the radio for me.”

    Try Sirius BR. Done a lot of outside work on my house over the last couple of years, with Sirius boombox keeping me company. Alt Nation (Ch 21) has introduced me to a number of my new favorite bands: Arctic Monkeys, Death Cab for Cutie, Silversun Pickups, Ray LaMontagne.

    And forget iTunes store, emusic has better recommendations, better user comments and recommendations, and no restrictions. F Steve Jobs and his anti-DRM posing bs.

  11. Jason Rasp commented on Mar 15

    I rely heavily on iTunes for new music. Used to work in a record store right out of college–now that was close to as good as it gets. Got the real job and drifted away from music, new, old, or otherwise. Got an iPod and it was like falling in love with an old flame. It reintroduced me to my CD collection and got me interested in new music again. I not only rely on the great people at iTunes for new tunes, but subscribe to KEXP and KCRW podcasts (there are many to choose from…”song of the day” is a good place to start) Podcasts are an awesome way to expose yourself to full songs without the commitment to buy. I’m sure there are many other great podcasts that do the same. I also enjoy “New Music Tuesday”

    So, yes, Apple and iTunes and the derivatives outlets that have popped up b/c of them are music powerhouses. No longer do you have to be exposed to the angry punk at the indi store, or the Emo with the goth disdain. Watch “Hi Fidelity” if you want to witness ridicule without feeling it.

    Thanks to S Jobs et al…

Posted Under