Everybody is talking about Apple Music today.
There are people who are excited, people who are unimpressed and people who are actively critical of yet more “corporate” activity in music.
People who think Apple can save the music business, people who think streaming is already killing what’s left of the music business, and people who think music isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about business at all.
I have sympathies with all these viewpoints, in varying amounts.
Then there are the questions:
- Will the social features be any good ?
- Will the “curated” content be worth listening to ?
- Will people stay subscribed, after the free introductory period ?
- What will the price be outside the US ?
- How much of that money will get to the artists ?
…and many more.
I have no idea about the answers to any of these, but that last question is the really important one, from where I sit.
Through this site and my mastering work, I’m connected to a huge range of muscians – from major-label signings to students just getting started with nothing but a laptop or smartphone.
And no-one is happy about the money they’re making from music streaming.
I have no personal experience of this, but it seems clear that money is being made from streaming music, but it’s not filtering through to the artists, even some pretty big names.
And especially not to independent artists. If that’s you, I’m told you’re far better off selling your music via somewhere like Bandcamp, right now.
(Especially since they already have excellent social, curation and discovery features up and running, and have done for some time. You can even directly support your favourite indie artists – like Candy Says, whose album I mastered last year.)
But everyone seems to agree that whatever you think about Apple, it is worthwhile having your music on iTunes, from a financial perspective.
So, will the same be true of Apple Music ?
Their promotional video above would lead you to think so ! Trent Reznor looks straight into the camera and says:
There needs to be a place that… could actually accommodate and support the artists who make the music. Not just the top tier artists, but the kids in their bedrooms too… that’s what we set out to do with Apple Music
Reznor has been on a major label, and he’s been a DIY artist. If anyone Gets It, it should be him. On the other hand, he’s made bold statements that turn out not to mean what we thought they did before.
So, what does “support” in that quote above mean ?
Does it mean “pay something for streaming, but no-where near as much as if you’re on a major label” – which is how people tell me it currently works on Spotify, for example ?
Or, does it mean “pay a fair percentage, even to indie artists” ?
I really hope it’s this second one, because I want to pay for music streaming.
And when I do, I don’t want to feel like the money I pay will never actually reach the artists making the music, or that any artists it does reach will just be one of a select few.
I want to know that the money I pay directly benefits the artists I choose to listen to – just as it does if I buy a CD at a gig, or download something from Bandcamp.
And that seems to be what Apple are saying about Apple Music.
Is it ? Since so much of their brand revolves around music, and the idea that all you need is a Mac with a copy of GarageBand for the chance to be successful, I’m hopeful that this really could be the case.
If it is, that could be genuinely exciting. Because no-one will be able to make a living from streaming music as an artist until there are truly enormous numbers of people paying to subscribe for it.
Apple could achieve those numbers. Let’s hope they also distribute the proceeds fairly.
I have my fingers crossed…
Since I originally wrote this post, the plot has thickened considerably !
As you probably already know by now, lots of people were unhappy about the fact that Apple planned to pay no royalties during the free three month trial period for new users. After about a week, Taylor Swift wrote a blog post criticising Apple for this; they u-turned with remarkable speed to say that they had listened to her and would pay royalties after all, and today the new news is that these royalties will be much lower than the normal rate.
The media and online reactions to all this have been strong and varied – everything from lauding Taylor as the saviour of the music industry, to cynicism and conspiracy theories that the whole thing was a PR stunt to raise awareness of the Apple Music launch.
My opinion ?
Right now, I still see all of this as a huge distraction from the really important issue – the reason I wrote this post.
It seems certain that whatever the final result of the “free trial period” controversy, Apple’s streaming model will be heavily skewed in favour of the major record labels, and independent artists will lose out in comparison. It can’t be otherwise really, since the majors account for so many big-name artists, and won’t want to let go of their grip on the industry.
It’s hard to see how to fix this, but here’s something that seems like a good idea to me:
What chance do I think there is that anything like this will become a reality on Apple Music ?
Next to none, sadly…
So for now and the foreseeable future, I’ll still be recommending Bandcamp to my independent clients !