Eddy Cue talks about the iTunes Festival’s US debut

Madeleine Swain
13 March, 2014
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The US is currently in the middle of its first iTunes Festival. The concert series that is streamed live by Apple around the world has enjoyed great success in the UK since its inaugural event in 2007, but this year is also making an appearance at the SXSW (South by Southwest) cultural festival in Austin, Texas.

It kicked off on 11 March and winds up this weekend (Saturday 15).

And Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, has been talking to the press about what the festival means to the Cupertino, California company. In an interview with Fortune‘s Jim Dalrymple, Cue echoed Tim Cook’s recent heartfelt comments about the bottom line not always being top of mind for Apple. Of course, Cook was talking about social responsibility around sustainability and social justice issues; for example, when Apple is making products that would benefit the vision impaired.

Cue, on the other hand, was talking about art.

In the Fortune interview, he was keen to emphasise that bringing the festival home to the US wasn’t always an obvious choice for Apple and that what mattered most was the content.

“We’re not trying to pitch our products here — it’s all about the artists and the music,” Cue said. “It’s about the emotion of the artists and the fans.”

The facts back him up. Rather than use huge stadiums, which it could no doubt sell out, Apple holds the festival in more intimate venues, like the Moody Theatre in Austin, which seats just 2750 people.

And, of course, the tickets are free, meaning it’s literally all about the luck of the draw, rather than the size of your wallet, when it comes to the chance to see your favourite act.

Cue explained, however, that there was also a bit of a feeling of ‘if it ain’t broke’ and a recognition of the fact that trying to recreate magic doesn’t always pan out.

“I wasn’t sure we would ever bring it to the US,” Cue told Dalrymple. “We have something so special at the festival in London that you had the feeling that if you did it anywhere else, it just wasn’t going to be quite good enough. You have to have the right place.”

It appears that Austin was the right place after all, though, as according to Dalrymple, who has attended the iTunes Festival at both the Roundhouse in London and this one in Austin, both had the same “intensity”. ”The buzz and electricity surrounding an iTunes Festival is incredible,” wrote Dalrymple.

This current series of concerts feature a cross section of performers, including Coldplay, Isaiah Rashad, ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, Capital Cities, Band of Skulls, Soundgarden, G.R.L, Zedd and Pitbull. The last night of the festival on Saturday will feature Mickey Guyton, Willie Nelson and Keith Urban.

Dalrymple believes that the iTunes Festival stands out from all the other music events. And not just because of production values – with the event streamed live around the world, sound quality is of paramount importance – but also because of the way the artists become involved.

In his article, he noted how Imagine Dragons hung around after their set to watch Coldplay. ”That’s one of the things that makes the iTunes Festival so unusual. It’s not just fans appreciating artists, it’s artists appreciating artists. You don’t always see that,” he wrote.

But not all artists were able to appreciate each other in Austin , apparently, with rapper ScHoolboy Q sending out some seriously disgruntled tweets today because he wasn’t allowed into 50 Cent’s show. Though, of course, Fiddy was playing as part of SXSW itself, not the iTunes Festival per se. Perhaps if he’d been part of the iTunes Festival within a festival, things would have been different…

As Eddy Cue reiterated when summing up the tech company’s attitude to the its flagship live music event, it’s all about the creatives. “We at Apple take a lot of pride in the festival because we have such admiration for what the artists do,” Cue said. “If we can help, even a little bit, it feels damn good.”

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