Pete Tong: Apple's Gone Wrong?
04-01-06 Revista de Prensa
By Jonny Evans
International dance music DJ Pete Tong is a household name in the United Kingdom, with a long and varied career dedicated to music. As a DJ, the award-winning Tong plays gigs from the United States to Australia. As a broadcaster, his BBC Radio 1 Essential Selection is one of the channel's most successful shows, with a global audience of millions -- many online.
Tong is also a music producer (the triple-CD Pete Tong Essential Classics release is available from Universal this month), a podcaster and delivers a regular video show for 3G cell phones. For years he was the head of A&R for London Records -- a position that put him in charge of scouting and developing new talent (remember Salt-N-Pepa's Push It?), and he was once the features editor at Blues & Soul magazine. Today, he says he's fascinated by new technology, which he believes is revolutionizing the music industry.
We caught up with Tong to ask him about his favorite tools, his affection for Macs and his growing unease over Apple Computer's dominion of the music world.
Wired News: When did you first get into DJing?
Pete Tong: I always wanted to be involved in music. I was in a bad school band, then at around 13 years old I saw a DJ making a much better noise than us. I knew the minute I saw the turntables and wires: "That's for me." That was my moment. I never dreamed it would become a profession.
I didn't go to university. I spent a year traveling in a van with boxes of speakers and amplifiers and enjoying just being a DJ instead. No one made a living doing it then. It was as much about fun as playing records.
It was kind of Heath Robinson. I'd put my own gigs on. I remember putting my own flyers up with tin tacks on trees around the village. Eventually I grew aware of the London soul and underground jazz-funk scenes, through my friends. I got drawn in.
I don't know the defining moment, but later I just wanted to play jazz-funk. I started booking big DJs to come and play with me. That's how I met them. Then these all-dayers began, and there I was at 19, 20 years old playing some of the biggest parties in the southeast of England.
WN: What's your advice for wannabe DJs?
Tong: Be as entrepreneurial as you can; no one will do everything for you. There's no better way I know to build a reputation as a DJ than to do your own thing, do something different, start your own night, get your own crowd. If you are getting 50 people to a bar on a Tuesday, people will check you out. Once you have a crowd, you have a scene, it's human nature. Taste is the most important thing.
WN: What's the impact of technology on DJ culture?
Tong: Where you used to carry boxes of vinyl and decks, now you carry a PowerBook and a LaCie drive. I've been using Ableton for a year for radio production, but haven't started to use it out yet. I've just invested in another PowerBook for live work, and I'm training myself to take it out. I'm really excited about it. Many of my contemporaries use Ableton now, sometimes very successfully like Sasha or Gabriel Dresden in the U.S.
The thing about technology -- the same as I learned with the advent of CD -- if you stop using old technology and move immediately to the new, your DJing dips. Maybe that's a good thing, but my thing is to try and blend the two. Everyone I've seen who has just begun doing it ends up doing things they would never normally do, just because they can. Endless loops, for example. Ableton invites you to rearrange people's music.
WN: And you have a problem with that?
Tong: When I play live I probably play at least 75 percent new music that people haven't heard before. If a friend has given me a track they've worked on for months, I think it's rude to play it to a crowd for the first time and instantly reinterpret it. With Ableton you're almost bored if you don't do that. These technologies are to be welcomed, but, overused, any of them get boring.
There are DJs like Sasha who can mix any two records, which has always been his special skill. For others, like Judge Jools, it's about giving people a really good time. The only thing holding Ableton back is its interface. The more it feels like a mixer, the stronger it's going to get.
WN: What about the iPod, music and Apple?
Tong: I've always been a Mac user, but as Apple grows more powerful I get the sense that there's a little bit of Microsoft in there. The way it's so controlled from the center. It's phenomenal what it has achieved. Success in digital music gives Apple the chance to control things again, but will it keep that friendly image?
WN: What do you think of Apple's adventures in music?
Tong: Apple's music stuff is so simple to use, just like the Mac. IPods have changed everyone's life. It doesn't matter whether you are 7 or 70, everyone wants one. But iTunes libraries are growing so large people are outgrowing hard drive space, and using drag-and-drop to put libraries elsewhere is so archaic. I want a button to make my PowerBook speak to my main iTunes library and consolidate the collection. I get sent tracks all the time on my notebook when I'm on the move.
It's kind of scary that you can have your entire collection on one or two hard drives. My 25 years of vinyl are in storage. I played a 7-inch vinyl set recently and discovered there are 18-year-olds who have never seen vinyl.
WN: What about the music labels and digital music?
Tong: The dam has been broken. I think labels realize they can't stop the flow. They try to, partly through stoical old business models and partly through nerves. I was there during the move from vinyl to CD when labels really screwed the artists. They tried to do the same thing (with digital), but it didn't work. Now, I think labels spend more time focusing on how to work with these technologies than on how to stop them.
There is genuine concern about how to stop music being passed around for free. Once you take the money out of music, it's not fair; people (artists, producers, managers and more) can't get paid.
WN: Do you agree there's opportunities, too? MySpace is becoming a popular place for bands and A&R teams alike, with musicians making their music available and building communities of fans.
Tong: In my day at London Records, we signed an artist, a pop band. We got everyone, from the guy on the door to the chief executive, approving of the artist. We signed the act, made the record and took it along to BBC Radio 1. To succeed we had to get airplay, but the guy running the station didn't like the record, and we dropped the act. That just wouldn't happen today. If the station knocks you back you have other places to go.
Things have changed so much. Bands can build an audience all by themselves. Market research has gone out the window, labels just follow the heat, really. They maximize artists who are already doing well. I think it's really honest, actually. Almost everyone who arrives at a label's door already has a story.
WN: You have also launched a regular podcast, with music, that's full of new releases and recommendations.
Tong: In terms of radio, podcasting's the most exciting development ever. For anyone with a niche or specialist reputation it's manna from heaven. The BBC makes my show available to hear online for seven days. We have people listening to it worldwide, but this is around the PC. Podcasting is the next stage: You can grab it, download it to your iPod and subscribe to it. I just want to be in there to see where it takes us. It's only a question of time before you can podcast a whole show, but you have to ask why anyone would buy a record when it was already available as a podcast.
WN: Didn't people make similar arguments against cassette tapes?
Tong: It's not fair if the artists don't make money. We have to find a way to make it proportionately fair so smaller labels or artists can make money out of it. They could in the old world, so we have to develop a way they can in the new one. Something has got to give. It's inevitable. In 10 years' time I think the record business model will change.
WN: More and more broadcasters are podcasting now.
Tong: I really think I've helped with this, I've gone everywhere and talked about it. Now, all my colleagues and competitors are putting out their own. At the end of the day, it's going to come down to merit again quite rapidly. So is it the best bits of Chris Moyles that is the ultimate podcast, or is it Pete Tong? I think it's got to be used subversively in a way that people aren't already getting.
WN: What does music mean to you?
Tong: It's a very powerful force, an international language, a unifying thing. It doesn't matter if you are 18 or 80, everyone likes it. It would be bizarre to walk around for just one day without it.
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