I’m a big Taylor Swift fan. I don’t own any of her music and I don’t know any of her tunes, but dang she’s got what my grandpa called “moxie.” Her most recent hit is calling out Apple, arguably the most powerful company in the world, for not paying royalties during the three-month free trial of its new streaming music service. She criticized Apple’s policy in an open letter on Instagram (Instagram… really?) which you can read here.
Quoth Ms. Swift, “This is not about me. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success.” I don’t even care if this is a publicity stunt cooked up by Swift’s management team; this is a nice riff on enlightened self-interest, which states that people who act to further the interests of others ultimately serve their own self-interest as well. It’s encouraging to see a powerful artist using her influence to push back against corporate “unenlightened” self-interest (read: greed). It’s especially encouraging because Apple flinched. Time magazine reports that pressure was mounting on Apple from indie labels, but the company clearly wanted to avoid a PR flap involving Swift and her legions of devoted fans.
Earlier this year, Swift pulled her entire catalog from the free-streaming service Spotify. That move, coupled with her latest turn, is striking a symbolic blow for artists up and down the music-industry pecking order. Artists are increasingly the ones holding the short short straw in the new digital music economy. The suits have been stealing copyrights from artists for years; now their goal appears to be to pay artists the equivalent of minimum wage for their creative work.
At the end of the day, it’s hard for aspiring Taylor Swifts to make a living in this business. This is a nice concession from Apple, but Billboard reports that $0.002 will be the going rate per stream paid to labels. So, for a million streams an artist will be paid some fraction of $2,000. Back in the old fixed-disc days, people didn’t even have to listen to the music more than once and artists made more than that. Guess I’ll keep my day job. But xoxo anyway, Taylor.