Wednesday, June 24, 2015

6.25.15 TAYLOR SWIFTBOAT


This article originally appeared in the 6.25.15 issue of Metroland.

Apple finally announced that it was going to launch a music streaming service, years too late.  Here’s the company that single-handedly revolutionized the music business 10 years ago with the 1-2 punch of the iPod and the iTunes store announcing, lamely, that it was going to do exactly what Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, etc. have been doing for years.  And are they going to do it better?  How, exactly?  Is there a way to revolutionize pushing a button and hearing a song?

            And since there has been no comprehensive discussion of terms, how is this gonna be better for artists?  Maybe it will be worse.  Say you’re one of these artists or labels that’s decided that streaming isn’t such a great thing.  Like all of those artists and labels who’ve refused to play ball with Spotify, etc.  If you tell Apple you don’t want to stream, will Apple drop you from the iTunes store?  Oops?  Maybe they’d make an exception for the Beatles, who they finally got to sell downloads for in 2010, and who presumably aren’t going to cotton to streaming.  Ya think?

            The little we know about the Apple service is that it will be pay-subscription-only, probably at $10 a month, which seems to be the going rate.  No ad-supported free tier like Spotify, etc.  And how does Apple expect to compete with free?  Well, initially it was going to introduce its service to everybody for free for three months, hoping that everybody would become so addicted to all of its Apple-crack grooviness that Spotify’s free tier would fade from memory and people would line up to pony out $10 a month to feed their Apple habit.

            Well, first of all, we all know that’s not going to work.  Since the halcyon days of Napster back in 1999 free has been a force to be reckoned with and it’s not going away.  Duh.  Second of all, Apple proposed to do its free trial run on the backs of musicians.  It wasn’t gonna pay them. It figured that musicians like Apple so darn much that they’d all say, “Sure, we’ll help!  Give our stuff away!  We’re all in this together!”

            Um, no.  Here’s a company with more cash than the US Treasury, and it thinks this is cool?  If you believe that I’ve got some crappy overpriced headphones to sell you.  Do you think this would have happened if Steve Jobs were still around?

            Most people weren’t paying much attention to this when Taylor Swift, or should we say Taylor Swift’s people, issued an open letter to Apple, explaining in the most passive-aggressive way imaginable that Apple wasn’t going to stream her new album for free.  And no, this wasn’t about her, it was about the struggling artists, maybe the band that’s releasing their first album, the struggling song-writer with bills to pay.  And interestingly, she was only holding back her new album, 1989; the other four chart-toppers apparently were fair game for free.  This was unlike her position with Spotify, from whom she famously (and stupidly) yanked her entire catalog late last year.

            Amazingly, Apple caved.  The next day.  Musicians and songwriters will get paid for Apple’s three month free-for-all.  How much?  Who knows?  Probably not much more than Spotify, but who cares, because Spotify has been the poster child for badness while it struggles to make its business model work and Apple, albeit suddenly rudderless and clueless, is still Apple.  

            So Taylor Swift is a hero, right?  Well, yes.  Or maybe not so much.  On the heels of her staring down Apple came an open letter to her from a professional concert photographer, calling her out on her concert photography agreement. 

            Now, big performing artists have long forced photographers to sign onerous contracts in return for being allowed to shoot in the pit.  You can only shoot for the first couple of songs, you can only use one photo in one publication, etc.  It’s all about brand management.  And it’s increasingly stupid since right behind the photographer in the pit are thousands of people gleefully shooting away with their increasingly powerful cellphone cameras.  Many photographers I know sign these agreements, shoot until they’re asked to stop, and then use the photos for any journalistic / art / portfolio purpose they want.  But it seems that Ms. Swift has taken things up a notch.

            If you want to shoot a Taylor Swift show, along with the usual nonsensical restrictions, you grant her the right to use all of your photos royalty-free for “any non-commercial purpose, including but not limited to publicity and promotion”.  Last I checked “publicity and promotion” were commercial purposes, but hey, you know, details schmeetails…  Then, if the photographer doesn’t comply, he or she can have their film confiscated and/or destroyed and be ejected from the venue.  And the photographer waives all claims for damage, injury, etc. at the hands of the Taylor Swift goon squad. 

            Film?  Really?  Artists working for free?  Respect?


Paul Rapp is an early-rising lawyer and musician and advocate for the down-trodden, the powerless, good bourbon, powerful gasoline, a clean windshield, and a shoe-shine.

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