Nine Inch Nails frontman and chief creative officer at Apple, Trent Reznor, is, obviously, a legend. I mean, NIN! And Apple is sort of cool, I guess, to have employed him in that role.
The problem is that Reznor has something wrong. Mainly about YouTube. Doesn’t make him any less cool; what it comes down to is that he needs to remember his inner fan.
So what’s the deal? The thing is, Reznor reckons YouTube is built on stolen content. “I find YouTube’s business to be very disingenuous,” he told Billboard back in June. “It is built on the backs of free, stolen content, and that’s how they got so big.”
YouTube allows fans to dig deeper, and see things that in the past
Tonight I watched Elvis perform Suspicious Minds in Las Vegas, 1970. Elvis is killing it, and his band, and back-up singers are on fire. It’s worth listening to for the bass-playing alone. I watched it on YouTube.
I also watched 1990s shoegaze masters Ride perform the song that encapsulates everything they are about, Perfect Time, live at Brixton, March 27, 1992. The EP version of this song is fabulous, but the live performance takes it into a higher space.
I come back to it on a regular basis.
It would be easy to go on. Devo, Jocko Homo, Paris, 1978. Nirvana, Negative Creep, Live at Reading, 1992. The B-52s, Lava, Capitol Theatre, November 1980. The Cure, Live In Paris, 2008. And more, obviously. Lots more.
YouTube allows fans to dig deeper, and see things that in the past would have been confined to fuzzy VHS or DVD bootlegs or would not have been seen at all. Things people have had in the back room for years, or have had loitering on a long-ago recorded video cassette.
Where I can see Reznor’s point is when you do a YouTube search and it comes up with an audio rip of an album, no video, no live performance, just a copy. I don’t dig that, I subscribe to a streaming service and still buy albums from time to time and think artists should be paid for their work.
If YouTube could get rid of those simple rips, better material – live, obscure – would bubble up to the top. But even then, I am conflicted. As I type, I am listening to Swans – Love Will Save You, streaming from a fan-made video on YouTube. It’s not a simple rip, but it’s not a live performance or anything like that. It sits in a grey area.
And I am not sure how to best resolve that.
Reznor thinks YouTube is simply a massive pool of album and song rips. And yes, it is. It’s also so much more than that. YouTube is a resource of amazing depth for music lovers. If anything justifies its existence, it’s the live performance by Nick Cave of his song Into My Arms on a show called The Songwriter’s Circle.
It’s worth noting that Into My Arms is pretty much the greatest love song.
He wants people to buy into Apple’s streaming music service
The album version is gorgeous, but this performance, just Nick, a microphone and a piano, is definitive. There’s a deep humanity in the performance, something that speaks to your core. If YouTube didn’t exist, I would never have seen it. Nor would the 6.3 million people who have also watched this performance.
That’s 6.3 million people whose lives are just that much different from having seen and heard Cave’s performance.
Trent Reznor wants artists to be paid. That’s something I am behind. But he’s also conflicted. He wants people to buy into Apple’s AU$11.00/month streaming music service as a means for them to be paid. And also make Apple money. I am a subscriber, and it’s pretty good (but Rdio, rest its soul, was better). There’s a deep catalogue, but it has its limits.
YouTube, because of its video component and live performances goes that much deeper. And YouTube is free, unless you subscribe to the ad-free version for, oh, $11.00 per month.
Artists don’t get paid when someone posts a live video to YouTube. I don’t know how YouTube’s ad system works, but surely the artist should get paid if an ad is shown against their performance? Maybe it’s the record company that gets paid. It’s something that needs to be resolved.
But Reznor is wrong. YouTube isn’t a bad thing. It’s a fan thing. And in this instance, I think he’s forgotten his inner fan.
— By Joshua Gliddon