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CMU Beef Of The Week #327: Anohni v Apple

By | Published on Friday 14 October 2016


Artists getting into bed with brands to get stuff done is now an accepted part of the modern music industry. As are – for the moment, at least – exclusives on certain digital music platforms. Is any of this a good thing? Well, that’s the debate.

Former Antony & The Johnsons vocalist Anohni doesn’t think so, saying in an interview this week that working with Apple on the video for her ‘Drone Bomb Me’ single left her feeling “like a house cat that had been declawed”.

The video, which was released last month on Apple Music, features model Naomi Campbell, largely in close-up, lip-syncing to the song – “a love song from the perspective of a girl in Afghanistan, say a nine year old girl whose family’s been killed by a drone bomb”, Anohni told Annie Mac on Radio 1 earlier this year.

A simple question about stage design in an interview with The Creative Independent, published this week, led to a pretty epic rant on the realities of the music industry in 2016, focussing in large part on what it’s like to work with Apple.

“It’s hard to maintain your composure and your dignity, often times. I honestly don’t know what to say about it”, says Anohni. “I think it is an increasingly difficult system, the music thing. It’s just gotten worse and worse over the last fifteen years. The income streams of musicians have all been upstreamed into the pockets of computer corporations. Sound recordings are little more than free crackerjacks inside every computer or cellphone that you buy”.

Of the ‘Drone Bomb Me’ video, she explains: “It was an experiment and a challenge for me. The record companies can’t afford to advance the whole cost for making the record anymore, let alone pay for an ambitious video. So after a lot of hemming and hawing I agreed to work with Apple on the video. I wanted the video to have a wider reach, and only Apple could offer me the resources to do so”.

“No one got paid to do that video except the hairdresser”, she continues. “The whole thing was done basically for free, just to make a product that we were then obliged to rent exclusively to Apple for a fraction of what they would had to have paid for it if they had framed it as an advertisement, which is of course what it was, though I didn’t want to admit it at the time”.

Dubbing Apple “the McDonalds of consumer high tech whose wealth was largely pilfered from what was once a biodiverse music industry”, she adds: “All of us pitching in as if we were working for a charity, and Apple, one of the biggest companies in the world, walks [away] with an ad. I felt like a house cat that had been declawed. Those are the terms of engagement now in the music industry. We really get what we deserve. I am sure we are already at a point where we are forfeiting important artistic voices as a consequence of this”.

Sure, selling out is a normal part of any artists’ day now. But is it really that bad? Is there a bright side? “Vinyl sales went up 3% this year, or whatever”, notes Anohni. “But we have been played, it’s just the truth. It’s manifest destiny. And consumers have been conveniently deceived in thinking that paying musicians for their recordings is a scam. Everyone has literally bitten the Apple; no one is connecting the fact that they no longer spend any money on recordings with the fact that they give all their money to the companies making the machines that consumers use to steal the recordings. No one sits with that equation. If you even mention it you risk ostracism”.

So it’s probably fair to say that Anohni is not particularly down with streaming. Though it’s not all doom and gloom. Maybe she should give the ‘Dissecting The Digital Dollar’ report a read. Was that a plug? Yeah, probably. But you’ve got to hawk your free-to-access content where you can, haven’t you?

Still, says Anohni, “there are kids out there that have had viral hits that didn’t even make a month’s rent”, and all this means that “there’s a tiny clutch of people at the top who are still selling recordings, the ones with enough wealth and power to reinvent the wheel each time they release an album. But you can kiss the independent music industry goodbye”.

I’m not sure the independent music industry received that memo yet. Sorry guys, it’s over for you. I liked this rant a lot more when it was all about how working with brands to fund art is a bad thing. Which it is. I know I said that was still a debate, but I was lying.

A couple of days after the interview was published, Anohni released a new video for ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’. The video could, if you wanted to, be described as a low budget version of the ‘Drone Bomb Me’ clip – featuring Anohni in close-up, lip-syncing, with none of the frills that Apple’s money afforded. I did get an unskippable pre-roll advert for M&Ms when I hit play on it on YouTube though.