There has been a lot of talk about the new Apple Music streaming service, and what it will do. The Apple website says the following:
iTunes lets you play your music on whichever device you’re using — your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, PC, or Apple TV. Rock out on your way to work. Kick back and relax at home. Create playlists for your next party. Or let someone else be the DJ and listen to a curated or genre-specific iTunes Radio station — for free. With over 43 million songs to choose from, iTunes is sure to have something to fit your every mood. Or something to change it.
The iTunes player on your desktop — and the Music app on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch — keeps all your music in one place, so it’s there when you’re ready to listen. Instead of going through stacks of CDs or digital files, you can import them into iTunes and quickly browse your whole collection. Organize your library any way you want. Move it onto any of your devices. Create playlists and enjoy them whenever and wherever. Even have Genius make mixes of songs that go great together.
Apple Music goes live June 30th 2015, But what will Apple Music Mean For EDM artists, DJs & producers?
The DRM fight was only the first of many times in which the major labels would use their influence to make listening to music on the internet difficult and annoying. They continuously picked petty legal battles with YouTube users, pulling down clips of toddlers dancing uploaded by proud parents over the music in the background. More recently, they have extracted several pounds of flesh from Spotify, and bullied SoundCloud into such aggressive anti-piracy measures that artists are frequently threatened with legal action for posting their own music.
Still, this was all new turf for the music industry. The fluidity of content on the internet meant reconsidering all conventional logic around intellectual property and copyrights. You can even forgive them for trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube, lacking any better ideas.
But the internet didn’t just change the way fans interacted with artists. It also changed the way labels interacted with artists. Previously, the major labels were the gatekeepers for radio and TV. They had teams of interns ready to ship promo copies to whoever whenever. It was impossible for a modest indie to hang. Enter the internet, MP3s, streaming media, innovative websites and, eventually, YouTube and Spotify: suddenly indies have the firepower to compete. And the likes of XL and Rostrum have some of the biggest artists in the world.
Despite the increasingly level playing field, the majors landed sweeter deals than their independent counterparts. YouTube allegedly offered standard, low-ball contracts to the various indies, while negotiating at length with the major labels. And, not surprisingly, Apple is already playing hardball with indies over fees for Apple Music.
Apple started out by disrupting the entire global recording industry. Now it appears to be in its pocket. Tim Cook probably thought Iovine’s appearance would legitimize Apple Music, especially to the tech community, perennially thirsty to stand next to anybody that seems remotely cool. But all it really says is that the days of Apple leading a 1984-style revolution in the music industry are over. Apple Music is not only not a threat to the old guard, it has their cosign.
To be fair to Mr. Iovine, he’s only guilty by association. He played the game very well even through the difficult days of the early 2000s. And I have to respect the savvy of a man who responds to plummeting music sales by investing in speakers: even stolen music needs to be heard through something! But he’s a power broker from the bloated, stubborn industry of old. His inclusion doesn’t bode well for revolutionary thinking.
And that’s the bigger point here: Tim Cook is picking the wrong side in the battle. The major labels are extremely well-capitalized and control the vast majority of the music in play, but they established their position with a business model that’s all but irrelevant today. The uncomfortable truth is that it’s very hard to monetize music the way it was two decades ago. Artists routinely give away their music, knowing that good promo for a good free project can pay off in tour, merch and licensing money. If they want to sell their songs, they can do so without much help. And while the now-standard “360” deals peel off some of these earnings for the labels, it’s hard to imagine that’s paying anywhere near as well as the pre-internet cartel model.
The major labels still have a lot of power and plenty of tricks up their collective sleeve (not the least of which was retooling streaming numbers to count towards Billboard certification). But it’s never been easier to make ends meet as a musician without a major label assist. For all the Zoolander-ian antics surrounding TIDAL, Jay Z’s cadre of madcap millionaires controlling their own destiny is the future of the industry. Any discussion of whether Apple Music will “succeed” is kind of beside the point; Apple is a billion dollar company that can easily shoulder the service’s most spectacular failure. But Cook’s alliance with the old music biz guard shows a lack of foresight. He’s not thinking differently enough.