“Don’t Wanna Fight” is Alabama Shakes’ latest hit, but that sentiment doesn’t match the brewing dispute between Apple and independent music labels.
That critically praised band might be one of several prominent acts not available via Apple Music when the streaming service launches.
Independent labels around the world are upset that Apple Music’s contract calls for artists and labels to receive no royalty payments during the three-month free trial period users will enjoy when they first sign up for the service.
The launch of Apple Music was announced in early June at the company’s annual Worldwide Developer’s Conference, and is the company’s foray into music streaming. Expected to launch on June 30, the service will allow consumers to stream music for $10 a month, and will also include Beats 1, a new online radio station. Canadian pricing and launch date have yet to be confirmed.
Most rival streaming services offer a free one-month trial, but Apple is offering 90 days whenever a user signs up.
Many independent music associations, including the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA), have expressed blistering criticism of the plan.
“It is an outrage that any company, let alone Apple, will refuse to pay independent artists, the labels and the publishers supporting them. Is Apple refusing to pay its staff during this free trial period?” wrote Stuart Johnston, president of CIMA, in a memo posted online.
“Apple is using its considerable weight to bully independent labels and their artists to sign a deal that will only benefit Apple — and not the hard working songwriters, recording artists and independent record labels that create music every day.”
In an interview, Johnston told The Toronto Star that CIMA is in the process of trying to discuss its concerns with Apple, and stresses that the 90-day trial is the issue.
“If you take the three-month trial period out of it, we’re pretty excited about the service. It’s more competition in the field, competition breeds success we believe, it gives more options for our artists to be heard and discovered,” he says.
“We were surprised and disappointed that Apple of all companies, that has such a partnership with the music industry, has taken it upon themselves not to pay for the product that they’re using to launch their own product.”
There any many high-profile artists on independent labels, including Adele, The National, Alabama Shakes, and Arctic Monkeys.
Local independent labels are incensed by the plan.
“I stand with the other independents that are up in arms about this issue. It seems unfair to ask the artists to take a pay holiday when they get their service up and running,” says Shauna de Cartier, president of Six Shooter Records, a local label with a roster including Whitehorse, Tanya Tagaq and Hawksley Workman. “Like really, how much is that going to cost you? And shouldn’t you pay that?”
Apple declined to comment, but according to a report by Recode, Apple’s Robert Kondrk, vice president of iTunes Content, said the company will eventually offer music labels a slightly higher percentage of royalties than its competitors, offering labels in the U.S. 71.5 per cent of subscription revenue, while around the world the rate will average approximately 73 per cent. Most other streaming services pay about 70 per cent.
“In this case, Apple made the terms probably with the bulk of the business in mind, the major labels, and once they signed up enough of them, they felt that they had enough critical mass to roll out the product out,” says Horace Dediu, analyst at Asymco, which tracks Apple. “I think the logic, which was acceptable to the majors, is, ‘Look, we’ve got to give some product away in order to entrench customer loyalty and gain users.’ ”
De Cartier says that many labels are considering their options, including just not being part of Apple Music. One thing that she would like to know is if will be possible for labels to opt out of the streaming service but still keep their catalogues in the iTunes download store.
With the launch date fast approaching, Apple Music might just launch without a number of independent artists, with the hope that they will join up later.
“It’s might not be a complete catalogue, but iTunes in the old days was very incomplete and it took years for them to get some artists, and look at them now,” says Dediu.