Apple Shines Spotlight On Unsigned Artist… Who Doesn’t Exist

Apple Music Presents... Laren Kramar?
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Finally, a major tech company is looking out for unsigned artists.  The ones who are working tirelessly to make a full-time music career a reality! Thanks Apple Music.  But wait…

Monday morning’s Apple Keynote address brought the usual high production value we’re used to from these events.  After two hours of operating system demos, explanations of updates to Apple Maps, developer software and Apple Pay, Tim Cook wrapped up the keynote with Steve Jobs’ classic “One More Thing” moment.

He announced Apple Music by exclaiming, “It will change the way you experience music forever.”

Interscope Records / Beats by Dre co-founder and all around music industry mogul, Jimmy Iovine, was welcomed to the stage to introduce Apple Music.  Just over a year after Apple bought Beats for $3 billion (ushering Iovine and Dre into the Apple family), Apple finally unveiled their subscription streaming service.  That is, nearly 7 years after Spotify launched.

Apple Music will include many of the features Spotify and Tidal recently unveiled.  That includes video and artist profiles, exclusives and content (they previewed handwritten lyrics, a studio tour by Bastille, and a live performance video by Alabama Shakes (who just put out my favorite album of the year, Sound and Color…seriously stop what you’re doing and go check this incredible piece of art out)).

Drake came on stage and fumbled through a speech about nothing.  It was only meant to show the Tidal crew that they have heavy hitters over at Apple, too.  In addition to the aforementioned acts, they highlighted other huge artists like Pharrell, Florence and the Machine, Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin.  It all ended with a performance by The Weeknd.

Independent artists were completely absent from the presentation.

One of the biggest criticisms of the botched Tidal Launch was that the superstar, millionaire “owners” who include Jay Z, Beyonce, Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Jack White, Kanye West, Madonna and deadmau5, asked fans to pay them more money exclaiming that artists will get a bigger cut of the streaming revenue than their competitors.  But — and this is a big Kardashian but —unsigned, independent artists were completely absent from the presentation.  The artists who are working their asses off every single day, on their own, attempting to make a living with their art (who actually NEED higher streaming royalties), did not have a place at the Tidal table.

Only after the uproar did Tidal launch “Tidal Rising” to attempt to correct its ways.

+Apple, Spotify and Tidal All Miss The Point. This Is The Future Of Recorded Music

Well, Apple was listening and senior VP of Intel Software and Services, Eddy Cue, stood on stage and proudly proclaimed that “even unsigned artists” will be able to upload their content to Apple Music profiles (kind of like they already do for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook).   Then he did something amazing.   He highlighted an unsigned artist on stage and played a snippet of his new song.

Finally, a major tech company is looking out for the unsigned artists who are working tirelessly to make a full-time music career a reality!

Except, the “unsigned artist” the Apple senior VP played during the 2015 Keynote, Loren Kramar, doesn’t actually exist.

Well, maybe there’s a guy named Loren Kramar who kinda plays guitar and has written a song or two.  But this is not a working musician.  And definitely not the unsigned artist they should have featured.  With such a large stage at one of the most pivotal moments in Apple music history, Apple chose not to feature one of the thousands of unsigned, full-time musicians from around the globe with an actual music career.

Instead, they featured some 26 year old visual artist (and magazine editor) from NYC who has zero existence as a musician on the web.  No videos on YouTube.  No Facebook Page.  Nothing on Spotify or iTunes.  And no history of performing live.  A Twitter account which launched two hours ago.

Impeccable timing for the Apple Music launch.

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Crony connections.

Turns out Loren Kramar’s friend/manager (?) is Joe Weinberger, who used to be an A&R rep under Jimmy Iovine at Interscope.  So Jimmy went to his old friend Joe and said “hey buddy, find me an unsigned artist we can feature at WWDC to make us look like we care about unsigned artists.”  And then Joe went to Loren and said,

“yo dude, you got that song written yet? Let’s quickly get it recorded so Jimmy can get it played at WWDC and then we turn you into a star. How bout it?!”

The only thing worse than omitting unsigned artists from the discussion, is showcasing an unsigned artist who doesn’t yet exist.  Then patting yourself on the back for it.

Apple has long been criticized for being out of touch — especially after the horrendous U2 album debacle where they forced it into everyone’s album collection whether they liked it or not.  But this is beyond being out of touch.  This is flat out deceptive.

And it just goes to show that Apple, in fact, doesn’t care about unsigned artists.

Jimmy Iovine cares about making his friends, his company and himself rich.  And that’s it.  Because if Apple (or Iovine) actually cared about helping unsigned artists, they would have chosen any of the thousands, literally thousands, out there who are incredible artists with loyal fan bases, but still unsigned.

