Analysis continues of the Taylor Swift stare down of Apple over the issue of royalties paid (or not paid) during Apple Music’s 90 day free trial. Like I said earlier, I’m pretty sure we’re not getting the whole story. But when you have such a great David and Goliath-type narrative, who wants to mess that up?
I have a couple of questions:
Q: So the public seems to be firmly on the side of Taylor Swift, a multi-millionaire musician with an ubiquitous media presence. “You go, girl! Fight for your rights and the rights of musicians everywhere! Let’s get those freeloading bastards who refuse to pay for their music!” Am I missing something?
A: Yep. Remember when Lars Ulrich and Metallica tried to take on Napster over the same sort of thing? Wasn’t he concerned about artists being compensated fairly in an era when more and more people wanted their music for free? How was his public image after that campaign? (Thanks to Tom for pointing out this little bit of strangeness.)
Q: Was Apple really not planning to pay artists during the 90 day Apple Music trial period?
A: No. I quote Eddie Cue from Billboard.
Cue added that Apple had heard the same “concern from a lot of artists,” noting that it was “never our intent” to not compensate artists, rather they were planning to originally negotiate a higher royalty rate, which they will stick with.
Asked if Apple is eating the cost of the 90-day trial period, Cue said, “We’re certainly paying for it, yes. We’re all in.”
Q: So why did Taylor Swift get Apple to blink when so many others have tried and failed?
A: She has a large fanbase and a formidable skill with social media. And do you think the timing of her letter was a coincidence? Drop it on a Friday and she had control of the news cycle throughout the weekend. Apple was forced to call in its executives over the weekend to put out the fire and regain control of the story.
So is she really that powerful? That’s what a lot of people will have us believe.
Q: Did Taylor Swift act on her own?
A: My tinfoil hat theory says “No.” The labels remember how they let Apple become the dominate player in music in the 00’s after the introduction of iTunes. With a market share of somewhere around 70%, Apple had the power to dictate policy over music, including how music was sold (think of the break-up of the album and the a la carte song selection) and how much it could be sold for. “Never again,” say the labels.
It’s in the best interests of the music industry for a number of streaming music companies to survive. That way the labels can play each one off the other in hopes of strengthening their position. While they want Apple Music to succeed, they want the company crippled.
The other thing the labels want is the end to free tiers on streaming company. But they can’t get together and collude to make that happen because that invites all sorts of anti-competitive and anti-trust charges.
Could it be that representatives from the labels privately and quietly got together and urged Taylor and Big Machine, her label and management company, to take this new stand? All it might have taken was a discrete phone call. Or maybe I’ve seen Oliver Stone’s JFK too many times.
Q: Are you the only guy with tinfoil hat theories?
A: Hardly. See?
Q: Wait. Wasn’t Apple once rumoured to be buying Big Machine?
A: Yep–for $250 million. Makes you wonder if this spat has anything to do with those rumours and the apparent collapse of the deal. I’ll take off my tinfoil hat now.
Q: So what does this situation tell us? That the artist is in control?
A: I don’t know. We’ll see. But in all honesty, three months of streaming royalties won’t amount to much for anyone. If things go well, a typical indie artist will earn enough for a Big Mac combo during that period. Seriously. Word is that Apple will be paying $0.002 per stream. That’s one-fifth of a penny per listen. That seems low when you look at it, but it’s not radically different from what everyone else is paying. And don’t get me started on people who (a) try to equate a single listen to a song to a single sale of a song; and (b) how evil the streaming companies are for paying out so little. (SPOILER: They’re just paying the rates they negotiated with the people who hold the power: labels, publishers, collectives and copyright boards–the people who are supposed to have the interests of the artist in mind. If you have an issue with the size of payouts, yell at them, not the streaming services.)
Artist make the vast majority of their money playing live and selling merch. Even Taylor Swift. Of the $39 million USD she earned last year, $30 million of that was from touring.
Q: Where’s Jimmy Iovine been in all this? Isn’t he supposed to be the old-school record guy who can handle stuff like this?
A: Great question. Anyone seen Jimmy?
Q: This controversy seems to be creating some interesting bedfellows.
A: You bet. Who would have ever thought that Taylor Swift would be fighting on the same side as Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue?
Q: Moving on. Could it be that Taylor did indie music fans a favour?
A: Sure looks like it. The indies were complaining about the royalty thing long before Taylor. But now that Apple Music has confirmed that they’ll pay, previous critics like Beggars Banquet Group are signing on. That will keep the library from having some ugly holes–like this woman called “Adele.”
Q: Finally, what’s this about accusations of hypocrisy regarding Taylor Swift’s demands on photographers who shoot her during gigs?
Further reading on these topics: