Swift trumps Apple: A turning point for artists?


“We hear you Taylor Swift” tweets Apple’s senior vice president for internet software and services Eddy Cue as the company announces a u-turn on Apple Music’s streaming royalty policy. “Apple will always make sure that artists are paid.”

Cue was responding to protests from Swift and independent record labels throughout the week. It was learned that Apple’s much anticipated streaming service would freeze payouts to musicians during its free trial period to customers. Swift, who pulled her entire back catalogue from Spotify after disputes over royalties last year, spearheaded the revolt in a blog post ‘To Apple, Love Taylor‘.

Recently the youngest ever entry to Forbes annual list of the world’s most powerful women, Swift threatened to withdraw her monster album, 1989, from Apple Music. Regarding the streaming service’s proposed three month free trial, she stated:

“I’m not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.”

Cue and his team have, thankfully, listened. Indie labels have also been credited for their influence. One such label, Beggars Group, posted on their website “We struggle to see why rights owners and artists should bear this aspect of Apple’s customer acquisition costs.”

Would Apple freeze payments to their technicians, coders, designers and other staff during this trial period? We can safely assume that they wouldn’t, so why do musicians get the short straw? It seems to be yet another example of how artists are exploited in today’s industry. In a previous article, I discussed how it has become the norm for musicians to perform and hand over their music for free to gig organisers and the general public. It is fantastic to see that people are now waking up to the fact that there is something not right with the current system. Taylor Swift has been one of the most vocal campaigners in this ongoing battle and, with her power and status as a global superstar, is winning the fight.

“I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.” she states. Music is a unique form of art that is crafted intimately by human expression and it takes a considerable amount of time and money to package together commercially for the world to enjoy.

It has become virtually impossible to make money, let alone a living, from music these days. Sure, the competition is fierce, but it always has been. The sad reality is that society views songs as files on a hard drive that can be downloaded and streamed for free and musicians as entertainers that will get up and perform for a pint and the thought of getting decent exposure in the corner of some scabby bar with sticky floorboards (despite the fact that if it wasn’t for their presence nobody would want to be there in the first place). 

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music,” says Swift as musicians cheer across the globe. It is a victory for the music industry that a behemoth like Apple can be called to account by a musician and forced to rethink its ethics.

Apple Music is set to launch later this month in over a hundred countries. It may kill off Spotify but at least it won’t kill off the music industry, and if it does threaten to do so, perhaps the power is now in the hands of the musicians themselves to do something about it.



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