1. Lead Image. Tim Arnold and Kate Alderton at The Ziggy Stardust Premiere July 3rd 2023 photo by Cat Morley
Kate Alderton and Tim Arnold at the Ziggy Stardust Global Premiere at Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom on 3 July 2023. Photo by Cat Morley / Sidetrack

START A CONVERSATION : Tim Arnold on having his new album banned, and then backed by Apple – Part One

What happens when you satirise the very tech companies that your music is distributed through? Well Tim Arnold found out this year when his album Super Connected was rejected for distribution on all streaming services.  Arnold was initially told by his digital distributor Ditto Music that the album would not be permitted on any streaming services unless he removed one of the album tracks, a parody sketch featuring actor Stephen Fry humorously extolling the virtues of the “iHead (a fictional headset in the forthcoming feature film from the album that also features in the music video for the first single from the album below). Arnold challenged the company on their decision, and the album was finally cleared for all streaming services. Apart from Apple Music.  

With the album garnering critical acclaim across the music press when it was finally released in May, he wrote a public letter to Apple asking for the album to be accepted. After the letter was published in Louder Than War and notched up more than 40 signatures from high profile industry supporters, the album was finally released on Apple.  But the story behind the album’s rejection is a curious one in the debate of art Vs commerce.

I spoke to Tim and his partner, actress and theatre director Kate Alderton, about how this stumbling block to the album’s release, actually highlighted the very points the album ‘Super Connected’ is making.

“When digital distributors for independent artists emerged in the mid 2000’s, I could discuss my releases on the phone. As the companies grew, personal connections faded, replaced by emails. However, real conversations let artists and distributors explore nuances, like this experience with Apple and Ditto Music over my parody ad track ‘A Commercial Break’ explains Arnold. “Ironically, ‘Super Connected’ is not about decrying technology, it’s about reigniting human communication and nuance. The focus of tech and humanity on ’Super Connected’ is based on the same idea as my Save Soho campaign was; new ideas can co-exist with old ideas.  In my heart, I’m a retro futurist. I don’t think we need to replace the old with the new. I find the present more inspiring when the past and the future are friends.”

An artful genre blurring, multimedia concept album, Super Connected revolves around the theme of the dominance of big tech and it’s effects on mental health (Arnold was diagnosed with autism during the making of the album).

Super Connected coverImageLandscapeStatic 2023 07 26T13 34


It took six months for Apple to put the album on it’s platform after a public campaign by Arnold received a groundswell of support

“After I launched the campaign, the album was released on Apple Music within 5 days.  For younger artists who might not have had experience with public campaigns before, I’d absolutely encourage trying everything you can to solve the situation privately.  But if your art is being suppressed, and you can’t find a good reason why, stick up for your art. And don’t be afraid to ask others to help.  People power is alive and well!”

“The argument with the distributors about ‘A Commercial Break’, was they were saying the song would skew the audio detection because the track sounds like an advert. That wasn’t true. I read the Spotify and streaming guidelines and it states that ‘if there’s evidence that the work is artistic and not intended to mislead a listener, it will be permitted for streaming’.  Having spoken to Apple since, I believe the distributors didn’t want to risk one of their artists to challenge the protocols.

The whole structure of that part of the industry is built on listeners being ‘okay’ with advertising as part of a listener’s experience. I know how to fend for myself, but an artist at 20 is unlikely to spend six months of their lives arguing with streaming services, like I have this year. They’re just going to accept it. And I think that would be a shame.  Whether it’s streaming services or governments, accepting the way things ‘are’ is the thin end of a wedge”

How did you come up with the idea of ‘A Commercial Break’ originally?

“I’d written the script for the parody ad quite early on.  It was just going to appear in the middle of the album to break up Side One and Side Two and explain the fictional headset that I named the ‘iHead’. Originally, I hadn’t thought to make it sound like an actual advert.  It was more suggestive of an advert. More a spoken word piece.

I think it came up in a conversation between me and my partner Kate when she listened to the track and said, “Yes, but those commercials on streaming and podcasts don’t just appear, do they? They have somebody announcing “now we’ve got a word from our sponsors”. Something comes in to announce the ad.” 

We walked into satire without realising.

