No. 25

July 01, 2015

Apple turned the digital music marketplace on its head when it launched the iTunes Store in 2003, and now itís going after the current hottest trend in streaming media. Apple introduced its new service, Apple Music, during the annual Worldwide Developerís Conference, bringing out record exec and Beats cofounder Jimmy Iovine, Appleís senior vice president of Internet Software Eddy Cue, and hip hop star Drake, to show the world how Apple Music plans to compete with the likes of Spotify, Rdio, and Tidal. The Apple Music Service was launched on June 30, 2015.

Apple Music combines subscription-based music streaming with global radio-like programming and a social feature that connects artists to fans. Itís bundled within iOS 8.4 and iTunes 12.2. The service will come pre-installed on all iOS and OS X devices, but users will be able to stream music instead of purchase music. Itís an all-you-can-eat service for subscribers: Pay a flat fee, and you unlock all of Apple Musicís extensive 30 million-song library. Apple Music is also the new home for your personal music collection on your iOS devices. it is unlike Apple iTunes, which is about purchasing and owning music, stored in a digital library. Apple Music is all about streaming music. You pay a flat fee to unlock access to Apple Musicís entire catalogue, but you donít actually own the music you listen to. The files donít live individually on your devices; youíre instead just listening to tracks stored remotely, that are owned by Apple. If you subscribe to any other media streaming subscription serviceóbe it a music-only service like Spotify, Beats Music, Tidal, or Rdio, a TV service like Hulu, or a movie/TV combo service like Netflix or HBO NowóApple Music functions the same way.

Apple Music costs $9.99 per month, or $14.99 per month for a family subscription for up to six people (which requires iCloud Family Sharing). You can try a three-month free trial before your credit card is charged. Sadly, there is no free ad-supported service. Some aspects will be available to anyone who logs in with an Apple IDónamely, Beats 1, the ability to follow artists on Connect, and the ability to listen to Apple Music radio stations with a limited number of skipsóbut a paid subscription is required to access Apple Musicís entire library. Apple Music is available for all iPhones, iPads, and iPod touch models that are running iOS 8.4. Itís also available on the Mac and PC via iTunes 12.2. It will be coming to the Apple TV and Android phones this fall. It also pairs with the Apple Watch. Eventually Apple Music will be the replacement for Beats and iTunes which will be phased out.

Apple Music came under fire from artist Taylor Swift who expressed her concerns in an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook for its decision not to pay artists during an initial three-month free trial of Apple Music. Swift wrote "Iím sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. Iím 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 was praised by many for supporting artists rights in bringing this issue to the forefront. The talking points were similar to those raised by Lars Ulrich of Metallica 15 years ago in his dispute with Napster, a move which gained Ulrich disfavor with music fans. Ulrich and the rest of Metallica were mocked on South Park, portrayed as money-hungry morons in a popular video by and bashed by fans for attacking their fandom.

Swift's concerns over Apple Music probably won't be more than a minor footnote in her career. Ther are some differences between her talikin points and those of Ulrich in his Napster crusade. Swift never asked for Apple Music to be shut down in her Tumblr post -- she wanted one aspect, the three-month free trial, to be tweaked in favor of artists' rights. Unlike Ulrich, who wanted to destroy the fundamental tenets of a popular website, Swift approached the situation by acknowledging that Apple "has been and will continue to be one of my best partners in selling music and creating ways for me to connect with my fans" in the second sentence of her open letter. In the title To Apple, Love Taylor, the third word is the most crucial. Apple is a multi-billion-dollar tech giant with millions of fans and a long history of working closely with musical artists. Although Swift wrote her open letter from a place of disappointment, the post was also a means of engaging with a crowd-pleasing juggernaut -- one which quickly reversed course, conceded that they would eat the cost of the 90-day free trial period and made everyone happy. Compare Swift's battle with Apple, which no one believes will go out of business by fronting its new streaming service's three-month free trial, with Ulrich's attempt to wipe out Napster, a much smaller company which had given (mostly young) music fans a radical new technology for free. When Metallica struck out against Napster, they didn't understand how many users viewed the file-sharing service not as a booming enterprise, but as a new voice of the people.

