Apple Music’s Jimmy Iovine has been making waves again, with an interview for Beats 1 in which he criticises labels for their handling of YouTube and safe harbour, suggesting that they are partly responsible for a decline in the quality of some albums, as artists try to squeeze recording in between their more-lucrative commitments.

YouTube first. “The labels haven’t done anything about YouTube. So now you’ve got YouTube out there with 500 million people, where you can get your music very elegantly for free, and getting better and better and better and better,” said Iovine, before claiming that Billboard’s chart is “counting YouTube’s plays the same as Spotify’s paid plays and Apple Music paid plays” – thus encouraging artists to support it.

So where does the artist go? ‘Oh, there’s 500 million people on YouTube, so I’m going to go promote my record there. Even though I get paid here, but I want a number one record here! That’s called fake news!” said Iovine. “Netflix doesn’t have a free tier: you can’t find House of Cards on YouTube.”

[Update: as has been pointed out, Billboard does not include YouTube streams in its main albums chart, but does include them in its Hot 100 singles chart.]

While admitting that safe-harbour legislation has been a challenge for labels trying to rein YouTube in, Iovine was firm in his belief: “You could figure out a way to deal with it, and so far the record industry has handled that wrong.”

His argument segued in to the knock-on effects on recorded-music. “How many times do you hear that today? ‘We don’t make any money on records, let’s make a record and go out and tour it and sell perfume’. Or whatever. So you start out with that premise, where artists believe that now,” he said.

“So you’ve got artists promoting free tiers. So what happens now? Your manager calls you, and you’re in the studio trying to make your album, and says ‘We have a gig for you in Dubai where you’re getting $750k’. Stevie Wonder didn’t leave the studio to go play a gig in Cleveland! He stayed with his art…”

Iovine’s view: “Everybody I know [now] is making their record on the road! Adele didn’t. Ed Sheeran didn’t. But you can tell. So the combination of all those things lead to music that someone could say some of it is not as good as it needs to be. No one’s looking at it holistically. From my perspective at 64 years old, if I was in the record business, that’s what I would be looking at. The actual art itself is being affected, and things that you’re doing is why it’s being affected… The record industry as it is right now has to come to grips with it and become part of the solution.”

Earlier in the interview, Iovine also suggested that labels need to do more to get to grips with changing dynamics in the streaming world – particularly as artists forge relationships with services like Apple Music.

You can’t hire just a few people that own a computer and say ‘So you’re in charge of digital: good luck!’. That’s not what it’s going to take,” he said. “They need to get real technology people in there, or merge with tech companies. They have to do something.”

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