Hell, you could have gone to venue owners or arts and entertainment weekly newspapers in any major city around the globe and asked them who their favorite new acts are.  You could have checked in on to see who’s trending.  You could have popped into any number of your small San Francisco music venues (just an hour from Cupertino) hosting great local music every night of the week.  Or you could have gone to the various management companies who are working to get their new acts traction.

Why not feature metal-pop band out of Milwaukee, Lost In A Name, who are hitting a 10 state tour this summer and just released an incredible new song (self recorded and self released)?

Or how about…

  • Philly’s retro-hillbilly-rock act Low Cut Connie who just got a favorable review in Rolling Stone and regularly tours the country?  Nina Storey, who has performed with Etta James, Sara Bareilles and Keb’ Mo’ and has 6 albums under her belt?
  • YouTube star David Choi (with a million YouTube subscribers) who regularly tours independently to packed clubs around the world?
  • Ron Pope, who has sold over 1.5 million downloads on iTunes, has 60 million Spotify streams and 50 million YouTube views? NYC’s Secret Someones, now on tour supporting Ingrid Michaelson?
  • Minneapolis’ Rogue Valley, who had a song featured on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty soundtrack and also tour regularly?

See, as a truly “unsigned artist” who has built my career on my own, touring relentlessly and navigating the ever-changing music industry (and has followed the careers of or played with the above artists), it’s a direct insult to us when you slap us in the face with this “artist” who hasn’t put in the blood sweat and tears like we have (or even released just a single song).

And, for that matter:

Someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to put up posters in the dead of winter, forgo eating out (or eating much at all) so we can pay for 1,000 replicated CDs to sell on tour.

Or what it’s like to book a 60 date tour, without a booking agent, and then promote that tour (without a promoter) and actually turn it into a success.

Has never spent most of our days not just writing, recording and creating, but emailing blogs, music supervisors, venues, managers, agents, promoters, labels and music tech companies.  All in the attempt to get a feature (or a better understanding of how to advance our careers).

Doesn’t know what it’s like to self-fund (or crowdfund) albums and music videos only to see them bounce around the local music scenes or blogosphere because we don’t have the marketing budget to compete with the labels.

But the great, unsigned artists who are doing this, who are putting in the work, are doing it because they want to have a career in music.  They know that if they don’t do this, no one else will (initially).  And that they won’t get out of their garage.

And it’s working.  Pooh pooh their numbers all you want, but they’re making a living doing what they love and have a fan base who love what they do.

But the executives at Apple Music don’t realize this.  They (just like everyone else completely out of touch with the NEW music industry) believe that you go from working a day job and playing guitar in your bedroom, to a record deal, topping the charts.  That’s what American Idol would like us to believe.  They don’t see the movement of TRUE unsigned artists ACTUALLY making it work – on their own (or with kickass managers by their side).

Spotify includes unsigned artists in their official curated playlists (with millions of playlist subscribers) which boost the artists’ followings (and bank accounts).  They also include merch on artist profiles and are rumored to unveil fan connectivity and analytics in the near future.  Tidal has their “Tidal Rising” program to feature new, unsigned artists and has also publicly stated they will give artists complete access to their analytics and fan data.  Pandora has their “Amp” platform which allows artists to see their complete fan analytics (however they don’t have ways to connect with those fans), and Rhapsody now sends out concert push notifications.

+BandPage and Rhapsody Usher In “…The New Era Of The Music Industry”

What are you actually doing for unsigned artists, Apple Music?  Are you going to give us our listener analytics like play counts, locations (to help route tours), email addresses (like BandCamp does), merch offerings (like Spotify and Rhapsody do)? Are you going to notify our fans when we’re coming to town with ticket links?

What about giving us ways to sell experiences (like meet and greets) to help buffer ticket sales for our initial money losing tours?  And how about giving us some crowd funding features?

Other than asking us to give you MORE content like photos, in-studio sneak peaks, videos, behind the scenes footage, lyrics, etc., what are you you going to do for us?

Besides paying us a (most likely) incredibly low streaming royalty rate?

That’s something else Apple failed to mention.  How much are you paying artists (not labels) per stream?

So Apple users can sign up for Apple Music for $9.99 a month or $14.99 a month for a family plan.  What do we see from that?  Is it the same black box pot of money divvied up amongst major labels?  Then, the independent labels second and unsigned artists last (if there’s anything left)?  Has that become standard in the streaming world?

Or are you going to treat every artist the same?  And fairly?

