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Apple Music's potential is bigger than even Taylor Swift can see

Michael Simon | June 23, 2015
It's good that Swift's open letter helped Apple see the folly of asking artists to go without royalties for three months. But Apple Music could pay larger dividends.

So to learn that Apple was essentially offering up millions of songs without paying a dime to the people who made them was somewhat shocking. But streaming is new to Apple, and like any new product, there will be speed bumps along the way. It'll take some time before every artist on iTunes makes their way to Apple Music, and there will certainly be improvements to the quality and overall experience, likely even taking input from artists themselves. So I wasn't surprised to read that Apple had reversed its stance, the speed of the decision notwithstanding.

Apple doesn't just love music, it respects the creators of it. Back when Steve Jobs wrote Thoughts on Music, he made it clear that Apple was simply playing by the rules written by the record companies. Consequently, Apple moved swiftly to strip iTunes music of the FairPlay digital-rights management as soon as it was able. So, while it might seem that this is a money-saving decision Apple came to on its own, the fact that it quickly saw the error of its ways speaks to just how much Apple Music is a labor of love. It wasn't necessarily a capitulation to Swift, it was a recognition that artists were getting slighted.

Everything has changed

Back in the summer of 2003, the iTunes Store represented an intriguing way for unsigned artists to expand their reach. Using CD Baby as a distributor, anyone with a tune in their head could get into Apple's digital storefront for just a few bucks up front and a few cents off the top. It was a fantastic way for unknown musicians to get on the most visible digital platform around.

I was one of them. On Aug. 13, 2003, my spoken-word collaboration appeared on iTunes. It was an entirely home-grown project written, performed, and produced by myself and a friend (and it sounded the part). We had absolutely no clue about how to turn it into a money-making venture and we didn't care. We just wanted people to hear our stuff, and getting it on iTunes was an incredible moment. Granted, we appeared in the Classical section (and still do to this day), but that did little to dampen our enthusiasm.

The number of people willing to buy a full CD of our music was shockingly small, but some were indeed willing to fork over a buck or two to hear a few tracks. Over the tenure of our six-month career, whenever we played open mics or featured spots at poetry slams (where we happily gave away codes) we would see a small bump in downloads. We enjoyed fleeting popularity in the circles we performed in, and that couldn't have happened with any other format.

 

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