In Brief: Taylor Swift Kicks Apple In The Nuggets, Is Proclaimed Savior Of Music By All [UPDATED]

There was only one story to cross my desk this week that interested me, so instead of my usual weekly roundup, I'll briefly opine on the issue everyone's talking about: Taylor Swift actually forcing Apple to change its policy.

As everyone knows, Apple has a new streaming music service coming out called Apple Music that is designed to be a Spotify/Tidal/Rdio/Pandora killer. In order to entice consumers, everyone who signs up will get the first 3 months free of charge. But since Apple will receive no compensation during this time, neither will any of the artists whose music you stream.

"That dog won't hunt," said Swift, probably. So she wrote an open letter to Apple stating her disappointment with them and proclaiming that she would withhold her latest album 1989 from the service until they reversed course.

"Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing," she said, channeling all the artists. "This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs."

She closed by zinging Apple. "We don't ask you for free iPhones. Please don't ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation." Oooh, sick burn! In less than a day, Apple responded, saying she was right and that they would pay all artists during the trial phase. 

It's awesome that Swift stood up for the little guy (I believe her when she says she's not doing this to enrich herself). It's also awesome that Apple changed its tune (heheh) so quickly. Ever since streaming overtook digital downloads and physical CDs as the consumption model du-jour, artists are making less through sales and more through touring to make up that lost income. Someone like Swift may not feel the pinch, but you can bet the no-name up-and-comers are.

In fact, no matter how much we might want Apple to do the right thing (and they do the right thing more often than not), only someone with Swift's clout could make this happen. Getting a behemoth like Apple to change its policy so quickly and publicly, especially when it means it's going to shoulder the financial burden alone, takes a lot of muscle. No one should expect any company - even Apple - to act altruistically when millions are on the line. That's not our world. A company's sole raison d-etre is to make money, not make the world a nicer place. You'd kind of think that Tim Cook would have caught this, but when you have shareholders to appease, I guess you have to let the market make these decisions for you.

So the fact that Swift recognized the power she wielded and stood up to wield it speaks volumes for her character. It also goes to show how well she's leveraged her public image. Only someone with as many fans as her (accrued through many dedicated years of being good to them) could have pulled this off. For all you aspiring politicians, that's how you use a bully pulpit. That's how you amass real power.

So in short, I'm glad it worked out this way, and I'm glad the smaller artists won't have to suffer even more. Every so often the mob gets it right and elevates someone worthy to be their champion. These days it's Taylor Swift, and I'm glad she's on our side.

UPDATE: After reading around a bit more, it appears that two important updates are necessary to complete the picture. First, according to re/code, Apple would have paid artists and labels a slightly higher percentage AFTER the three months ended in order to accommodate the lengthy trial period. While that's nice, it's unclear if that increase would filter down to the artists or stop at the labels. And even if the artists did see a larger cut after three months, well it doesn't do me any good to know I'll get paid in three months when I have rent to pay now.

Second, there's some chatter that Swift's letter wasn't the only sticking point; record labels in the UK also balked at the terms and publicly decried Apple's gambit. Some people think this might be the real reason Apple reversed course... that Swift's letter was just a smokescreen, or even a publicity stunt made with Apple's consent. Let me be perfectly blunt: that is horseshit of the highest order and anyone who peddles that garbage is either deliberately obfuscating or a total moron. Apple is a huge company. It is not scared of record labels. It is not scared of telecoms. It is not scared of tough negotiations. Do you know what Apple (and indeed all giant companies) is scared of? Taylor Swift. Do you know why? Because she has legions of fans who buy iPhones and who will turn their back on them if she commands them to. Real power is being able to singlehandedly affect your bottom line. The fact that Apple changed course ON THE VERY DAY Swift published her open letter on her blog is all the evidence you need to know that her public denouncement was the only factor they considered before changing course. 

Greg Kanaan

The [Legal] Artist, Boston, MA, USA