Apple Music, indie labels strike a deal in somewhat Swift turnaround

What do you know — Apple Music is in the news again. The latest: Apple has struck a deal with indie groups who just last week were complaining about the company’s plan not to pay royalties during its service’s free three-month trial period.

Apple changed its mind after pop star Taylor Swift spoke up against the company’s plan in an open letter, prompting exec Eddy Cue to tweet: “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.” Now Billboard reports that the indie groups — which represent thousands of artists — have gotten on board with the company’s streaming-music service, which is set to make its debut June 30.

Apple, which upended the music industry when it introduced iTunes and the iPod about 15 years ago, has some catching up to do in streaming music. Spotify, the dominant service in the space, said last month it has 70 million active users. Google has its own streaming-subscription service, Google Play Music. Pandora provides streaming radio.

My colleague Troy Wolverton recently pointed out that Apple won’t be offering a free tier except during the three-month trial period, something that puts it at a disadvantage against Spotify, which has an ad-supported free tier. (Taylor Swift, by the way, isn’t a fan. She pulled her entire catalog from Spotify last year.) Also, Google Play Music this week announced that it is adding a free option, also ad-supported, to its offering. But Troy also listed the things Apple has going for it: Because of iTunes, it has a bigger music catalog than Spotify. Apple Music will also be offering live streaming radio hosted by human DJs.

Apple Music will also have exclusive songs, with a track by Pharrell reportedly set to launch with the service. And the developments this week, which at first seemed like a PR disaster for Apple, show that the company can listen to artists and offer them what seem to be fair deals.

“We think Apple Music provides artists with a business model that’s good for the long term,” Merlin, a digital-rights organization, said in a letter to its members after Apple’s turnaround, according to Billboard. Billboard notes that before Swift’s open letter and Apple’s U-turn, Apple had been “staring down a full-scale revolt from indie labels not affiliated with the majors and major-owned distributors.”

 

Photo: Apple CEO Tim Cook hugs Jimmy Iovine, the Beats co-founder who appeared on stage to help introduce Apple Music at the Worldwide Developers Conference June 8, 2015, at the Moscone West convention center in San Francisco. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

 

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