You never want to be publicly shamed by Taylor Swift. Apple learned this the hard way Sunday when the pop superstar tweeted a Tumblr post titled “To Apple, Love Taylor” to her 59 million followers. Swift harshly chastised the company for its plan to not compensate artists during a three-month free trial for its new streaming service, Apple Music.
Swift acknowledged that while she doesn’t need the money, there are plenty of struggling artists who do. “We don’t ask you for free iPhones,” she wrote, adding she would not make her quadruple-platinum album “1989” available on the platform. “Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”
As of Sunday night, Apple’s plans miraculously changed. After taking Swift’s post into account, Apple executive Eddy Cue tweeted that artists will indeed be compensated when the service launches next week: “#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period.” He said that Swift’s letter really got him thinking, and he personally called Swift to deliver the news.
The whole incident was pretty remarkable, and also reminiscent of the Spotify debacle. Last fall, Swift announced quite suddenly that she was pulling her entire catalog from the hugely popular streaming service. “Everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment,” she told Yahoo! “And I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music.”
Of course, the circumstances are different: Apple Music hasn’t even launched yet, while Spotify is an established service; plus, Swift didn’t directly ask Spotify for anything. However, the company’s reactions to similar snubs (and very public shamings) couldn’t have been more different, and illustrates why Apple needs Swift a lot more than Spotify does.
At first, Spotify went with the “scorned ex” approach. “We <3 @taylorswift13 but she asked us to pull her music off Spotify. 40MM of us say “Stay Stay Stay.” #justsayyes,” the company tweeted, name-checking two of her songs. In a short blog post, Spotify tried to guilt her into staying, and also created “come back, Taylor” playlists.
“We love Taylor Swift, and our more than 40 million users love her even more – nearly 16 million of them have played her songs in the last 30 days, and she’s on over 19 million playlists,” the Spotify Team wrote, pointing out that the company pays 70 percent of its revenue back to music makers. “We hope she’ll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone.”
— Spotify (@Spotify) November 3, 2014
When that didn’t work, Spotify dropped the cutesy approach. Spotify founder Daniel Ek wrote a long open letter and said “all the talk swirling around lately about how Spotify is making money on the backs of artists upsets me big time.” He argued that Spotify helps stave off piracy and how an artist will make nothing if their songs are stolen — at least with Spotify, they’re making something. Swift was on track to make $6 million that year from the company, he said. “Spotify is the single biggest driver of growth in the music industry,” he wrote, adding to the artists: “Our interests are totally aligned with yours.”
That just resulted in a back-and-forth with Swift’s label president Scott Borchetta, who claimed Spotify had paid Swift less than $500,000 over a year, not $6 million. Ultimately, it didn’t end happily for anyone.
And yet, with all the headlines Swift’s move made, it didn’t wind up impacting the service all that much. It may have resulted in some negative press, but as The Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang reported, Spotify’s paid subscribers doubled over the last year.
Apple, despite being an enormous powerhouse that owns the music downloading game with iTunes, needs all the goodwill it can get for a new streaming service in a very crowded field. Competing with Spotify, Pandora, Google Music, Amazon Prime Music and others won’t be easy, and it doesn’t help to have one of the most popular and influential artists calling you out so publicly.
In addition, many other artists had echoed Swift’s thoughts, and Apple could have felt the pressure. “Dissent within [the music] community over the free three-month trial had been mounting for weeks,” Billboard wrote, noting over the last month, indie music executives were cautioning artists about handing over their music to Apple for the three-month trial.
Now, thanks to Swift, it’s a non-issue: And Apple comes out looking fair and understanding (on this matter, anyway), as opposed to a completely soulless corporation: “When I woke up this morning and saw what Taylor had written, it really solidified that we needed a change,” Apple’s SVP of Internet services and software Eddy Cue told Billboard. “And so that’s why we decide we will now pay artists during the trial period.”
As custom, Swift got the last word — with a tweet:
I am elated and relieved. Thank you for your words of support today. They listened to us.
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) June 22, 2015