(Since this blog was published, Apple has made Tim Arnold’s album “Super Connected” available on Apple music)
The letter you’re about to read is about an album that’s been banned by Apple because of a joke. A joke about streaming services.
The joke, is a spoof commercial (video below) that intentionally interrupts the latest album by UK solo artist Tim Arnold, “Super Connected”.
A joke. A humorous poke at how digital services embed themselves into our music and our lives by inserting adverts into them.
The spoof ad “A Commercial Break” (voiced by Stephen Fry) appears to have touched some kind of digital nerve, and supports the very point Arnold is making with his album: tech companies and streaming services don’t have a sense of humour.
Not because they don’t want to. They can’t. The machines aren’t built for it.
It’s not the humans, the humans are fine. But the machines the humans are working with have limits, and those limits are altering artistic expression. What this means for us is not funny at all. It’s deadly serious.
Read the letter:
I am writing to you with a request to reconsider your position on the inclusion of my album, “Super Connected”, on Apple Music. My request extends far beyond personal aspirations, and stems from a deep concern for the artistic freedom of music creators.
Innovation vs. Artistic Freedom
As a dedicated user and fan of Apple products, I’ve been able to create my music, including “Super Connected,” thanks to your innovations. Through humour and critical analysis of the role tech plays in our lives, “Super Connected” has received overwhelming acclaim for it’s exploration into the impact of technology on mental health. Journalists, academics and mental health professionals have all showed unanimous support.
So it leaves me both perplexed and concerned that my digital aggregator maintains that unless I alter my art, and remove one of the tracks from the album, “Super Connected” will NEVER be on Apple Music.
Upon submitting the album earlier in the year, I was informed that it violated certain streaming platforms’ rules due to the inclusion of what was perceived as “advertising.”
Specifically, the album features a playful spoof commercial narrated by the actor Stephen Fry.
I was finally informed that the album would be accepted by all streaming platforms. Except for Apple Music.
After to-ing and fro-ing for many months, my digital aggregator’s head of content finally said “Apple will ticket this…it’s a no-go.” I was told emphatically to either submit the album without the offending track, or not submit the album at all.
And unable to get further clarification, I was forced to choose between compromising my art, or releasing the album without it being on Apple. Let me be really clear, I want my album to be on Apple Music. I’m now left with no other option than to defend myself and my album like this in public, hoping for a resolution of acceptance.
‘iHead’: The Not-So-Real Deal
The track in question ‘A Commercial Break’ is not an actual advertisement but a satirical interlude, intended as an ‘intermission’ of humorous levity to break up the album.
Stephen Fry, a renowned actor and comedian, does the voice over for the satirical track. The “iHead” he speaks of is a shared joke for so many of us who adore Apple products.
I am autistic. I’m used to being told my sense of humour can be somewhat lacking when it comes to distinguishing between what’s true, and what’s meant as a joke. But with ‘A Commercial Break’, everyone who’s heard it gets the joke. I’m quite proud of this, as comedy has historically evaded me! But what about you Apple? Surely you can handle a joke? Particularly when it sparks conversations about the new digital age we’re living in.
My digital aggregator told me the track may mislead listeners to believe it is a real advert. It is incredulous that anyone would think they are listening to a genuine ad for a product called ‘iHead’. It’s laughable. Literally.
There are historical precedents here too. Other albums on Apple Music have featured fictional advertisements. For example, The Who’s “Sell Out” from the 1960s. So it is difficult to believe that this is merely about censoring the satire.
Art vs. Corporate Control
The offending track ‘A Commercial Break’ satirises a tech corporation that develops a mind-controlling wearable device called the “iHead.” To my astonishment, a mere three weeks after the release of my album, Apple announced the Vision Pro, which bears some resemblance to the iHead (as seen in the short film for the album’s first single “Start With The Sound”).
But the “iHead” and ‘A Commercial Break’ were created in 2019.
As the old adage goes “If you can parody something, it’s because what you’re parodying is successful”. If the reason for rejecting my album is the iHead’s similarity to the Vision Pro, why not take it as a compliment?
I am just trying to inform, entertain and inspire people.
But perhaps the paradox of this parody has unearthed an Apple policy that Apple customers and artists are not aware of?
