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In The Battle Between Taylor Swift And Apple, Swift Didn't Fight Alone

Taylor Swift is no stranger to positive, even fawning, press coverage. Just this month, there was the story about teenagers using light-up bracelets from a Swift concert to flag down help when they were trapped inside their car after a crash. The headline from MTV read "Taylor Swift Saved Three Teens' Lives — Literally."

Coverage of Taylor Swift's latest move has been just as glowing. Over the weekend, Swift took to Tumblr to criticize Apple's decision to not compensate artists as they get their new streaming service off the ground. Apple's going to offer free three-month trial periods for new users, and the company said it would only start paying artists once those free trial periods are over.

In her open letter posted to Tumblr, Swift wrote: "We know how astronomically successful Apple has been and we know that this incredible company has the money to pay artists, writers and producers for the 3 month trial period... even if it is free for the fans trying it out." She continued later in the letter, "Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing."

Soon after the letter was published online, Apple changed it's mind, and Apple's Senior Vice President Eddy Cue even called Swift to let her know. The company says it will now compensate artists even through those free three-month trial periods.

TV Guide said of Swift's open letter and Apple's shift, "Taylor Swift Saves The Day!"

But, as The Future of Music Coalition reports, independent music labels deserve some of the credit for Apple's reversal as well. "It wasn't just Taylor Swift," Casey Rae of the Future of Music Coalition told NPR. "There was a huge chunk of the indie label community that was simply not willing to let Apple have a free pass."

Earlier this month, the American Association of Independent Music said, "It is surprising that Apple feels the need to give a free trial as Apple is a well-known entity, not a new entrant into the marketplace ... we are struggling to understand why rights holders would authorize their content on the service before October 1."

And Beggars Group, a collection of independent music labels said Apple's decision to not compensate artists for three months could have ripple effects in the entire streaming industry. "...given the natural response of competing digital services to offer comparable terms, we fear that the free trial aspect, far from moving the industry away from freemium services – a model we support – is only resulting in taking the "mium" out of freemium."

Futureofmusic.org also reports the Worldwide Independent Music Industry Network was heavily involved in helping reverse Apple's decision.

But even if Swift is the major recipient of all the positive headlines in the aftermath of Apple's decision, not everyone is pleased. Time reported on comments from Pandora's former Chief Technology Officer Tom Conrad on Twitter. He pointed out a possible hypocrisy in her strategy. "Swift's career was built on terrestrial radio play, which is a free service AND doesn't pay recording artists a dime."

He continued in further tweets, "Apple isn't getting rid of its long free trial, but is now going to pay artists. This simply puts it at parity with all other players." And those other players are continuously criticized for not compensating artists enough for their work.

Then Conrad wrote, "Swift's letter and Apple's response is mostly theater. Nothing here to suggest Apple treats artists more fairly than anyone else ... we shouldn't herald this move as progress. It's status quo."

The Verge agreed. In one of the few anti-Swift pieces on the issue, the outlet said in their headline, "Taylor Swift vs Apple: nobody wins."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
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