I am the first to encourage fellow independent artists to look long term and not make every decision based on immediate financial gain, but artists will cease to become artists if we can’t make enough to live on.  So, Apple, I ask again, how are you truly going to help unsigned artists sustain a music career?  Besides showcasing one at your keynote and hope people don’t notice what you just did.

48 Responses

  1. Remi Swierczek

    They will not help anyone, including the established artists.
    Jimmy Iovine is more less a Trojan Horse of Ek’s PIPE DREAM inside of Apple.

    PIPE DREAM or Turbo Napster brought to life by ignorance of few clueless UMG boys!

    Forgot, with full blessing and excitement of CEO Lucian Grainge and his UMG predecessor and story taller CEO of Sony Doug Morris. The biggest industrial grotesque since salvation of GM by OBAMA.

    Sorry, Apple in Ek’s mode will not bring any salvation! Boys it’s time to step up and allow for fresh air.

      • Eric Spoken Wor Bonner

        Literati X the unsigned artist really don’t eXist. Literati X is a digital music publisher in well over ten thousands contracts. . .An artist is signed eXclusively to his distribution networks. A publisher goes out non eXclusively and makes liable everybody and anybody who places it’s owned assets into world premier traction: And that’s the spoken word. . .

    • Eric Spoken Wor Bonner

      Literati X the unsigned artist really don’t eXist. Literati X is a digital music publisher in well over ten thousands contracts. . .An artist is signed eXclusively to his distribution networks. A publisher goes out non eXclusively and makes liable everybody and anybody who places it’s owned assets into world premier traction: And that’s the spoken word. . .I said it once and I’ll keep up with the only thing God loves in this world–pure truth out of the ignorant and dismal darkness: ‘ The billionaire poet Literati ‘ at your service. . .–: Only Paul can verify this with

  2. Anonymous

    So can everybody stream my iTunes songs for free?

    That’ll be the end of my life-long love affair with Apple.

    • Truancy

      Can someone point to the words in the iTunes agreement that states that Apple is able to display content that was submitted for the iTunes store (for the purpose of sales) for free consumption….or whatever royalty rate they choose?

      • Anonymous

        I personally have an agreement with Tunecore, not Apple, so I can’t give you a precise answer.

        But Apple does have the right to stream your music on iTunes Radio, so it can obviously use it in Apple Music as well. I’ve ignored the iTunes Radio part so far since nobody really knows about it. But Apple Music is something else.

        At any rate, I’m removing my songs as soon as I’ve found an alternative. Independent artists can do that within 48 hours, so it’s no big deal.

        • Sarah

          If you’re serious about an alternative, we’re giving you one. RepX is launching later this summer – we’d be honored to have independent artists front and center on our platform.

          We offer the features that Apple does – except you keep control over everything, always, from your pricing to your audience (we agree: services that try to own and control the network that you build are just the worst).

          Transparency (we don’t even do NDAs), our approach to “exposure” through things like radio, monetization opportunities …. odds are good that we’ll be on the same side of every issue. We’re non-exclusive and place no restrictions on your music – heck, we want you to continue on with your existing services (at least until your income through RepX is sufficient to keep you happy).

          There’s a catch: we’re new, and we won’t come with a built-in audience. But artists don’t start with built-in audiences either – and there’s no limit to how big you can grow. Everyone starts somewhere :)

          If you’d like to chat and/or join our launch, I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me through the RepX website (or sarah @ repx. net).

  3. Anonymous

    Now, that’s how you get subscribers:

    “At the end of the trial period, the membership will automatically renew and payment method will be charged on a monthly basis until auto-renewal is turned off in account settings”

    SOURCE: Apple’s press release

    • Anonymous

      Not sure if you’re trying to attack Apple or not, but that’s pretty much how every trial period for any website has worked since the internet was invented.

  4. Anonymous

    “Except, the “unsigned artist” the Apple senior VP played during the 2015 Keynote, Loren Kramar, doesn’t actually exist”

    Geez Ari, this is stupid. Even for you.

    • ThomasC

      Did you even read the article? I admit, the title is a bit sensationalist, but Ari makes valid points. Why not choose an unsigned artist who is actually working on a music career, not one who created a Twitter account this morning? Apple messed up here. Cheers to Ari for bringing this to light. Apple needs to be kept in check. All you AppleFanBoys need to check yourselves too.

      • Anonymous


        Well, I guess you were right about that part — until tonight.

        I don’t want anybody to stream my iTunes songs though, so that’s it for me.

