August 24, 2016:‘Exclusives’ blog post shows best and worst of Apple Music

Former Apple Music curator Sean Glass has been making waves overnight with a blog post about his former employer and artist/album exclusives.

It’s a fascinating read, showing both the best of Apple Music’s culture – the fact that its exclusives are as much about relationships and creative ideas as money – but also less-appealing elements of arrogance and us-against-them dynamics.

Starting with the good side, Glass makes a strong case for Apple Music’s exclusives as being about more than throwing cash at artists.

“There’s one guy who is behind ALL of these campaigns — and he is light years ahead of everyone else. He works intimately with each artist as a creative peer, and develops an amazing plan, this is no simple land grab. He works closer with the artists than labels do,” wrote Glass, who was surely referring to Apple’s well-respected head of original music content Larry Jackson.

Glass pointed out that Apple Music’s exclusives have gone beyond the albums: Frank Ocean’s visual album, livestream, zine and pop-up shops; Drake’s Hotline Bling video and Beats 1 show; documentaries for Taylor Swift and Anderson Paak and “TONS of music videos that I can’t go into detail about, but just would not have existed without Apple’s involvement. These aren’t situations where Apple was just paying for things. There’s intimate creative involvement.”

On the less positive side, there’s Glass’ claim that people complaining about exclusives are either major labels or fans who don’t pay for music.

“Those complaining about exclusives are not participating which means refusing to pay $10 a month for music, so why are we letting them get airtime?” he wrote.

Spotify has north of 35 million subscribers now, with the majority paying $10 a month. The debate about whether those people are penalised by exclusives on other services is a legitimate one, even if it’s true that there appears to be more industry chatter about it than widespread outrage from fans.

Glass takes shots at Spotify for its big in-house playlists too, alleging that “major labels own the playlists: indies simply do not have access like they do… every single release on certain major labels charts on Spotify because it’s placed directly into the playlists that first give the boost on the debut, and then become feeder for all of the other playlists”.

That’s contradicted by research by Record Of The Day in 2015 showing that indies punched above their weight on Spotify’s key playlists, although we’d like to see that study updated in 2016 to see if that’s changed. It would also be interesting to compare indie tracks’ placement on the big Apple Music playlists with Spotify’s.

One sentence stands out from Glass’ post for further discussion. “Why are we backing up Spotify here in contrast? They have never invested in artist’s content, and are now renegotiating their rates to pay artists LESS than they already were.”

Spotify must take the first part of that criticism on the chin: historically, it is true, although the company’s original-content operation is cranking up the gears in 2016.

But there is a wider battlefield here around helping artists reach an audience AND build a sustainable income.

For Spotify, it’s about its partnerships to sell tickets and merchandise; its experiments with sending marketing emails to artists’ keenest listeners; and the path it’s starting to draw for emerging artists from its Fresh Finds playlist to Discover Weekly, on to its in-house playlists, and then into listeners’ own libraries.

For Pandora, it’s the company’s Artist Marketing Platform (AMP) and similar efforts to link streams and ticketing.

“I have no horse in this race. But I fully support Apple as the leader and only relevant party,” wrote Glass. Stepping outside the famous reality-distortion field, it’s clear that this isn’t true.

Apple Music’s willingness to invest in content and creative partnerships with artists is a big positive in 2016, but so are its rivals’ efforts to support artists with marketing tools and audience data.

The competition to better support artists as well as appealing to listeners is what makes this particular horse race so interesting in 2016.

Stuart Dredge
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