Just as its own three-month free trial comes to an end, Apple Music’s Jimmy Iovine has spoken out about the general culture of free and the terrible damage it is, in his eyes, causing the music business.

Speaking at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco, he said, “Free is a real issue. This whole thing about freemium, maybe at one time we needed it. But now it’s a shell game.”

This has inevitably been read as a less-than-subtle dig at Spotify mainly – but also YouTube. If no one was sure where he was going with this, he added, “These companies are building an audience on the back of the artist.”

He was keen to position Apple in general and Apple Music in particular as a good player here, suggesting its streaming service could attract hundreds of millions of users if it had a free tier but it has chosen instead to “[build] something powerful enough that it will work”.

Critics would argue, of course, that Apple Music has already done a lot of that with its introductory trial – but the company, for now, is not making its subscriber numbers public.

Questioned on the official adoption numbers, Iovine sidestepped it with the more gnomic answer, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t doing well.”

He also explicitly called out YouTube in regard to its payment rates. “They have 40% of music listening and 4% of the revenue,” he said. “That’s bullsh-t! Do they care? I don’t know!”

Interestingly he reinforced the populist narrative that it was Taylor Swift’s now-legendary blog that changed Apple’s mind about paying copyright owners during its trial. (“They dealt with it on the spot on a Sunday morning. They moved like lightning and they did the right thing.”)

Curiously there was no mention of the role the independent sector’s threatened boycott played in changing Apple’s mind. Iovine’s views on free will certainly get the backs up of some in the sector (and, arguably, that was the intention), but until Apple Music goes public with its numbers, its proof of concept (i.e. no freemium) cannot be properly held up to the light.

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