Taylor Swift threatened to pull her most recent album 1989 from the new Apple music service this weekend. On her Tumblr she wrote that if Apple was going to continue forward with their plan to use music without paying artists for three months, Swift wouldn't give them 1989.
"We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation."
A mere 17 hours later, Taylor Swift had created the change she wanted. In a series of Tweets late Sunday night, Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue withdrew Apple's previous stance via Twitter claiming that they would in fact pay artists for the three month period. :
"We never looked at it as not paying them," Cue told Billboard. "We had originally negotiated these deals based on paying them a higher royalty rate on an ongoing basis to compensate for this brief time."
"I realize that Apple is working towards a goal of paid streaming. I think that is beautiful progress," Swift wrote on her Tumblr.
This is a win for Swift and a win for the music industry, but the deal should have seemed inherently wrong to begin with. The fact that executives at Apple could consider offering music for free for three months — never thinking of it as not paying artists — shows how distant companies can be from the people whose work they are using. Most artists can't just pull their songs out of Apple's service; the industry doesn't allow it.
Taylor Swift's stand for artists to get paid was an easy one, but there are far too many more battles to fight.
Taylor Swift has a lot of power in the industry, but she's not the most powerful person in music.
Think about what just happened: Apple, a tech company, had a new idea. They decided that to try this new idea they would offer up music for free — without paying the people who created the music — on the assumption that they would pay them a higher royalty rate to make up for it.
Think about how much power that is. A tech company was able to attempt to do something that potentially damages young musicians and threatens their ability to make music, and there was absolutely no one there to stop them. There are no checks and balances from a governmental system. The record labels, in theory, could have put up a fight over how much their artists were getting paid, but iTunes is one of the few places where people buy music today, and that's a really heavy risk to weigh.
Taylor Swift has clout, sure, and she certainly has the power of the press and the general public behind her when she comes out and takes a risk like this, but the system that requires superstars to be activists is inherently a broken one.
Last week the UK indie record label Beggars said in a press release that it failed "to see why rights owners and artists should bear this aspect of Apple's customer acquisition costs."
Being paid for work that you created seems like the bare minimum for any industry. Expecting a musician to wait three months to be paid is no big deal for Apple, but could seriously affect a young artist. The entire music industry is worth somewhere around $6.97 billion. Spotify is worth $8.4 billion. Pandora somewhere around $3.5 billion. Apple is valued at $741.8 billion.
Apple has been vague about just how much it's going to pay artists at all. Cue has hinted that the company would back-pay for the three months of free service, but there hasn't been a whole lot of clarity over how much money that will actually be.
According to a New York Times article, Cue said that they company's plan was to pay "at least 71.5 percent of the money it collects from sales, as opposed to the industry standard of about 70 percent." Because the music industry functions on non-disclosure agreements and has very little transparency, though, it's almost impossible to know exactly what that means. It's unclear how much more artists will make with Apple Music than they will with Spotify or Rdio or any other service.
This isn't Taylor Swift's first rodeo with music streaming battles. Almost a year ago, she wrote what would be the first of many critiques of the way the music industry functions in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, where she defended music as an art form that needs to be paid for. In November, Swift pulled all of her music from Spotify as an act of protest against how little the service pays artists.
Since the release of her fifth studio album 1989, Swift has been a force to be reckoned with in the music industry. She helped force change from Apple, one of the biggest music companies in the world, which is what indie artists have been begging for for weeks. And her reasons, as she wrote on her Tumblr, are the same as theirs:
"…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."
This is a good win for Taylor Swift, and she should celebrate today, but she — and every other artist in the industry — knows that there is so much more that needs changing. Artists need to be paid fairly for the songs that they produce and perform. Songwriters need to be paid more fairly for the work they create. Streaming services have to be held accountable for the work they are using and the art they are giving away for free.
It's impressive that Swift won this battle, but it's ridiculous that she had to fight it in the first place.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.