Music & Musicians

Taylor Swift criticizes Apple’s streaming music service

Ben Sisario
Taylor swift shakes off Apple music

Taylor Swift spoke out last year about the economics behind Spotify. Now, she has taken aim at Apple over its decision not to pay musicians during a trial period for its new music service.

In a letter Sunday on her Tumblr page, called "To Apple, Love Taylor," Ms. Swift addressed a situation that has sent shock waves through the music industry: Apple, which has announced a subscription streaming service to compete with Spotify, Rhapsody and Deezer, says that no royalties will be paid during a three-month period in which customers can try it free.

She called the policy "shocking, disappointing and completely unlike this historically progressive company," and said she was not speaking just for herself.

"These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much," she wrote. "We simply do not respect this particular call."

The service, Apple Music, is set to become available worldwide on June 30. Besides its longstanding iTunes download store, it will include a $10 streaming subscription plan, a free Internet radio station and a media platform that will let artists upload songs, videos and other content for fans. Unlike Spotify, which lets customers listen free or pay monthly fees to eliminate ads, Apple's subscription feature will have no permanent free level.

Taylor Swift.
Jason Merritt | Getty Images

The public letter from Ms. Swift — who will not be offering her most recent album, "1989," through Apple's new service because of its terms — comes after independent music groups around the world have complained that the company's terms were unfair.

"This is a major misstep as Apple is trying to launch this service," said Jeff Rabhan, the chairman of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University. "Apple has always positioned itself as a supporter of artists, and this was a very easy way for them to prove that and stand out from everybody else in the space."

Apple declined to comment.

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Apple has said that at least 71.5 percent of the money it collects from music sales will be paid in royalties, a slightly higher ratio than the industry standard of 70 percent. But record executives, particularly at small labels where margins are thin, describe a frightening scenario in which income from important new albums that come out during the free period would not only lose out on crucial download income but also get nothing from Apple's new streaming feature.

The complaints also come as various government agencies in the United States and Europe, including the attorneys generals of New York and Connecticut, are investigating possible anticompetitive practices in Apple's dealings with record companies over streaming music contracts.

Ms. Swift, one of the best-selling artists in music today, has been outspoken about economic issues for musicians. In an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal last year, she wrote: "Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free." A few months later she withdrew her entire catalog from Spotify because it would not restrict access to her music to its paid version.

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While the major record companies are believed to have agreed to Apple's terms, many small labels and publishers have still not signed deals, leading to the possibility that many artists will not be available on Apple's streaming service, at least when it starts. Among those whose status is unclear is the British singer Adele, whose music is released by both Sony and Beggars Group, an independent label that has criticized Apple's plan.

In her note, Ms. Swift urged Apple to reconsider its plan: "It's not too late to change this policy and change the minds of those in the music industry who will be deeply and gravely affected by this."

"We don't ask you for free iPhones," she added. "Please don't ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation."