By Alex Sambrook
When country-bumpkin turned pop superstar Taylor Swift launched perhaps the politest attack ever against Apple on Sunday (21 June), it came as absolutely no surprise that the internet went into meltdown. The vigilante songstress explained that by not paying artists royalties during the first three months of their new streaming service, Apple were effectively stealing a quarter of a year’s wage from musicians, producers and songwriters alike.
In an open letter posted on her Tumblr page, the 25-year-old argued that although the policy would barely leave a dent in her own pocket, its consequences could prove to be extremely damaging to lesser-known and independent artists. Naturally, the letter had its detractors who accused Swift of being greedy, but lo and behold, mere hours after it was posted Apple’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, announced that the policy had been changed via a tweet that read: ‘We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love Apple’.
The speedy U-turn by the tech giants was ingenious damage mitigation rather than a change of heart, but the whole scenario is a wonderful example of how the influence of mega-celebrities can manifest itself in such a positive way. Prior to Swift’s letter, Apple quite clearly didn’t understand the time and effort that goes into writing, creating and producing music, regardless of how popular or well-regarded the artist may be.
So why aren’t more successful artists using their positions of relative power to stand up for the rights of those at the opposite end of the spectrum? It’s upsetting to see the art of independent musicians, who are no less talented than their chart-topping counterparts, fade and die out purely because their product isn’t as commercially viable. The elite artists at the very top of the industry have the power to bring companies to their knees, and this is why the influence of Swift’s condemnation of Apple cannot be stressed enough.
For weeks independent record labels have been vocal in denouncing Apple’s policy without eliciting a response from the tech giants. Many have advised their members to think again before allowing their music to be played on the service which comes as no surprise in an industry where hardworking, independent artists are increasingly devalued.
And although the Bad Blood singer’s career trajectory is a far cry from the careers and lives of those who would have been affected by the policy, her words will resonate with the countless thousands of artists who, thanks to dwindling record sales and the prevalence of Spotify, are often left to fend for themselves in a cut-throat industry.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that Apple were aware of the damage they could cause by refusing to pay artists during the trial period; it’s more likely that a company of their wealth were just ignorant of the challenges faced by independent musicians.
In fact, aside from the initial qualms, the service has been generally welcomed with open arms by the music industry after Apple announced that 73% of the revenue generated from subscriptions would go to the music owners. Obviously only time will tell if they really are the new good guys of music streaming, but thanks to Swift’s letter and their speedy response the odds are a little more in their favour.