Yesterday, Apple unveiled its new music streaming service. While Apple’s release of iTunes revolutionized how the world buys music, they have been slow to enter the world of streaming.
The announcement came with all the bells and whistles that normally accompany Apple’s tech releases… but, for independent musicians, the announcement likely raises more questions than it answers.
For the new service, Apple will charge $9.99 per month for streaming and radio services. Alternatively, users can choose a family plan (for up to six people) for $14.99 a month. Apple Music streaming will offer curated playlists, radio stations, complete integration with iTunes, and a new artist-to-fan social feature called Connect.
What Will It Pay?
Noticeably absent from all information offered by Apple is the amount that Apple Music will pay artists.
Unlike other streaming platforms, there is no free tier on Apple music. This is good news for the makers of music, as it should increase the amount of money paid to rights owners. However, if the payment structure looks anything like those of Spotify or Pandora, independent musicians will still be getting the smallest piece of a very small pie. The music streaming industry as a whole is not friendly to independent musicians.
It appears that Apple Music will not be much different, despite their claims in the announcement videos to help independent musicians build sustainable careers.
Will “Connect” Actually Connect Artists and Fans?
It seems that Apple Music is trying to compete with Jay Z’s Tidal by offering fans exclusive content at no extra cost. Actually, they are offering “exclusive” content at no cost at all. Anyone— even nonmembers of the streaming service—can access the videos, pictures, and music files that artists upload. This is not good news for independent musicians.
If you are working hard to create exclusive content for your diehard fans, you should be doing it in a way that creates income for you. (Ever heard of patronage?) By making Connect available to everyone, Apple completely negated the “exclusivity” of that content. In essence, it’s the same as putting a video up on YouTube. The key difference is that this content will link directly to your music and artist profile in Apple Music. It’s an important distinction, but it’s not enough. There’s no real way for your content to work for you on Connect.
Apple also did not address royalty payments on Connect. If you upload a demo of your new single, are you being paid whenever fans listen to that demo? Or are you cutting your losses? You spend the time creating a song and recording the demo—not to mention the money you spent on the equipment to do those things—and Apple hasn’t given any indication on whether or not they are going to pay you when fans listen to your “exclusive” content.
Connect also offers nothing new in terms of fan engagement. Fans can comment on the material you upload, and you can comment back. This is exactly what is offered on Facebook and Twitter. Connect is a downgrade when you look at its social media competition (Twitter and Facebook); even Spotify allows private messaging. The only benefit in Connect is that fans don’t have to follow you to see your content and comment on it.
Did I mention that there is a MAJOR problem for independent musicians in the very structure of Apple’s Connect? As an independent artist myself, with music currently on iTunes, I decided to claim my Artist profile on Connect. This is what I found:
I am a fully independent artist with no management company or label. Normally, I would just submit my information the management information and leave the label portion blank, since I am not signed to any kind of label. However, there was no option to communicate that I was not affiliated at all with a record label. I was not able to push the submit button to claim my profile until I had entered information about my (nonexistent) record label. If Apple is touting that their service is indie-friendly, requiring artists to enter their record label information in order to claim their profile is not the way to go about it.
So far, I have seen nothing about Apple Music that is truly attempting to help independent artists.
What Should Independent Artists Do?
Apple Music’s launch simply adds to the ongoing discussion about streaming and its sustainability. Streaming is great for fans of music, but is this form of music consumption beneficial to the music industry in the long run? How can artists create long-term careers when their sources of income are decreasing in number and scale?
Independent artists have to change the way they think about streaming as a whole. When you look at streaming as a revenue stream, it falls short. No one (not even Pharrell) can make a living purely from the income generated by streaming. It simply isn’t generating enough money.
However, when artists look at streaming as a marketing tool that pays them, the game changes.
If you want people to discover you using streaming services, great! Put your music on Spotify, and Pandora, and Apple Music. Just don’t add your full catalog. Let fans get a taste of your best stuff. Post on Apple’s Connect like you would any other social media tool. Just don’t let these third party websites be the primary way that you interact with and sell music to fans. There are other, better ways to connect with the people who love your music.
In the End
Is Apple streaming a game changer for the music industry? I don’t think so. At the moment, it appears to be nothing more than a company formerly on the leading edge of innovation playing catch-up. Apple Music is not going to revolutionize the music industry.
Instead, changes and revolution will come from independent artists and the choices that we make as content creators.
For more information on Apple Music, check the following websites:
- Official Apple Music
- Apple Introduces Apple Music
- Apple Shines Spotlight On Unsigned Artist… Who Doesn’t Exist