Even When Apple Gets It Wrong, They Get It Right
Anyone who knows me knows that, much like Taylor Swift, I am a huge fan, user, and purchaser of Apple products. I think they are progressive, artist-friendly, and pro-creativity. So I, much like Taylor Swift, was shocked by their decision not to pay artists during the trial period of Apple Music, their upcoming streaming platform that has the potential to rival iTunes as Apple's next killer app. All similarities between me and Ms. Swift end there.
I was absolutely thrilled, however, to read her open letter to Apple on Sunday taking the company to task for not remunerating artists during the aforementioned three-month trial period of, Apple Music. It was a well written letter, penned (one would hope) in some part by Swift herself. I couldn't argue with a single point she made, and by the time I was done reading it, I shared the righteous indignation that she put forth. Dammit, small artists need to be compensated! This is unfair. This is an outrage!
I went to bed more convinced of Swift's media and cultural dominance, seeing how the Interwebs were alight with conversations about how "Taylor was taking a stand," and how Apple was being cast, even by its most ardent supporters, as singing off key (sorry) on this one. Righteous indignation, indeed.
I awoke to a complete one-eighty by arguably the most successful company on earth over the last 10 years. They had done a total about face! Tim Cook and Eddy Cue, the man responsible for negotiating Apple's deals with the record labels, had conferred, and decided, "Dammit, we are going to pay. It's the right thing to do. We are going to give the artists and the producers and the labels their cut. We are going to be good corporate citizens and patrons of the arts. We are pro-music, and we are sorry we were short sighted."
Everybody wins. Except . . .
Except, the more I thought about this, the more it felt to me like the perfect PR storm. You had nascent service "launched" ignominiously at best at Apple's WWDC a few weeks ago. You had a ho-hum press, waiting for it to fail (like with any other Apple initiative). You had competitors like Spotify calling out that they are doing more for artists and claiming that their head start could hold. You had, in essence, a very neutral reception to what could be Apple's next game changer.
But then in walks Taylor. And she gave 'em the business. And she blasted it out to her umpteen bazillon followers and fans, me included, and got us riled up.
So, when Cue and the rest of the Apple brass came forth and did the right thing, suddenly EVERYONE is talking about Apple Music. The press was no longer ho-hum, they were downright in a frenzy! The financial news channels didn't know where to start: Swift's gigantic reach and influence or Apple's good corporate citizenry. Oh, the humanity!
I'll tell you what. I think two shining stars just did what celestial bodies do. Apple and Taylor Swift, thrown into the same orbit, created a gravitational force that the media could not deny. In the process, the most commercially successful musician of the last five years and the most successful company of the same time period galvanized each other as the protectors of small artists and struggling songwriters everywhere.
In the end, Apple looks great, Taylor looks great, and everyone is talking about them. All of Swift's fans will sign up for Apple Music, her albums will be there (including 1989, we would presuppose), and we, the listeners, are better off.
Here's what I think. I think Apple had every intention of paying the artists for the trial period. It's not in their nature to play the role of evil potentate. Since the days of Steve Jobs, and certainly amplified by Tim Cook, the company has authentically and genuinely, in my estimation, sought to foster and support the arts, personally and as a company.
I'm totally speculating, but I think they would have announced the distribution in the fall at their next big event. Tim Cook would have taken the stage, point to the XX million of folks that signed up for the trial, and said, "It was so successful and we are so pleased, that we just can't help ourselves, so here are the royalties!" But Swift forced their hand, and in the process cast them in the role of benevolent benefactor of the arts, once again.
I wish I could have seen the look on Cue's face when he read the letter. And as wry smile crossed his face, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when he called Tim Cook. "Hey. Guess what?"