  5. David Nyro


    Always welcome your pieces! Can’t help but wonder if undiscovered, starving artists are regarded the way the old boss at my first, small-market radio station regarded those who wanted to break into radio. He knew he could get away paying next-to-nothing because there was, in his view, a limitless, inexhaustible pool of young, hungry worker bees, only too willing to work in the glamorous radio biz for peanuts. We even had people offer to pay the radio station to get on the air!! (Sound familiar? Any parallels you can think of?) I didn’t read beyond Billy Corgan’s headline that free streaming will ‘destroy pop market beyond top 10’ … But wonder if he alludes to the same thing. There IS (and maybe always will be) an endless supply of young, starry-eyes dreamers who will try and try and try, and starve for a while and finally succumb to: ____ (fill in the blank: bills, family, reality, middle-age, drugs, entropy, suicide, quiet desperation, etc.) 1% will make it to the Drake/Coldplay level, the rest will peter out, only to be replaced by endless waves on the shore. But there is hope! Your examples of “under-the-radar” artists making a decent go of it underscores that
    Speaking of which, what a gaff by Apple! OMG!! You’re right? Despite the uneven playing field (but getting “evener”), there are, as you point out, hundreds, if not thousands, of “poster unsigned artists” Apple could have lifted up! (They coulda lifted you up, for crying out loud!) Sheesh! I guess the old-school Iovine connection says it all. Hey, not against relationships. It’s the glue. But this was an absurd example of “meet the old boss, same as the old boss!”

  6. Sam Page

    Nice Ari. Thanks for posting this. You done good.

  7. Craig

    Thanks Ari for standing up for the unsigned artists.

    • FarePlay

      No kidding. Not only didn’t it have anything to do with investing in emerging talent, like Netflix or Amazon; it was barely about music. Just another tech play with music.

      Major disappointment.

  8. AnonAnon

    Could you have possibly waited for more detail before complaining about things you dont even know? Did you ever think about how an artist could delete their social media accounts before something massive like apple blasts your song for millions, thus having people searching through your account for old things? Did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe… the whole world is not against you? Why dont you propose solutions instead of complaining about everything. Keep in mind that you still do not know the whole story. This whole article is speculation, and anger about your own personal life, and problems. Worthless Read.

  9. chris mcdermott

    none of this is surprising. Apple and sony have together ruined everything that was good about music buisness these people hail steve jobs as a genius when he actually is responsible for sucking the creativity out of one of the most important aspects of humanity. These are the rats on a sinking ship gathering up every last scrap of cheese before it goes under. If you love music, stop buying any downloads period. It’s over.

    • Whawhat

      ” If you love music, stop buying any downloads period.” uh…ok.. and buy what instead ?

  10. Amyt

    I dont think it matters how and why apple decided to select Kramar, but the fact that he’s not an established indie makes it even more cool for me. They got their point across, that you don’t have to be an established artist to start using Apple connect. Having said that, I hope Mr. Kramar focuses on building his own email list rather than followers on Apple connect and other platforms. Own your data – very important.

  11. Anonymous

    How can a government mandated royalty for radio play be the norm but not a government mandated royalty for streaming?

    • Paul Resnikoff

      You’re posing a very logical question, about a very illogical set of laws that evolved haphazardly over a period of rougly a century. That’s really the best way I can answer that.

  12. Whawha

    @Ari : I actually think it’s great that they used an artist that doesn’t exist. That way, they can’t be accused of favoritism towards any one in particular or create resentment from the smaller artists. Of course , they had big names on stage ( Drake , etc..) but that was to be expected.
    And to answer one of your questions : you are allowed link to anything from your connect page, including other shops to sell merchandise. It’s all in the FAQ in their “connect for Artists ” page.
    The only big mystery is the pay from their streaming service.

  13. George

    Ridiculous article.

    He is the epitome of an unsigned artist. The guy only just created a social presence. That says enough for me.

    I will definitely be buying his track.

    If Apple connect is to present artists like that in their platform they have already exceeded my expectations as a music lover.

    So rather than bitching about why he shouldn’t be featured why don’t you actually respect the music and the artist for what they are trying to achieve.

