The Price of Free? Artists Respond to Apple Musicon June 18, 2015 at 2:30 pm
Within days of last week’s Apple Music unveiling, the media focus was on streaming services and how the new entrant would stack up against the likes of Spotify.
For artists, however, the question marks hovered more over the service’s free three-month trial. After all, if the customers aren’t paying during that time, who will compensate the artists whose music they play?
It turns out that the answer is a simple “nobody will pay,” as Apple’s leaked take it or leave it contract to artists made clear.
Although we’re only talking about a few months – which is extended, though not unusual in the world of trial software – it has serious repercussions for musicians who have release scheduled during the second half of the year. The heaviest play occurs in this early period after release, so not getting paid is simply not an option unless they are compensated in some other way. For major label artists this could be a part of a wider marketing strategy, but for independent labels and artists it is not income they can simply waive.
As a result, the artistic reaction to Apple Music has been at best mixed, at worst downright hostile.
Despite having prominent musicians like Drake, The Weeknd, and Trent Reznor on board to plug the new service, those not inducted to Apple’s inner circle are having a tough time swallowing the extended trial. It benefits Apple significantly to have users kick the wheels of its new streaming service, yet all the costs are pushed on to the artist. Many musicians now find themselves between a rock and a hard place, not wanting to miss the boat on a potentially popular music platform but unable to stomach
Many musicians now find themselves between a rock and a hard place, not wanting to miss the boat on a potentially popular music platform but unable to stomach the excessive, some would say arrogant request from Apple to build its platform on the backs of musicians without paying them for the privilege. Unsurprisingly, some major names are opting out.
This week a raft of independent labels hinted that their artists will not be on Apple Music at launch, a direct result of the unpalatable free trial conditions. Elsewhere, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, a popular figure on the indie music circuit, has sided firmly with competing service Spotify, saying of Apple that “the company that made me believe in companies is no more.”
As for the middle ground, even some superstars are avoiding Apple’s platform with their most recent albums, notably Taylor Swift, who will have older albums on Apple Music but has not allowed her latest release, the hugely successful 1989, on to the service. Compared to her stance on Spotify, where none of the singer’s albums are available, that still counts as something of a win for Apple.
By contrast, artists seem to have adopted a grudging acceptance of Spotify’s free tier.
As the ever on-point Trichordist blog reports, the hypocrisy of supporting one free offering over another points to more of a streaming turf war than an ideological stand against giving music away as some form of loss leader to drive subscriptions. Even though Spotify’s take on free does involve paying artists, primarily through revenue generated by ads served to free tier listeners, it is still a negligible amount compared to spins from paying subscribers. From an artist’s perspective, all of these free uses of their songs can be seen as the continuing devaluation of music, which has never truly recovered from the digital piracy explosion that Napster ushered in.
Taking the 30,000-foot view, the introduction of Apple Music marks an intriguing evolution of the streaming music marketplace. Without any truly remarkable service development Apple has still managed to cause a stir. It’s one that not all artists are on board with but which hopefully, in the long term, will yield more subscribers paying for streaming music and a bigger pot from which to pay musicians at every level.