Some things end with a bang—others end with a “Roar.” And after a solid month of free shows beamed around the world from London’s Roundhouse via Apple TV, the iTunes Store, or iPhone and iPad app—with big-ticket performances from artists including Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Kings of Leon, and Elton John—the seventh annual iTunes Festival will do just that after day-30 headliner Katy Perry exits the stage.
We caught up with Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue, the lord of everything iTunes, to chat about the Britain-set fest and the launch of the company’s much-talked about “Pandora killer.” (Well, they actually call it iTunes Radio.)
EW: Katy Perry is the headliner wrapping up the iTunes Festival [tonight]. How do you choose who closes out the festival?
One of the things we do is we try to adjust based on the [artists’] schedule, and pick a diversity of music. And so we’ve got folks like Ellie Goulding, for example, who is now a headliner here—if you go back about three or four years, she was actually one of the artists that played before she was a big star, and we’ve got a lot of those, [artists] that have started here. [And then] there are all those that we think are the best because they’re already known as the best: We have Elton John here, right? He gets to perform for over an hour and basically only play number one songs.
How do you gauge the success of something like the iTunes Festival? Is it audience reach? The level of artist that you get year after year?
You can’t measure it through the sale of a product or song or any of that. It works by the fact that that we have all of these customers in the U.K. that want to come to it—with the 20 million ticket requests that we’ve had, the millions of people that watch it on their iOS devices, on Apple TV, and the Web. And that’s always been growing on a year-to-year basis.
I’ve been watching the festival largely at home on TV from New York, and it’s been pretty great.
It really is special, because it’s this combination of things that you just don’t see—there’s no scalping. We got over 20 million requests for tickets, and so these are the lucky winners; they’re huge fans of the artist. The artists come in, and they’re not getting paid. They’re here because they know that this is an opportunity for them to play for these fans and in many cases kind of go back to when they were starting out in a smaller venue, get really close and personal. You’ve got this venue [The Roundhouse] that is truly historic and holds 2,500 people, so you’re gonna see these artists that always play in much larger arenas. [Plus] it’s all kinds of music. On one end, you’ve got Lady Gaga and on the other end you’ve got Ludovico, the Italian pianist.
The artists aren’t paid for their performances. But have they noticed spikes in album sales and single sales from doing the festival?
Obviously, it certainly helps when you watch somebody—a lot of times you discover somebody or you get to hear their new songs from their new albums. We’ve had a lot of debut albums here this month, so that helps. But at the end of the day, it’s a secondary piece. The primary thing is for them to get close with the fans and get fans to have that experience because over the long term that’s going to help them in every way.
iTunes Radio also recently launched. What has been the feedback so far?
The most important thing for me, what I was hoping for and what we’ve been working very hard to get, is what the quality of the feature is. At the end of the day, that’s the most important. Part of it is we thought we had an advantage: We thought we could present radio stations for the first time to a customer that’s really tailored to them.
Your streaming radio service has been referred to as the “Pandora killer.” Who do you consider the competition—Pandora, Spotify?
First of all, competition on anything is good, because it makes everybody better. Our goal is to be the best. We thought we could bring something that customers would love more than any other service out there and that’s what we want to do, and certainly I think competition will make things better for everybody so we can get better and better at it.
This year, iTunes has been successful in converting streaming album premieres into impressive pre-orders and sales, how much influence did that have on iTunes Radio?
We’re leveraging it. For example there’s a Justin Timberlake album that’s on iTunes Radio as of [last Thursday] for the first time, so the first time we ever premiered an album on there. We certainly knew we would leverage it for iTunes Radio but the primary key to iTunes Radio was to create it custom for you. When you’re talking premiering song, what we’re doing iTunes Festival-wise, we knew iTunes Radio was a perfect place for that so it’s perfect alignment.
How similar do you think the experience is with iTunes Radio and the iTunes Store?
It’s a huge improvement to do it on iTunes Radio because you don’t go to a store a lot. Hopefully lots of people will be listening to iTunes Radio a lot; from a discovery perspective it’s significantly better. I think when you go to a store and you go to the Justin Timberlake page and stream it from there, that’s great but that means you went to the store. iTunes Radio lets you discover it without you having to think about it.
For more on where the iTunes Festival and iTunes Radio are headed, pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Oct. 4.