Apple will now pay artists during Apple Music’s free trial

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Iovine
Jimmy Iovine talks up Apple Music at WWDC 2015.
Photo: Apple

Apple has changed its mind on the decision not to pay streaming music royalties to artists and labels during the three-month trial period of Apple Music.

Yesterday, Taylor Swift penned an open letter to the company arguing that, “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Swift publicly pulled her best-selling “1989” album from the service in protest.

“This is not about me,” she wrote. “… This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field[,] but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs.”

It didn’t take long for Apple to retract its original stance, which had been a major point of contention with record labels during negotiations. In a series of tweets, Eddy Cue confirmed that Apple will swallow the costs of the free Apple Music trial, noting that “Apple will always make sure that artist (sic) are paid.”

According to re/code, Apple will pay music rights holders on a per-stream basis for the three month period, as opposed to the percentage of Apple Music revenue (since there won’t yet be any), which is how the company will later pay artists.

“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,” Eddy Cue said. “She was thrilled to hear from us and that we were making the change, and we were grateful for that.”

From Apple’s perspective it makes sense to change the policy. Although this means the company will have to foot the bill for three months’ worth of artist royalties — thereby making Apple Music more expensive to launch — Apple’s certainly in a position to be able to afford it.

What it can afford less is the potential negative publicity of major artists pulling their music from the service and accusing Apple of behaving like an evil empire. Particularly under Tim Cook’s leadership, Apple has portrayed itself as a “force for good” in the world, which behaves ethically while still raking in huge amounts of money.

More crucially, Apple’s plans with Apple Music rely on it cultivating relationships with artists for potentially lucrative exclusive deals.

Sure, many artists could still be cajoled to put out exclusive music thanks to Apple’s brand name, but if the company is serious about being an artist-friendly company (something it has had a reputation for going back to the 1980s), a headline-grabbing high-profile falling-out with an artist of Taylor Swift’s calibre makes very little sense.

Props to Apple for making what I think is the right decision here!