Apple has listened to the artists and agreed to cough up cash for music streamed during the three-month trial of the iTunes Music service, a big change from its original attempt to stream it free.
While news media seems to think the about-face is solely the work of Taylor Swift, the truth (not that anyone looks for facts when publishing a news story these days) is that it reflects opinion from across the independent music industry.
The indies aren’t greedy – money is scarce and they are far more exposed than major labels. Majors are spokes within much larger corporations with a huge host of diverse income. Indies are often music enthusiasts that love the music they release and only offer a small roster of acts. These shoestring operations work on good faith, trust and equal shares of any cash.
And equal shares of risk.
When it comes to risk, Apple was asking artists/labels to allow it to stream their music for free during the three-month trial period in which it wants to build its business. That’s not a shared risk, as it means the artists need to subsidize the corporation.
The reason Apple was able to reach a deal with majors to achieve this is because those majors can afford to subsidize free streaming of music by their artists. Indies can’t – and majors know this (and probably hoped to capitalize upon it, perhaps by poaching some of the more successful indie acts as their label’s went to the wall following three months of lost income).
Then there’s the release window: Typically, indie artists release a piece of music and must try to sell as much as they can within around six weeks, after which sales stall. Apple’s three-month free music streaming idea would annihilate these small incomes.
As Beggars Group put it last week: “We have recently been in discussions with Apple Music about proposed terms for their new service. In many ways the deal structure is very progressive, but unfortunately it was created without reference to us, or as far as we know any independents, and as such unsurprisingly presents problems for us, and for our coming artist releases…. Whilst we understand the logic of their proposal and their aim to introduce a subscription-only service, we struggle to see why rights owners and artists should bear this aspect of Apple’s customer acquisition costs.”
The income indie artists make isn’t small because they don’t have fans, but because they appeal to a smaller market; this doesn’t mean their music lacks value. How boring would the music world be if all we listened to were tracks by The Beatles and Taylor Swift? If the musical life of the globe were dictated by number one tracks and X Factor?
We need the hits but we also need the likes of Allo Darlin’, Lola Colt and Marianne Dissard. Mass-market music has its place, but like mass-market fast food probably isn’t good for you in the long run. People want more musical diversity than you’ll get from the majors. Last time I checked, indie labels were responsible for around 30 percent of total music sales.
However, with a shorter sales cycle for their music and a smaller fanbase to reach, it would never be possible for indies to subsidize Apple Music’s trial period.
Get back to the garage
I was ever so surprised Apple didn’t get this when it announced Apple Music. I’m certain Mr Iovine understood it – he knows the industry. I’d encourage both to be a lot less corporate if they truly hope to build a mechanism to preserve the future of music, because the music industry needs its independents to be worth saving.
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