Whatever it is, this entire debacle signals a potentially corrosive turn in the freedom of independent artists to express their art on digital platforms.
In my role as a mentor to young musicians, I fear younger artists may feel compelled to conform to the objections of streaming companies, inadvertently succumbing to a culture where those companies shape, control, and even censor art.
Brave New World
It’s ironic that Apple created their own self-aware, powerful parody of Michael Radford’s film adaptation of George Orwell’s ‘1984’. The advert for Apple’s very first Mac. In the ad, the injustice of 1984 was smashed by the sledgehammer of a brave individual. I pose no such threat.
But, I too am trying to be brave. For my album, and my community.
PARODY OR PARADOX?
In my career, I have promoted the Apple culture by teaching Logic Pro to Buddhist monks in Thailand, to record their sacred chants. I’ve facilitated students to embrace Apple products to record their first song, encouraged fellow autistic musicians to think differently with every fibre in their DNA to connect their creativity with your innovations. But my new album, whose central theme is connection, has been outlawed by Apple Music.
I love that first Mac commercial. It inspired me.
From where I’m standing today, it looks like big tech can make adverts that parody artists, but artists cannot make parody adverts about big tech.
SENSITIVE, NOT CENSORSHIP
I believe Apple’s credo includes an imperative drive to create an environment that celebrates artistic diversity and nurtures critical perspectives. And I’ve always supported and aligned with that credo.
That I am satirically articulate about Silicon Valley in my lyrics does not preclude my love for Apple. But something is out of place here.
Two months of Super Connected not being on Apple Music impacts me as an independent artist, with loss of streams, fans and royalties crucial to sustain my creative practice.
The themes on “Super Connected” are divergent from the mainstream narrative, and for a neurodivergent artist, that should be accepted in a sensitive way.
Sensitive, not censorship.
I’d be really grateful if you could write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org confirming that when the album is submitted to Apple Music again, it will be accepted.
For my album, and for my community of independent, neurodiverse music creators, I dearly hope Apple ripens to my humble request to welcome “Super Connected” to Apple Music.
Written with love, on my MacBook Air
With thanks to Charles Donovan for assisting and Kate Alderton for editing.
Kevin Godley, singer, songwriter, musician and music video director
Ricky Wilson, singer songwriter, Kaiser Chiefs
Gary Kemp, songwriter, actor, Spandau Ballet
John Alderton, actor
Pauline Collins OBE, actress
Paul Farberman, entertainment lawyer, Celine Dion
John Robb, musician and author
Graeme Clark, Wet Wet Wet
Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner
Katie Puckrik, broadcaster and writer
Colin Vaines, film producer (Gangs of New York, No Freedom No Art)
Phelim McDermott, Artistic Director of Improbable Theatre
Nick Couldry, Prof. Media LSE. co-author of The Costs of Connection
Simon Jay, editor of Neurodiverse Review
Steve Furst, actor, comedian and broadcaster
Ann Mitchell, actress
Jason Ritchie, Get Ready To Rock
Valerie Charlton, NDD, ATC, BA, artist and educator, special FX model maker
Charles Donovan, journalist
Rob Hallet, ceo at Robomagic
Emma Jones, music therapist
Ben Pelchat, music producer, manager
Sarah Kershaw, musician and performance artist
Kate Alderton, actress, theatre maker and independent dream researcher
David Smallwood, addiction and trauma therapist
Seán Devine, music industry consultant
Michelle Baker Jones, therapist
Lisa Dillon, actress
Vicky Unwin, author
Nadine Page, holistic practioner, ND, DipNT, RN, BSc (Hons)
Daniela Maccari, dancer and choerographer
Jeff Merrifield, musician and author
Philip Blakeman, audio engineer
Sharon Check, theatrical PA
Geoff Norris, actor
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Michael Ray Wisely, actor
Robert Cochrane, poet
Peter Stanford, actor
Andy Gray, record dealer
Liz De Havilland, director of Terry de Havilland Ltd
Stuart Holland, building engineer, DJ
Huw Roberts, arts craftsman
Matthew Hebden, actor
Joolz Wayte, educational tutor
Jett Nyx, author
Paul Whitwell, radio broadcaster
Greg Dinner, author and screenwriter
Morag Deyes, dance curator, choreographer and mentor