Spotify has long been vilified by the David Lowerys and Taylor Swifts of the industry as the downfall of digital music. Despite the fact that digital sales had been falling just as rapidly in Canada long before Spotify hit the country. But that fact disrupts the narrative: Streaming kills sales. Actually, the facts are, streaming kills piracy. Yet still, the revenue from streaming has not kept up with the decline in sales revenue.
So artists are scrambling for ways to make more money from their music any way possible.
But what is it saying when Taylor Swift pulls her catalog from Spotify because there’s a free tier (that doesn’t pay enough), but she keeps it up on YouTube? A service that pays a fraction of what Spotify does and is COMPLETELY free?
It’s contradictory. And hypocritical.
Now, I commend Ms. Swift for her Tumblr post which got the largest company in the world to change course. But, what is it saying that Apple first made the decision not to pay artists for use of their work to help Apple’s own promotional campaign, and then stood by that decision while Independent artists, labels and managers loudly spoke up against it? What is it saying that the only thing that convinced Apple to do what is right by the artists and songwriters that gives Apple the content they need to sell their products, was the threat of the largest artist in the world withholding her music?
This is not a mere oversight. Apple, which has nearly $200 BILLION cash on hand, in their pocket, thought they would exploit artists, who struggle as it is, to acquire paying customers for Apple’s service, with a “hey, help a brother out. We’ve scratched your back, now scratch ours.” Except Apple hasn’t ever scratched anyone’s back. They’ve provided a great service, and taken a hefty commission. If Apple gave every artist $50,000 to record an album, then sure, I’d say, let’s allow Apple to exploit our music for free for 3 months to help them, like they helped us. But Apple hasn’t paid us anything other than 70% of our music sales from iTunes.
Sure, Eddy Cue, the guy leading the Apple Music front, tried to explain this away as why they would pay 71.5% of their streaming revenue out to rights holders (above the 70% they pay out for iTunes – and just higher than what Spotify pays at 70%, and MUCH higher than what YouTube pays at 55%). But this explanation from Cue feels more like an excuse than a thought through strategy. Even if we got 1.5% more, it would take years to offset the money lost in the 3 month promotional period. Labels can afford that. Artists, not so much.
And why the secrecy? Have you learned nothing from the disastrous launch of Spotify in the US just a few years back? Spotify was lambasted by artists everywhere because Spotify kept its accounting and payments so secretive. Only when Spotify launched spotifyartists.com did it finally give some artists some peace of mind. If you want to truly seem like the good guys BE TRANSPARENT with your payment structure. Right from the start.
So now Apple WILL pay artists for the 3 month trial period? But how much?
71.5% of $0 is still $0. So are you paying per-stream? How much per stream? And then how, exactly, will you calculate per-stream royalty rates per artist when the free trial ends? Will it be the same formula Spotify utilizes: artists get the fraction of the full pot of money divvied up amongst the number of plays proportionate to everyone else? Or will an artist who gets 10 listeners (at $10 a month) to stream them exclusively, receive 71.5% of that $100? Please, be transparent.
Jimmy Iovine seems to have brought the same kind of major label sliminess to Apple that he helped create when he ran Interscope. This has now become standard practice in the industry: look out for our best interests and f*ck the artists!
He was the one who convinced Apple to showcase the “unsigned artist” who had never released music, had zero internet presence and had never played a live show as the poster child for how great Apple Music will be for unsigned artists. When in reality, this artist was brought in by Iovine’s old A&R exec from Interscope. Hardly a working class, unsigned musician. More like, as Complex put it, an “industry plant.”
Mr. Iovine is not helping you, Apple. Want to truly look out for artists’ best interests? Ask the artists!
No, not the labels, because they look out for their own best interests. No, not just major label artists either, because they are caught up in a system where most don’t know which way is up. Bring together ALL artists: major label, indie label, and (true) unsigned artists. Don’t know how to find the successful unsigned artists? Go to Tunecore, CD Baby and DistroKid and find the top sellers/streamers. They exist, you just have to look for them (and not merely ask Iovine). Because, if you missed the memo, major labels don’t give two shits about their artists. Only their bottom lines.
Apple has corrected course on this one. And today Ms. Swift is the hero. However if Swift puts her music on Apple Music, keeps it all on YouTube and continues to withhold it from Spotify, it will seem that this was all just a publicity stunt and that she is, in fact, in bed with Apple.
Because what makes YouTube so much better than Spotify when they pay just 55% and Spotify pays 70%? Spotify is adding video and by years end will add new artist connect features of their own (to help artists engage their fans). But keep vilifying Spotify and pretending that they are the enemy.
But then this begs the question, if she stands up for the independent artist, why does she demand photographers sign the Concert Photo Authorization Form that allows her company to use the photographer’s work in perpetuity without compensation for promotional purposes?
I truly do appreciate Swift speaking up about this and getting Apple to change course. But it seems a bit hypocritical and contradictory.