off the record: Apple users complain over free U2 album

By: Sam Fatula | a&e editor

If you take a moment to Google the words “how to,” the search engine’s autofill feature would finish the phrase with “dismantle an atomic bomb.”

Brace yourselves; this is not a sign of society going into an anarchic state of mind anticipating World War III, but rather the name of U2’s 14th studio released album from 2004.

As of last week though, the only way that the UK rock gods and the words “how to” were associated, were if people were trying to permanently remove the band’s latest album, Songs of Innocence, from their Apple devices.

Let’s take a moment to assess this situation. A multi-platinum selling band, in association with a technology retail outlet that sells merchandise to thousands of college students every year, decided to give away something simply to raise further awareness of both parties and provide innovation to the music industry. The response, however, was not exactly what Apple and U2 could have expected.

In short, people were fairly upset. Backlash on social media platforms and by word-of-mouth formed an overwhelming consensus that not only did they not want this new album, but were also angry that it was “forced upon them” and difficult to delete.

The upheaval over this caused Apple to take rapid action and provide a tool to permanently remove the album from a user’s device if they chose to do so.

Following the massive amount of user recall, U2 lead singer Bono released a note that further discussed the basics of the marketing plan, which stated that Apple had actually paid for the albums so consumers didn’t have to.

“…Because if no one’s paying anything for it, we’re not sure “free” music is really that free,” Bono said.

Bono also mentioned that a follow-up album was already in the works titled Songs of Experience, although a release date was never mentioned, or the potential price.

I have heard my fair share of complaints on the issue and most of them have a negative tone, yet after thinking about the situation for some time it is hard to find something that could explain such frustration over a gift.

Songs of Innocence is an eleven track, 48-minute LP, which depending on the quality of the MP3 file, could never take over more than 150 megabytes of memory. A standard iPhone can take up four gigabytes of memory at the least. To make the point that Songs of Innocence is wasted space is not a fair assessment. It would be analogous to placing the volume of a shot glass in a two-liter bottle.

There is also the issue at hand that people accused Apple of assuming that everyone who owns one of their devices is a U2 fan. Apple would not be as successful as they are today if they made all business decisions on assumptions and having a hunch. The purpose of issuing Songs of Innocence in such a way was to celebrate U2 and Apple’s ten-year partnership and promote music industry innovation.

As it is with most people that fall within the age gap of 18-25, if we don’t like something we immediately have to tell everyone we know our feelings on the subject. Rather than expressing oneself, in reality it falls under the category of opinion and have no factual backing. I am curious to know how many people understand that Apple purchased this album for their approximate 800 million users that agree to a terms of service.

I was given Songs of Innocence by Apple. I didn’t ask for it, nor did I honestly want it. But my reaction didn’t warrant aggression in the form of a 140 character tantrum or request a special tool to delete the album.

In a world where most users illegally download an album and don’t recognize that artists normally get the smallest fraction of pay from sales, this U2 backlash is a further insult to the industry we get so much enjoyment from.

Albeit, U2 doesn’t necessarily need any more money from album sales, touring or any other type of promotional advertisements, but it is the principle of the matter that should ultimately be considered.

Let’s view this from the perspective that Apple did this promotion with a different artist like Kendrick Lamar, Justin Timberlake or any other artist in the mainstream that is thought to be more trendy. Could you honestly say that your reaction to seeing their latest album appear on your device be the same as when Songs of Innocence did? Accuse me of being skeptical, but there is a likely truth that Apple would have received much higher praises.

When receiving a gift, we don’t have the choice to be picky or take it for granted. Whether that gift is something we like or not, there should be a sense of appreciation for the initial act of giving something away and not expecting anything else in return.

For Apple users to be this upset about a free album is puzzling, given the exuberant amount of money they will throw the company’s way for the sleekest product on the market. Does this behavior label some of us as spoiled? In relation towards the initial reaction that was displayed by many, the glove fits.

If you didn’t want the album in the first place, I suggest you at least give it one listen before it ends in the digital abyss that is Apple’s database. If you were a member of the pleasantly surprised minority, you prove to be another shining example of why people listen to music in the first place; to enjoy it.