The tech giant gave away the band’s Songs of Innocence album for free to every iTunes user but faced a backlash after customers discovered it had been automatically uploaded to their accounts and, at first, there was no way to delete it.
In Surrender, Bono writes (via The Guardian) that Apple CEO Tim Cook responded with “mild incredulity” when the singer explained the idea to him.
“‘You want to give this music away free?'” Cook said. “‘But the whole point of what we’re trying to do at Apple is to not give away music free. The point is to make sure musicians get paid.’
“‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t think we give it away free. I think you pay us for it, and then you give it away free, as a gift to people. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? … Like when Netflix buys the movie and gives it away to subscribers.'”
Cook remained uncertain, saying, “There’s something not right about giving your art away for free. And this is just to people who like U2?” Bono replied, “I think we should give it away to everybody. I mean, it’s their choice whether they want to listen to it.”
The singer admits the idea was “overreach” but remained optimistic that it would ultimately succeed. “If just getting our music to people who like our music was the idea, that was a good idea,” he writes. “But if the idea was getting our music to people who might not have had a remote interest in our music, maybe there might be some pushback. But what was the worst that could happen? It would be like junk mail. Wouldn’t it? Like taking our bottle of milk and leaving it on the doorstep of every house in the neighbourhood.
“Not. Quite. True.
“On 9 September 2014, we didn’t just put our bottle of milk at the door but in every fridge in every house in town. In some cases we poured it on to the good people’s cornflakes. And some people like to pour their own milk. And others are lactose intolerant.”
Bono says that at first, he thought the controversy would quickly pass, but then he realized “we’d bumped into a serious discussion about the access of big tech to our lives.” He also says the onus falls squarely on him.
“I take full responsibility,” he writes. “I’d thought if we could just put our music within reach of people, they might choose to reach out toward it. Not quite. As one social media wisecracker put it, ‘Woke up this morning to find Bono in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, wearing my dressing gown, reading my paper.’ Or, less kind, ‘The free U2 album is overpriced.’ Mea culpa.”
Still, Bono credits Cook with supporting the idea. “‘You talked us into an experiment,’ he said. ‘We ran with it. It may not have worked, but we have to experiment, because the music business in its present form is not working for everyone.'”
The misstep also forced the rockers to move more carefully and deliberately going forward. “We’d learned a lesson, but we’d have to be careful where we would tread for some time,” Bono writes. “It was not just a banana skin. It was a landmine.”
Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story is scheduled for worldwide release on Nov. 1.
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U2 don’t inspire weak reactions in people. There are passionate U2 fans, and passionate U2 haters, and very little in between.