  14. IHateMath

    Man I’m surprised at the people defending Apple on here. It’s obvious (after Ari points out the connect between Iovine and Loren) how apple is just paying lip service. I’m sure most of us here know how shite the stream pay is for the unsigned artist. Honestly why does a signed artist deserve more? Many times the unsigned artist works harder to get things done than the one who steps in the studio, does his thing and kicks back while a team of label guys puts a song in the machine conveyor belt and pops one out. I understand how things work, and it is what it is, but if a big company is going to pretend to care about the unsigned artist, they should actually care. It’s insulting to do what they did. Same old song and dance, friend of a friend, nonsense. Good article Ari, thanks

    • Whawhat

      “I understand how things work, and it is what it is, but if a big company is going to pretend to care about the unsigned artist, they should actually care. It’s insulting to do what they did. ”
      They did what ? What do we know about the pay ? NO ONE knows anything so far. No one. It’s all speculation. The only thing i know, is that Apple pays you the same thing whether you’re Universal Records or Joe Blow Indie uploading from Tunecore : 70%
      That’s for downloads. The question now is what is the cut for streaming.
      It’s not a question of defending Apple. It’s a question of critisizing AFTER we get the info, not before.

      • whawhat

        and to continue : yes this article is just another boo-hoo , silly complaining about nothing. “Oh my god, they used an artist that doesn’t exist for promotional purposes ! They staged it ! ” Who FREAKING CARES ??? They can fake them all they want , the only thing that matters is what are they going to pay to independant artists !

        • ThomasC

          It’s actually quite telling that Apple manufactured an “unsigned artist” for this presentation instead of spending an hour finding a legitimate one. They’re out of touch. Plain and simple.

          • Whawha

            What’s more out of touch is that unsigned artists are more worried here about not being choosed by Apple to illustrate their service, ( “Pleaaaase Apple , choose me, Me !” ) than about hardcore facts like how much they will be paid and how will the streaming pie will be cut. They’re wasting time and energy on worrying and debating about the wrong things, wich is why they have been fucked so easily left and right thru centuries by all sorts of corporations and will be for centuries to come.

  15. em

    I don’t understand how a lack of social media presence = not a hard working independent artist.
    And the twitter thing seems a lot more like “oh shit they just pro-mo’ed my song i better create a twitter account”.
    I mean, he sounds like he’s a performance artist. Maybe THAT’S why you haven’t heard of him? Rather than he’s a talentless hack/media mogul shill? Maybe he’s actually doing something really specific? Like trying to wrest some control over his own image?

  16. john

    unbelievably fucking lame wow. also a pitiful presentation in general, that aside.

  17. Mike C.

    I’m with you, Ari. This is deception, Apple plucked some diddler with a once-removed connection to jimmy iovine and showcased him as the ‘obscure indie artist’. No way. Ridiculous. They made zero effort and put no thought into this. I bet it happened exactly the way you theorized.

    However, i can think of a few reasons why Apple might not randomly choose a hard-working club or theatre artist to represent indie bands. First off, that’s a lot of pressure. Or, on the other side of things, why should some arbitrarily-picked artist have that much luck, getting a huge career boost from Apple, like they just won the lottery? Im not sure how I would’ve done it, but i’ve only been thinking about it a few minutes. What Apple did was an insult to all serious indie artists out there, for sure. I’m also surprised at all the criticism for your article and the support for Apple on this one….doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Whawhat

      “Or, on the other side of things, why should some arbitrarily-picked artist have that much luck, getting a huge career boost from Apple, like they just won the lottery? ”
      Well you’ve got the anwer right there, in your question. Wich is they did the right thing here.

  18. Bill

    Loren is definitely real. He’s been working on his forthcoming album for well over two years right now. When he lived in NYC he regularly performed, there used to be some videos online but I can’t find them anymore. I’ve been waiting anxiously to hear his music for at least two years by now.

    Loren is a super hard-working perfection-driven artist whose work includes visual work, music, performance art, curatorial work and more. Loren is an amazing and weird and wildly smart and charming person.

    • Anonymous

      Bill’s right. Loren is a real artist. There have been demos floating around for a while, and he’s been in a studio for at least 2 years or more recording songs. He is definitely a real artist with a great voice, though I admit probably not the artist I would expect Apple to profile. Good for him though. As for all the other artists that COULD HAVE been featured and were not – you can say the same thing about every opportunity in this business. At the end of the day, there can only be one. The person with the best connections is (usually) that one.

  19. seth

    So then. The definition of an unsigned artist is an artist that has a Facebook page, and all the other crap that most of us hate but can’t get away from. Hate all the comments that classify, categorize, and label you. I am an unsigned artist, working on my music privately until I am ready to push it out to the world. Don’t judge if you don’t know..Get the facts then report. Something todays journalism has seriously lost. Gone are they days of verifying a story before posting it.

  20. Anonymous

    Methinks Ari doth wish ’twere Ari whom the Apple picketh. They picketh not poor Ari, hence, the Apple be sour.

  21. Steve is the only streaming site in the world that pays all artists fairly.. up to .21 per stream go check it out