Swift's standoff against Apple Music amounted to seven carefully worded paragraphs, and was settled in less than 24 hours. Even if Apple Music hadn't acquiesced to Swift's demands, her clash with the streaming service was unlikely to be a news story for an extended period of time, just as last year's decision to remove all of her music from Spotify due to her concerns over the "freemium" model has not distracted Swift from scoring more hits and playing another stadium tour. In contrast, Metallica was embroiled in a months-long legal battle with Napster (who relished the publicity from the high-profile skirmish), in the middle of a six-year break between 1997's Reload album and 2003's St. Anger. Even the Metallica fans who agreed with their anti-Napster stance grew tired of seeing Ulrich behind a courtroom podium and not behind a drum kit.

In both her Spotify explanation and in her Apple Music post, Swift underlined that she was simply acting as a representative for her network of non-superstar musician friends, who all felt the same way: "These are the echoed sentiments of evert artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much," she wrote on Sunday. Swift had the backs of the creative community at large, and trusted her fans to understand that, while it's frustrating to still not have 1989 on Spotify, she was fighting for the greater good of an industry that has seismically shrunk over the past decade and a half. Ulrich likewise attempted to remove Metallica from the negative impacts of piracy, focusing his testimony on the little guys: "Every time a Napster enthusiast downloads a song, it takes money from the pockets of all these members of the creative community," he said. Part of the problem was the timing of the sentiment: the music industry was still booming in 2000, and Ulrich's critics didn't understand why he was fighting for other artists who were probably rich anyway. The big mistake Metallica made, however, was delivering to court the names of more than 300,000 Napster users who had pirated the band's music and asking that these users be removed from the site. Ulrich tried to explain the decision -- "This is not about Metallica and its fans; this is about Metallica and Napster," he said -- but too many supporters had already been alienated. The move was perceived as an attack against Metallica fans instead of an inclusive explanation, and in response, Ulrich and co. were roasted.

Swift and Ulrich were both rich and famous when they waged their respective wars, but one of them was perceived as impassioned, and the other seen as smug. Swift has always cast herself as an outsider, she was on the bleachers longingly watching the cheer captain when she won the album of the year Grammy -- and her Apple Music conflict was presented not as "the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child," but as a humble thesis posted on an online medium popularized by teens. Swift is the Everywoman standing up for a common goal; in 2000, Ulrich was the 36-year-old rock star making his convoluted case on Charlie Rose instead of speaking directly to his fans. The Metallica drummer wasn't wrong, but he was perceived as fighting a new way to access music from a place of greed. Ulrich discounted how his Napster war would make him look, while Swift leapt into the fray the right way, and is now a hero

The result of Swiftís letter is that when Apple Music service launches, it will have the richest library of available songs for potential subscribers to check out. Given Appleís customer base, it could become the most successful streaming music service almost overnight. More artists who resisted putting their music on Apple Music are now changing their tune, thanks in part to Swift. Had Apple refused to concede in paying royalties to artists during its free 90 day trial, Swift would have refused to have her music catalog included as part of Apples streaming content.

Lets look at some of the aspects of this controversy that haven't been mentioned. Apple was quick to concede to Swifts demands because of the volume of fans following her. For Apple, it had less to do with doing whats right and paying artists fairly, then Apple wanting Swift's fans as their subscribers. While Swift is praised for her support of lesser artists, in reality this move does little for the lesser artists. As with all the major streaming services, the problem is this. These streaming services are concerned about shagging new subscribers, so there efforts in giving promotion and advertising are geared strictly to major artists with large fan bases. For the lesser artists they have little concern, offer little to no promotion or advertising, and these artists are lost in a catalog among thousands of other artists. While Swift will get free advertising and promotion from Apple so they can gain subscriptions from her fans, lesser artists have to spend money and time promoting their works on these streaming services to be discovered. With the extra cost of these expenses, the little bit of revenue these streaming services pay out to artists makes it almost unfeasable for lesser artists. Not to mention that it is Apple and the other major streaming services who stand to make the big money from this. They are the ones who gain the subscribers, retain the customer base, and get repeat business for payouts on streaming music that are much less than the payouts on physical media such as compact discs. Artists are getting paid on average 15 cents or less per song for streaming media compared to 50 cents of more for digital downloads. No matter what the conclusion, it still remains a problem that these streaming services are geting rich by using artists to build their customer bases. At this point who's to say what is fair and how this should be resolved. Lesser artists would be better off promoting, advertising, and selling music from their own streaming servers and digital download websites.

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