Yesterday, Beggars Group joined the swelling criticism of Apple Music from the independent sector. With AIM, A2IM and independent musicians all speaking out, the current situation may remind you of last year’s shenanigans before the launch of YouTube Music Key.
And there are some parallels: the sight of a standard contract with no potential for negotiation being sent out to independent labels after deals have been inked with majors, for example. But for now, there’s an important difference in tone between the two rows.
With YouTube Music Key, we saw AIM boss Alison Wenham talking about “threats, intimidation and bullying, and a repeated threat to block content”, through to Billy Bragg’s famous “we should be marching to YouTube Central with flaming pitchforks” comment.
This time round, critics are making a clear effort to praise Apple’s attitudes, even as they attack its policies. Witness Wenham’s comments about “the spirit of collaboration that we have come to expect from them” and Beggars’ “Apple have been a wonderful partner for the last decade, and we confidently trust they will continue to be so”.
This is not the all-guns-blazing rhetoric that tackled YouTube, even though the concerns are no less serious. Beggars exec and UK Music chairman Andy Heath reiterated the fact that this is about specific business concerns rather than distrust of Apple as a corporation, in an interview with the Telegraph.
“If you are running a small label on tight margins you literally can’t afford to do this free trial business. Their plan is clearly to move people over from downloads, which is fine, but it will mean us losing those revenues for three months,” he said. “Apple hasn’t thought this through at all and it’s not like them. They can’t spring a contract like this on us three weeks from release.”
Meanwhile, Apple is facing a pile-on of criticism from some artists. The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe seized the headlines with a “fuck these satanic corporations” tweet, after claiming to have been told by Apple that if he refused the three-month free trial, “we’ll take your music off iTunes”.
He followed up with a string of tweets expanding on his anger. “The biggest company on earth wants to use my work to make money for 3 months and pay me nothing – of I say no,I’m banned… Devils – they shouldn’t threaten people to work for free.its not ok for these fucking idiots to decide art has no value.”
The overall picture is of a bad situation for Apple, the biggest technology giant of all, yet also a company that prides itself on its position at the intersection of tech and the liberal arts.
It’s Heath’s criticisms that will surely prompt a reply – and perhaps a change in policy – from Apple. This argument isn’t just about indies feeling slighted in comparison to major labels, it’s about the survival of their businesses – and that’s a conflict that in PR terms alone, surely won’t end well for Apple.
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