Culture

Taylor Swift: 1, Apple: 0

CREDIT: John Davisson/Invision/AP

A new day, a new victory for the most powerful human being in the music industry: Taylor Swift.

Sunday morning, Swift wrote an open letter to Apple on her Tumblr, simultaneously expressing her admiration for the work Apple has historically done to ensure artists get paid for their music and condemning the fact that Apple Music will not pay royalties for any music streamed during the three-month free trial period for listeners. “I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.”

“We don’t ask you for free iPhones,” she wrote. “Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

It’s sort of like when your parents tell you “We’re not mad, we’re just disappointed,” because they know it’ll make you feel even worse about whatever bad thing you did.

Less than 24 hours later, Apple capitulated to Swift’s demands: Eddy Cue, the Apple executive overseeing iTunes and Apple Music, tweeted his assurances that artists would be paid during the three-month free trial and tipped his hat to Swift for changing his mind:


Swift, ever the generous overlord:


Cue told the New York Times that Swift’s letter “really solidified that we need to make a change,” and that he had spoken with Swift on Sunday. “I did let her know that we heard her concerns and made the change.”

No word yet on whether that means 1989 will be available on Apple Music at launch. As of last week, Big Machine was telling press that only Swift’s back catalog would be streaming on the service. 1989, which has sold almost 5 million copies, has yet to be released to any on-demand streaming services.

As Swift pointed out, for her this is a matter of principle: she can support her entire operation with live shows. But independent artists, some of whom had already protested Apple Music’s terms to no avail, can’t afford to go three months without taking home a paycheck. Besides, supporting artists and fighting freemium models is on #brand for Swift, who famously wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed last summer declaring that “It’s my opinion that music should not be free” and pulled her entire back catalog from Spotify last fall on the eve of the release of 1989.

What’s really surprising isn’t that Swift, the most powerful pop star in the business, has the muscle to make Apple bend to her considerable will, but that Apple, usually quite the savvy corporation, would make this misstep in the first place. Apple Music has been in the works for months; none of these deals between Apple and the major record companies (Universal, Sony, et. al.) were arrived at lightly. If Swift is their marquee artist — and, without a doubt, she is — and has, thus far, been their most defiant, unwavering advocate, why wouldn’t they have negotiated a deal to her liking in the first place?

Instead of having Swift as a partner in the presentation of Apple Music, and basking in the glowing press that would have resulted from Swift pledging her allegiance to Apple yet again, Apple spent Sunday doing damage control.

Apple Music, after the three month free trial, will cost $10 a month per user for an on-demand subscription streaming service. Robert Kondrk, the Apple executive responsible for negotiating these deals alongside Cue, told Re/code last week that, in the United States, exactly 71.5 percent of that haul will be passed along to record companies and music publishers. (Abroad, that number will be around 73 percent.) Note: Apple doesn’t determine how much artists actually take home at the end of the day, as that pay is dictated by the terms individual artists have with their labels and publishers.

Until last night, Apple wasn’t planning to pay music owners anything at all for music that was streaming during the three-month trial. At the time, Kondrk claimed that Apple payouts are a few percentage points higher than the industry standard — which is 70 percent — which made up for the quarter without revenue.

Apple Music launches on June 30.