Apple’s Streaming Service Is Still Rotten
The word “rotten” is more than just a pun, it’s a perfect fit. In the physical sense it means something is old and decaying. In the descriptive sense, it means something is morally despicable or corrupt. That’s what this streaming service is.
A lot of people have been asking for my opinion on it, and if I’ll return my catalog to it now that Apple has decided to actually pay for content. Let me make some points.
Streaming is not bad.
Streaming services, well, in my case, Spotify, may actually be the hero of the music industry. There’s still a lot at odds, like the fact that mobile phone signals aren’t consistent, or that many mobile and broadband data providers are capping bandwidth and charging for “overuse”. In a weird way, companies like AT&T and Comcast are at war with major labels and movie studios, and they may not even realize it yet. But when I get my Comcast call telling me that I’ve used up my data for the month, I close Netflix and login to the Torrent seedbox/server that I lease so I can manage bandwidth more efficiently. I can’t be the only person doing this, and I doubt I’m the only person who doesn’t feel bad about it either. I’m going to watch Sons Of Anarchy tonight one way or another. If piracy is the most efficient method of doing so while my ISP is robbing me for using a service I already paid for, so be it. My point is, expect this to be a growing issue.
But when it works, and when I’m not “watching my bandwidth” and behaving like the equivalent of my grandfather handing out blankets to my family when the heating gas bill was too high, it’s really convenient. In fact, it’s far more convenient than piracy. No torrents, no files, no hard drive, no organizing. Just press play and you’re listening to what you want, when you want. I honestly don’t know if it pays well, but I do know that I’m making a living solely from releasing music and I do know that Spotify has yet to actually turn a profit. I have nothing to complain about. For the first time since Napster, I’m being, at least somewhat, fairly compensated in contrast to how many people are listening to my albums. That’s fucking huge.
I keep hearing about how Spotify is ripping off artists, but I just don’t see it. There’s always some botched variable missing from these instances. Usually it’s the simple fact that the artist didn’t have listeners to begin with and fail to grasp the concept of how royalties work with streaming services. Other times it’s a pop icon who has 10 profit-sucking degrees of separation between their income and their fan’s money. Which brings us to…
Taylor Swift is daft.
Okay, maybe that’s harsh. I have no idea how smart Taylor Swift is, my relationship with her music is pretending that my tiny female dog listens to it, although I can’t name a song myself. I have read her open letters to Spotify and more recently Apple, and they are daft. Anyone who gets handed 6 million dollars in a year in royalties that they would have otherwise not been privy to and is upset about it is not living in 2015. I’m not sure what her reasoning was. There is literally no data to actually compare it to. Yes, her CD sales are dropping. But that’s kind of like blaming Best Buy for the decline in firewire cables. I do know that people who buy my albums also listen to me on Spotify. I get to double dip because of the convenience factor. I’m sure Taylor Swift does too.
Of course, Taylor Swift argued back that she was paid less than 500k. So let’s put on a monocle and figure this puzzle out. Spotify hands a briefcase filled with 6 million dollars to “Big Machine Label Group” (I couldn’t make this stuff up), then Big Machine hands Taylor Swift 500k. What could have possibly happened in that simple hand off that would eat up 5.5 million dollars? Surely a gigantic record label didn’t gobble up all of that money, right? Since when is that a thing?
So last week, Taylor, the self-proclaimed superhero of independent musicians, pulls her catalog from Apple’s streaming service because Apple wasn’t paying royalties during the trial period. But wait, if Taylor was outraged with Spotify’s 70% royalty rate, why would she even be initially involved in another streaming service that only pays 1.5% higher? Isn’t that odd?
It’s not odd at all, considering that Apple is buying Taylor’s record label. So let’s all have a golf clap for the corporate circle jerk sold as a bogus controversy that supposedly ended in a win for independent musicians.
I Wish I Could Quit
So, to answer the question: Am I putting my catalog back up?
It’s kind of like asking a working class family if they’re going to take out a high interest loan so they can have a roof over their head. The answer is yes, but the road leading to that answer is a shitty one.
My relationship with Apple began in 2007, with me literally in debt from sending them cease and desist orders as they were selling my music without my permission, not paying me anything for it, and not even responding to my many attempts to resolve the issue. They didn’t even initially respond to attorneys. It took a viral news story about the incident that made the front page of Reddit and was covered around the world by media outlets to get them to even talk to me.
I wanted to tell them to fuck off forever. But iTunes was 2/3rds of my digital sales. I openly, and frequently tell people to use Bandcamp (it’s better for me and far better for the consumer), but Apple’s reach is too vast. If someone hears my song somewhere and decides they’re going to buy my album, iTunes is pre-installed on their iPhone and Macbook. Their payment information is already in there. They type “flahsblub” and hit a button. And that’s fine. I’m not going to ask anyone to go out of their way to support me. I’m grateful that they’re supporting me in the first place.
But Apple built the framework for that marketplace, and it was a genius, long road of risk-taking to pull it off. I respect that, despite the DRM, bloated software and lack of compatibility.
Every week some moron from Comcast knocks on my door and tells me that cable and “Streampix” is better than Netflix. I tell him/her to get off my porch and go back to whatever I was doing. Last week I got a package and an envelope from Comcast. In the box was a tiny cable box, and in the envelope was a letter explaining to me how awesome Streampix is, and, this is the kicker, streaming movies from Streampix will not count against my bandwidth cap. See what they did there? They know they can’t compete with Netflix, but they do know that they’re incomparably bigger and more powerful, so their business strategy is to hold their customers hostage with bandwidth caps, unzip their pants, and ram Streampix down their throats.
But that’s Comcast. This is Apple.
Apple’s big announcement at the WWDC was Spotify, but with a 700 billion dollar company behind it forcefully pushing it on everyone’s devices in system updates. It’s not competition, it’s just power. And that’s why they didn’t think they’d need to pay for the content, because the independent musician’s relationship with Apple is held together by unfair market saturation, not a happy business relationship. I guess I’m glad they’ll be paying for their content now that they’ve changed that policy, but they didn’t change it because they give a shit, they changed it because throwing some pocket change at us will make a PR problem go away.
I don’t want anything to do with Apple, but I can’t currently afford to not have anything to do with Apple. Most of all, I just don’t trust the company at all. Maybe it’s my experiences, or maybe it’s just logic. I will be stunned if my relative income from Apple’s streaming service is even in the same ballpark as my income from Spotify.
Maybe It’s Nothin’ Anyway
Even if you have the power to break a bunch of antitrust laws and force feed people your own service, getting people to migrate away from something they’re happy with isn’t an easy feat. Spotify sits nicely on a social networking platform. My account has tons of playlists, saved radio stations, subscriptions, etc. If I had no stake in any of this other than wanting to listen to music, I personally wouldn’t be canceling my account to jump ship for a new service, especially one with fewer artists and lower bitrates. More importantly, Apple’s mobile phone market share is 14.2% and steadily dropping. From that perspective, it seems like they’re trying to get a bunch of people to crowd on to a gigantic sinking ship.
As someone who used Apple products for years and even uses an iPad as a control surface for gigs, I hope that ship capsizes and a company that once was the forefront of technology will find its way back to those roots.