Photo: Eliot Van Buskirk
The real Steve Jobs and the real Dr. Dre share a penchant for creating music technology, Jobs with iPod/iTunes and Dre with his Beats by Dr. Dre line of headphones and speakers.Both have fictional alter egos: Fake Steve Jobs, and the version of Dr. Dre put forth by drdrestartedburningman, which claims that Dre invested in the Burning Man Festival after seeing naked hippies cavorting in the desert without charging anyone for the privilege. The site includes a letter, purported to be from Dr. Dre, in which he allegedly wrote “someone should get behind this… and make some money off these fools,” as evidence backing up the claim.
Fader tried to debunk that account by pointing out that neither “Dr. Dre” nor “Andre Young” (his real name) appear anywhere in Harvard PhD Katherine K. Chen’s written history of the event, Enabling Creative Chaos: The organisation Behind the Burning Man Event. In response, whoever is behind the Dr. Dre Started Burning Man blog fired back at Fader, citing an apparent former auditor who claims to have deleted the disk containing the list of the original investors.
The whole thing is bogus, of course.
“There’s a rich history of satire in our community,” said a Black Rock City representative who declined to be named because he or she didn’t want to be responsible for ruining the fun (updated). “Of course it’s not true.” (Black Rock City also responded here.)
Still, the apparent myth of Dr. Dre making millions by creating a centralized marketplace for a bunch of unorganized hippies has a very real doppelganger: iTunes. Before iTunes, music fans sought out tunes wherever they could find them online. iTunes brought much of the world’s recorded music together in one place, offering a massive catalogue of legal music online for the first time in history.
Likewise, small-time application developers have labored on software for decades, distributing them on their own tiny websites. While sites like CNET’s Download.com (transparency: I began my technology writing career there back in ’97) gathered them into a centralized clearinghouse for easy downloading, it failed to capitalise on the transactions themselves the way iTunes does.
Apple claims 30 per cent of every app sale on the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and, courtesy of the Mac App Store, even desktop and laptop software. Now it’s doing the same thing with subscription apps — possibly including music subscriptions.
In other words, the real Steve Jobs succeeded in doing with music and software what drdrestartedburningman.tumblr.com claims Dr. Dre did with Burning Man: He coralled the enthusiastic, unorganized movements to distribute music and software online into one big centralized market, claiming a healthy percentage for his own company in the process — just like the fake Dr. Dre did with Burning Man.