Opinion

Brotherton: i’m frightened by iTunes’ demise 

Panic gripped me as I heard the news: Apple is killing off iTunes. 

Next to wife, family, friends and the occasional day on the golf course or bicycle, nothing means more to me than my music.

All of my digital music is in iTunes and stored on a 3TB external drive. I have a backup at a friend’s house in case my house burns down. There are more than 160,000 songs, enough to play for more than a year, 24 hours a day, without repeating a single song. I meticulously curate my iTunes library, getting rid of pesky repeats and weeding out hard rock songs with cookie monster vocals. 

My name is Bill and I’m an mp3 addict! I’m not rational when my music is involved. And I’m worried that my music will vanish.

Apple announced that it is phasing out iTunes on its upcoming Catalina upgraded operating system in favor of three new apps: Music, TV and Podcasts. Apple said I don’t have to worry about losing any music imported into my iTunes library. Those files will just move into the new Apple Music app. 

Apple says my playlists and music are safe. I don’t trust Apple. Apple is always making its products obsolete.

We recently bought a small inkjet printer for the house, but because my iPad is so old I couldn’t update the software to open the app and sync it with Bluetooth. The “kids” (age 50 and younger) in the office can’t figure out why I don’t just buy a new iPad and stream music from Spotify or Apple Music. “They have a library of millions of songs and it’s cheaper than a coffee at Starbucks. Apple Music costs $10 a month,” they say. “Streaming made up 75 percent of the music industry’s revenue last year. Time to join the 20th century,” they snarl.

I want to own my music. I always have. I always will. I want to own every song ever recorded. Apple could increase the monthly streaming fee at any time, like Xfinity and Verizon does when that enticing $69 triple play deal balloons to $149 a month.

I still have every vinyl LP and 45 I ever bought. I refuse to even thin out my cassettes and CDs … and I regret not keeping my 8-track tapes.

I have a portable USB turntable, courtesy of a pal who copied The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” a two-record set, and was ready to toss it in the trash after disc one. “It records in real time,” he said. “A five-minute song takes five minutes to copy. Then I had to type in the song titles and band name. It took me longer than forever.” He now streams “Quadrophenia” on Spotify whenever he wants. 

It’s possible this music obsession is a genetic defect in the Brotherton men. My dad always vowed to copy onto cassette tapes all his 78s and Dixieland jazz albums when he retired. He never did. Retire or copy his music. 

I don’t care if my things are new. My car is a 2003 Corolla. In my car, I listen to CD-R mixes I’ve made. I’ve created playlists up the wazoo, thousands of them burned onto discs I’ve shared with co-workers and friends through the years. “Bill, thanks for the CD mixtapes, but enough already. I sold my CD player to a senior citizen three years ago,” said one pal recently. 

My music player of necessity is a vintage Mac PowerBook G4 from about 1910, give or take a decade. It lost wireless access years ago, and I haven’t updated its software in eons for fear that it will stop working. Its clock conveniently reminds me it’s January 1970 (an excellent month for music, by the way). It has the macOS Snow Leopard operating system, whatever that means. 

As I write this column, my house is filled with glorious music on shuffle play. It’s a delightfully eclectic random mix: Sean Rowe “To Leave Something Behind”; Okkervil River “Black Sheep Boy”; Prince Buster “Ten Commandments”; Southern Culture on the Skids “House of Bamboo”; Sparks “Angst in My Pants”; Richard Thompson “Beeswing”; Tom Lehrer “The Vatican Rag”; The Cranberries “Zombie”; The Ray Conniff Singers “Winter Wonderland”; Jackie Brenston/Ike Turner “Rocket 88”; Marina and the Diamonds “Bubblegum Bitch”; The Atlantics “Lonelyhearts”; Holly Cole “I Don’t Want To Grow Up”; Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band “Blues in the Bottle”; Johnny Preston “Running Bear”; The Kinks, “I’m Not Like Everybody Else”; Dinah Washington, “This Bitter Earth”; and, somewhat appropriate, “Goodbye My Friend” by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville.

Through the years, when I could have spent time with flesh-and-blood friends doing fun things, I was holed up ripping my CDs and downloading songs from Napster, Acquisition, and other peer-to-peer sites. iTunes was my best bud. 

Publicists and indie bands for nearly 20 years sent me CDs to review. Hundreds each year. I ripped every single one into my iTunes. I borrowed disc after disc from area libraries, imported them into my iTunes and then burned them onto CD-Rs or DVD-Rs. 

I’m mortified to say I’ve never bought a single song on iTunes. But I rationalized that I’d spent thousands on music and concert tickets since my teens, often buying the same album on vinyl, cassette and CD, and tried to convince myself that I wasn’t stealing money out of artists’ pockets. 

There are some rare songs and albums in my iTunes library. But, for the most part, all of my faves are available on streaming services, even obscure British imports by Strawbs, City Boy, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Al Stewart.

I realize iTunes is on life support. I realize the end is near. But there are so many memories in those 160,000 songs, an audio version of poring through albums of old photographs if you will.

When my old laptop croaks I fear I’m up the creek! iTunes was simple. iTunes was always there for me. I hope it always will be. But time, and Apple, waits for no man.

Goodbye my friend.

 

 

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