So Kate recorded the voiceover at the beginning, which says “Sorry for interrupting your playlist.” We just giggled and thought it was a bit like Monty Python when they made the The Life of Brian. I don’t think they thought they’d end up in a debate with the Bishop of Southwark about Christianity.  I certainly didn’t think I’d end up in a debate with Apple!”

You’re just looking at this enormous, powerful institution and thinking,’ Oh, this is just funny’.  Nobody would have imagined that once I released the album, those actual companies would take issue. And, of course, it wasn’t permitted on streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple because of it. It struck me immediately that to digital music stores, advertising seemed more important than the actual music.”


‘Trailer for the forthcoming feature length film of ‘Super Connected’

The ad sounds real, like one of those adverts that pop up in the middle of a podcast or when you are shuffling on a streaming platform.

“It does sound so real, and I think that’s because Stephen Fry did it. And we all ‘trust’ when we hear his voice. His contribution was a real gift. We happened to be in a sound studio in Soho in 2018, working on another project and I said, “Oh, would you fancy doing this? It’s a bit about Greek mythology.” It’s actually a fictional company using Greek mythology spuriously to promote a fictional tech device. He liked the script I’d written. He just found it funny and said, “Yes, sure” and we recorded it. It was another year before I started making the film for Super Connected, when we had an amazing animation company, Framestore (who have done Harry Potter films and James Bond special effects), create a wonderful animation sequence for it with actual cartoon avatar of me. But we needed an introduction, so Kate recorded the spoof announcement before Stephen speaks. That tiny addition made all the difference that led to the trouble”

Kate Alderton: “It’s partly my fault. It’s ironic because we made the film of ‘Super Connected’ together as a silent film; obviously, the whole film has no words in it. So all of my performance in the film is silent.  But the only words that I’ve actually spoken are fake (in my introduction to Stephen Fry’s narration).

Even though it was fake, those few words resulted in all the trouble with the album release. At the time, we were listening to music on streaming platforms and experiencing the irritation of things being interrupted if you don’t pay for a subscription. It does disrupt, and I think I was doing some voice recording at the time. We were just playing, taking the opportunity to have fun and create this very joyful poke at the streaming industry by making that preamble to the advert.”

3. Tim Arnold and Kate Alderton wearing the iHead at SXSW 2022
Tim Arnold and Kate Alderton wearing the iHead, SXSW 2022

So in a way it’s satirizing and protesting the very distributive systems used to deliver the music through..

“While I have been satirical on several of the songs on ‘Super Connected’, the track that caused all the problems with the delivery to Apple was eventually presented as a piece of interactive art. It was intended in the same way as Andy Kaufman’s idea to get his TV network on his show to mess with ‘vertical hold’ on the television screen when viewers were watching. He did this so that viewers would get up out of their seats and make the picture go back to normal, ot realising it was part of the show. He created an embodied moment to connect people to his show.”

So putting a fake ad in the middle of my album was very similar. We’re used to disruptions. But I wanted to disrupt my own album. In a way that complimented the album’s story. And also to invite listeners to query what was going on, and perhaps wonder to themselves: “I pay for a ‘no ads’ subscription! Why am I hearing an ad about an “iHead” narrated by Stephen Fry?”.  

Advertisements are the bane of all our digital lives, and I think it’s deserving of more discussion. One of art’s magical powers is turning disruption into thought-provoking construction.

Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman in ‘Man On The Moon’ – The Vertical Hold scene

When you’ve met teenagers suffering from screen addiction who have lost the ability to connect with their friends and family, Big Tech can resemble a bully.  It’s serious. But like any school bully, the task at hand is not getting them kicked out of the school.  The task is getting the bully to dye their hair a silly colour and hang out with the arty crowd after school when all the really exciting ideas happen. And to learn to laugh at themselves!

Criticising or satirising Big Tech is not about blaming and shaming.  It’s about using humour to start a conversation. Especially a conversation about the effect of their products and apps on young people’s mental health. If anyone can make a positive change it’s Big tech.  The most powerful people on the planet at the moment aren’t governments or churches, they are tech companies.”

I think a lot of people, myself included, found they were so isolated during lockdown that they ended up on their phone a lot, so it is interesting that your album is partly about that as well.. So was that the concept for Super Connected from the start? Or how it just evolved?

