On Sunday popular recording artist Taylor Swift took to Tumblr with a letter titled "To Apple, Love Taylor", in where Ms. Swift rather politely chided Apple for not paying the "writers, producers, or artists" during Apple Music's initial three month free trial. "We don’t ask you for free iPhones," Ms. Swift stated, "please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation."
In rather rapid fashion, Apple took to Twitter to respond to Ms. Swift's criticism, with no less than Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue tweeting "we hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists," adding, "#AppleMusic will pay artist[s] for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period." Naturally this was immediately celebrated as a victory for artists, and confirmed more so than ever, that Ms. Swift isn't just a talent to be reckoned with amongst other musicians, but a true force in the music and now even technology industry, whose business acumen and awareness of self-importance aren't just raising her own boat, but other artists' as well, inlcuding indie and artists as yet unknown.
(Insert record skip sound effect here.) The problem is that when Ms. Swift and Apple use the term "artist," they're actually using industry speak for "labels", because streaming services, Apple included, don't actually pay artists, they pay labels, who in turn pay their artists a tiny fraction of the already tiny fraction that streaming services pay them. This puts Apple in the odd circumstance of having to now voluntarily pay the labels that presumably have already agreed to forego payments for three months because they believed in the long run it would be better for them, and as it follows, their artists, if the three month free trial paved the way towards Apple building a truly disruptive subscriber base. For Apple, this "change of heart" may cost many millions of dollars (referred to as "petty cash" by bookkeepers in Cupertino), but it does bring with it both the appearance of humility and the good will of artists, good will that Apple might want to use later for leverage against the labels should Apple ever want to cut the middle-man out of the equation. For Ms. Swift, Apple's change in position is a nice bit of self-delusion, a widely celebrated, but ultimately hollow victory that changes virtually nothing for artists, other than being able to now toast their "victory" with a dollar draft at the club they'll being playing at tonight to actually pay the bills.