Did Taylor Swift really defeat Apple on her own?

02 July 2015


The Shake It Off star may have delivered the final blow to Apple’s planned payment schedule for musicians, but independent music labels helped pave the way for the music star’s triumph.

Lance Phillips

So it came to pass that Taylor Swift, summoning all her Boadecian fury, brought down Apple. Or at least made it change its mind. Reported as a triumph for the major artist standing up for the unsigned hopeful, there is no doubt Swift acted from the heart but, as is ever the case, that's not the whole story.

To recap, Apple sought to include in its licence deals with music labels the ability to provide customers with a three-month free trial period, during which time neither the labels nor their artists would receive royalties from the streaming of their recordings.

Apple’s argument was that what the artists lost in hard cash they gained in the promotional premium of having their music available on the world’s leading digital music platform, conveniently ignoring rival Spotify.

The independent music sector immediately saw this for what it really was: artists subsidising Apple Music’s set-up costs. Objections were raised, licences went unsigned, a lot of content remained locked away and negotiations began. This measured response from the Indies was proactive and impressive.

Now the Indies may lack the financial power of the majors, but collectively they are not without influence or artistic clout. They therefore garnered some respect from Apple, who would be keen to avoid repeating the continuing struggle that is facing Jay Z’s Tidal alternative.

Then came Swift’s intervention, which was timely for all parties, but in effect did little more than accelerate the about face Apple was about to execute. After all, it's one thing not to have Adele's next album on your service, quite another not to have Taylor Swift's, especially when announced in such a public manner.

Still, Ms Swift’s action has received impressive column inches and not just from the music press. One recent article entitled Seven Ways Taylor Swift Has Shown Management Steel has used the Apple standoff to analyse her “tough management style and strong business acumen, which is unlikely to have been drawn purely from a backroom team of advisors”.

Unquestionably, Taylor Swift is a remarkable woman whose success, whether artistic or financial, has rightly given her great presence in the music industry. And I also have no doubt that she is genuinely sincere in standing up for all artists. But what's she’s really adept at is managing Brand Taylor - thus far she and Team Swift have scarcely put a foot wrong, and the Apple stand-off is symptomatic of that.

And what of Apple in all this? As far as it is concerned, everyone’s a winner.

Apple concedes a position that, while it will be missed, it can probably live without - especially if it means having Swift’s next album, which it now has. It also steals a healthy amount of good PR for itself, to remind us all that it sits at the cool, groovy, artist-friendly end of the multi-billion dollar corporation spectrum after all.

The Indie’s have the satisfaction of knowing they did a good job for their artists, and even though they won’t get the credit for it, they have applied a little disruption of their own to the music landscape and have done their reputation no harm.

And Swift gets the plaudits and the PR for fighting the good fight on behalf of struggling artists everywhere.

So before we all start jumping on the Swift bandwagon and join in the fanfare, remember the lesser-known names who put in the hard graft before Team Swift came in with the final blow.

Lance Phillips is a lawyer and partner in Sheridans’ Music, Tech and Digital Media departments. The views expressed here are very much his own.

Image of Taylor Swift in selfie mob courtesy of Featureflash / Shutterstock.

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