“I think it just evolved. I mean, most, not all, but most of my albums have always had some overarching theme to the whole thing because I grew up just listening to concept albums. I don’t sit down, go, right, I’m gonna write a concept album about ‘x’ theme or ‘this thing’ or ‘that thing’. It started when a fan of mine in Italy asked me to go and do a show over there, and he funded it with friends. I went to Verona and stayed with him, and had a great time, and then asked him what he did for a living. His name is Ricardo Cavrioli. He’s a psychotherapist in Verona who assesses teenagers suffering with screen addiction. So I asked what that entailed. And he explained that he did assessments for teenagers who have problems with communications, and a lot of the teenagers wouldn’t go to school anymore and wouldn’t speak to their parents. But that in recent years, and this was in 2017, he said that things had changed whereby all these kids were absolutely active socially on their devices, but couldn’t cope with seeing any real people. He described a particular teenage girl who he had been assessing.

4. Actress Dixier McDevitt in the feature film of Super Connected
Actress Dixie McDevitt as ‘Bella Curtis’ in the feature film of ‘Super Connected

It just cast a picture in my head and I started wondering, what that would feel like to be her and also to be her parents? So that’s the actual title track of the album. Super Connected is written from her point of view and then out of that expands all the other songs like to ‘Start a Conversation’ and the ‘Touch of a Screen’, which are very much about how families are navigating their close relationships now that there is constant demand to navigate the digital space. Then, of course, I went even deeper and started seeing that a lot of the companies that make those services available to us aren’t as accountable as they perhaps could be.”

Apparently, like a lot of younger people use Tik Tok just to listen to music now. So they’re like cutting out the Spotify and Tik Tok pays even worse than Spotify, obviously because they say “oh, we’re just in advertisinga promotional platform..

“What you’re talking about is ads revenue-making models. The film director Nick Alderton talked about this when he introduced the live show of Super Connected at the Roundhouse (directed by Kate). He said that a lot of the album is about how adverts are being inserted into our music, but also into our lives. Things that are, or have been traditionally quite sacred spaces, precious, important to us are being decontextualized.. Experiences that we cherish. Even in cinemas, we have adverts at the beginning, but they don’t put them in the middle of the film. A product placement might be used, but it doesn’t take our mind out of the experience of the film. With sounds, the disruption is total. And if you’re on a low income and can’t afford a subscription to listen to music, you get adverts cropping up through master works like Hounds of Love or Dark Side Of The Moon, which is insane.

So that’s a big part of why I felt it was important to fight for ‘A Commercial break’.

Film director and writer Nic Alderton introducing ‘Super Connected LIVE’ at The Roundhouse, May 2023

Yeah, and on ‘Finally Everybody’s Talking’ because it sounds like all of the notifications you get on your phone played all at once…

Yes, at the very end of the record, you hear an airplane pilot say, “we have now reached our destination, we hope you had a good flight.” 

As soon as he says that you hear all the sounds that you’re talking about, which is, you know, Whatsapp Facebook, phones, notification bells etc. Because that’s what I experienced on a plane at the time. It must have been 2017 or 2018. It was the first time I really noticed just how immediate our impulse has become, to get on our phones as soon as we land on a plane. Phones have become an attachment.”

It was tongue in cheek, but then when I recorded it, it was just going to be at the beginning of the song. Then I thought, actually, I’ll make the whole song out of those sounds and I started looping it to write the rest of the song.

In a world where mindfulness is spoken about in the mainstream more than ever before, interruptions are everywhere.

To me, interrupting music is the same as interrupting a wedding or the birth of your first child, or losing your virginity – all those moments that are so important to the kind of human beings we develop into. Companies promoting mindfulness through the same devices that constantly disrupt is paradoxical and a dangerous game to play with people’s mental health.  I think that’s what’s at the heart of Super Connected”. 

Listen to Super Connected here: https://bit.ly/SCPAlbum

You can watch Tim Arnold’s ‘Super Connected Unplugged At Home’ concert on his Patreon on Thursday 3rd August at 6.30pm GMT with an acoustic version of the album released on Bandcamp Friday.

Part two to follow this week.

Photo credit: Cat Morley


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.