Taylor Swift appears to be fairly slight, but she is actually a heavyweight when it comes to dealing with music streaming services. About a week before its June 30th launch, the singer turned Apple Music upside-down in a 24-hour period over the weekend, telling the world via an open letter (titled “To Apple, Love Taylor”) published on her Tumblr that she was threatening to break up—and would keep her 1989 album off the service if it didn’t pay her during its three-month trial for consumers.
To Apple, Love Taylor http://t.co/GN9jiRkqlj
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) June 21, 2015
While Apple Music told consumers that the first three months of usage of its new service launching June 30th would be free, Swift argued that the same deal shouldn’t apply to the artists providing the content for it: “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”
Apple quickly changed its tune on Sunday evening, telling Swift (and her millions of followers) via the Twitter account of Apple bigwig Eddy Cue, “#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period,” Cue tweeted, adding that “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.”
Cue confirmed to Re/code that he contacted Swift directly in addition to the tweets. “I did reach out to Taylor today, and talked to her, and let her know that we heard her concerns, and wanted her to know that we were making changes,” he said. “She was thrilled to hear from us and that we were making the change, and we were grateful for that.”
Swift, for her part, followed up on Twitter that she was “elated and relieved” the situation had been resolved:
I am elated and relieved. Thank you for your words of support today. They listened to us.
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) June 22, 2015
AP tech biz reporter Brandon Bailey also tweeted that Cue confirmed it took Swift action, so to speak, to make the world’s most valuable brand realize it needed to change its tune.
— BrandonBailey (@BrandonBailey) June 22, 2015
The showdown gained Apple some love from Swift but gained Swift a ton more love from her fans and fellow musicians across the globe, with the young performer winning this round on behalf of her fellow musicians. It is not as if Swift needs the money or distribution, which is what has allowed to make such threats and follow through with them on rival streaming service Spotify. But in using her clout as one of the world’s biggest performers, she took a stand against a powerhouse brand and shook up the music industry on behalf of her peers.
Indeed, Swift noted in her open letter that she wasn’t speaking out to benefit her own bank account (though of course it won’t be hurt by the move), but for other performers that would be affected by Apple’s stinginess but might be afraid to say anything.
So what does this say about Swift’s brand that she took on the world’s most valuable brand and won? It certainly shows that content is king in Apple’s new world order, and that the social media-savvy Swift is queen. It also speaks well to Apple that it realized it had to be flexible and change its business model or it would win the battle with artists but lose the wars.
The showdown sees Swift assume the mantle of streaming music advocate on behalf of artists — and recalls how she refused to capitulate to Spotify, which saw Swift pull her whole catalog last November and is still locked in a fierce competition with Apple Music.
Swift won’t get any argument on her Apple-shaming move from another Taylor: folk rock great James Taylor, who is promoting his first album of new songs out in 13 years. He commented to Billboard that he believes artists should receive 50 percent of the profits from streaming music services.
“If someone’s going to be making money off of my recorded music, I think that I should be getting half of that money that they’re making because I’m the one who generated the product,” the 67-year-old opined. “What I’d like to see about Spotify is how much money is the company making relative to what the artist is making? For every dollar they take in, they should be giving 50 cents to the people who actually recorded the music.”
As for Apple Music, the public showdown with Taylor Swift comes as it’s still solidifying its foothold in the streaming music world and with musicians—and it doesn’t need to be Swiftboated, or a boatload of bad publicity could make things more difficult in an already crowded market.