Free or fee?
The plans are so extensive that regulators in Europe and the U.S. are asking music business execs about Apple and its attempts to persuade labels to withdraw their content from free music-streaming services in favor of charging a fee.
Spotify would be particularly impacted by such proposals -- just 15 million of its 60 million listeners pay a fee.
Apple wants to give its soon-to-appear new streaming service a fair chance. The company has been prepping iTunes improvements and a new curated music streaming service since last year’s $3 billion acquisition of Beats.
Curation is critical to this plan.
As part of this, Apple has hired UK national radio DJ Zane Lowe, along with an extensive selection of other music industry talents. This is an exodus: UK radio industry gossips have christened the parade of industry names racing to new Cupertino offices the “Apple Crumble."
Apple has also been attempting to secure exclusive artist deals for its streaming service, offering artists more cash than they get from rivals. That’s great, given the existing streaming music industry pays peanuts to artists.
That’s the nub of things really – is it anti-competitive to help drive the creation of a sustainable industry for music distribution? Or is it necessary?
Apple’s attempt to limit free music streaming comes as major labels wake up to the existential threat to their industry these services represent. The Financial Times in March said Universal wants to change the streaming music deal, following the departure from the label of Rob Wells who championed streaming services.
Think on this.
Some claim Spotify pays artists as little as $0.00029 per play. If that’s true, then an act whose music gets streamed a million times won’t make enough cash in a year to pay the front man’s rent – let along to buy enough gas to hire a long wheel-base tour bus.
These payments make it impossible to have a career making music.
Something’s got to change.
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke took his music off Spotify in protest at this exploitation in 2013, tweeting, "Make no mistake new artists you discover on #Spotify will not get paid.”
Put the value back
I think it’s about time we put value back into music.
Putting value back into music means providing platforms from which to show the value of the art. I do hope this is why Apple is putting so much effort into creating a world-class music industry team to drive its new service.
As it stands, I see the relentless move toward the commodification of cultural content as a cutthroat and culturally destructive event.
The free services – Spotify, Google, at al -- take the money, while the creatives are driven out of business.
“I equate ‘free’ with the decline of the music business,” Sony Music CEO Doug Morris has said. "Why should anyone pay for anything if they can get it for free? In certain instances, it’s worth a discussion. But in general, free is death."
He’s right. Free services aren’t just cutthroat, they are cultural suicide. Artists -- and listeners -- need and deserve a sustainable industry capable of financing their career.
Streaming music services are not delivering this.
It remains to be seen whether Apple’s attempt will be any better.
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