Apple Music to pay royalties during free trial: 'We hear you Taylor Swift'

Eddy Cue reveals independent label protests were also a factor in company’s streaming U-turn, a week ahead of Apple Music launch

Apple will pay royalties to music labels and publishers during the three-month free trial of its Apple Music streaming service, the company has confirmed, after protests from independent labels and musician Taylor Swift.

Swift appears to have been the tipping point in the row that had been rumbling all week, after she published a blog post – To Apple, Love Taylor – calling on Apple to abandon its plans for no payouts during the trial period.

Apple’s senior vice president for internet software and services Eddy Cue responded directly to the star on Twitter in announcing the company’s u-turn.

“Apple will always make sure that artist are paid,” tweeted Cue. “#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period. We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.”

Cue told BuzzFeed that Apple will pay a “per-stream” royalty during the trial, revealing that he had already called Swift to tell her about the change of plans.

“Taylor Swift’s tweet today solidified the issue for us, we decided to make a change,” he told BuzzFeed’s John Paczkowski, while confirming that Swift hasn’t yet agreed a deal to put her music on Apple Music.

Apple Music is the company’s long-anticipated rival to streaming services like Spotify, and is due to launch in more than 100 countries at the end of June.

Although a monthly subscription will cost $9.99, or $14.99 for a family of up to six people, Apple is making its new service free for three months so that people can try it out. After striking licensing deals with major labels, the company had planned to only start paying royalties after the trial period.

Independent label trade bodies in the US, UK, Germany, France and Australia spoke out against these plans in recent days, claiming that their members would be most at risk from any three-month blip in earnings if a large number of people buying music downloads from Apple’s iTunes store switched to the free trial.

“We struggle to see why rights owners and artists should bear this aspect of Apple’s customer acquisition costs,” claimed indie label group Beggars Group in a statement published on its website.

“As a whole the independent sector is a powerful voice in the music industry but its individual parts , the smaller labels particularly, cannot withstand such a potentially catastrophic drop in revenue,” added British indie trade body AIM in a statement sent out to its members.

Rapper Drake helps launch the streaming service in early June. Link to video

Swift’s blog post on Sunday made even more headlines, however. “I’m sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service,” she wrote.

“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.”

Swift cited the plans as one reason she would not be making her last album, 1989, available to stream on Apple Music, although she had not announced whether she would be withholding her entire back catalogue from the service as she has from Spotify.

Swift has become one of the most vocal musicians in the ongoing debate about how well (or poorly) streaming pays off for artists and songwriters, having taken Spotify to task in 2014 for the free tier of its service.

“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,” she said then. “And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”

Swift took to twitter to celebrate Apple’s change of heart:

I am elated and relieved. Thank you for your words of support today. They listened to us.

— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) June 22, 2015

Swift’s stand against Apple also prompted support from other musicians. Billy Bragg, who has been vocal in his criticism about the levels of remuneration artists receive from streaming, described Apple’s decision as a “very positive step”.

Speaking to the Guardian, Bragg said: “The point that Taylor is making is that music has value. It is a very important argument to make, so I am very supportive of the stance. The key thing here is it illustrates the ability and power of the artist to make a stand and think about the rights of the creator rather than the rights of the record labels or the streaming services.”

“I’m not big or influential enough to exert any power over something as big as Apple but Taylor Swift is, so consequently her stance is really important. I think it shows that if more powerful artists took a similar stance, we could see a real change.”

Bragg acknowledged that it was “not always an easy thing for artists to do”. He pointed out that music rights often belonged to record labels, not the musicians themselves, which took the power of negotiation out of artist’s hands. Swift, however, is on a smaller indie label and is therefore able to exert more creative control over how and where her music can be accessed.

“Very few artists of Taylor’s stature have the power to do this, and I think the fact she is on an indie label makes a major difference here,” said Bragg.

“It shows more than ever the importance of artists keeping hold of their rights so they are in a position to negotiate with streaming services and I think the future for artists is to be able to exert greater control over these kinds of deals.”


Stuart Dredge and Hannah Ellis-Petersen

The GuardianTramp

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