Digital Media

Right on, Cue: Apple tweets Swift, will pay artists during Apple Music free trial

Apple exec Eddy Cue responds to Taylor Swift to say, yes, actually, musicians will get their due after all.

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Taylor Swift on stage June 21 in Amsterdam -- the same day Apple heeded her call to action on payments to musicians. Michel Porro/Getty Images for TAS

Apple Music has reversed its position on royalties for artists in the wake of a high-profile protest from artist Taylor Swift.

The singer-songwriter sensation had taken to Tumblr on Sunday to tell her fans in a blog post that she would be withdrawing her album when it launches next week. Her issue: that the Cupertino, Calif., technology titan would not be paying royalties on any tracks streamed during the three-month free trial of the service.

Her public protest and Apple's quick about-face represent just the latest example of the tensions between high-profile artists and music-streaming services. Artists such as Swift don't believe they are adequately compensated for their work, while music-streaming companies insist they are. Apple wades into this debate with Apple Music, which will join a lively and crowded market of established players and hopeful upstarts including Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Deezer and Rdio.

Swift, who had earlier taken a stand against the popular service Spotify over payments, called out Apple over the empty-pocket implications of the free trial period.

"I'm not sure you know that Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months," Swift wrote. "I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company."

Swift said that withholding her popular album was not about her own earnings: "This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt."

While Apple did not initially offer a comment, its senior vice president of Internet software and services, Eddy Cue, later Sunday took to Twitter to announce that the company was reversing its "no pay" policy.

"We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple" he tweeted, referencing the title of Swift's Tumblr post "To Apple, Love Taylor."

"Apple will always make sure that artist [sic] are paid," Cue wrote, later clarifying that Apple Music would compensate artists "for streaming, even during customer's free trial period."

Cue got a retweet from Swift, who also an hour later offered a jubilant response on Twitter: "I am elated and relieved. Thank you for your words of support today. They listened to us."

The Apple exec told Billboard, the music industry publication, that the reversal was spurred by Swift's Sunday posting and that he called Swift, on tour in Amsterdam, to let her know about the change.

Apple Music will be the first subscription-based streaming service from the company that helped ignite the digital music revolution a decade ago with its iPod player and iTunes store. It was born out of Apple's $3 billion acquisition last year of headphones maker Beats and its fledgling Beats Music service.

For years, the company had turned up its nose at the notion of a subscription streaming music. Founder and former CEO Steve Jobs in 2003 called subscriptions "bankrupt," and in 2007 he declared that "people want to own their music."

But the shift in the music industry was too much for even Apple to resist.

Throughout the digital music era, royalty payments to artists have been a bone of contention, especially with the advent of streaming songs and albums.

Last November, Spotify removed all of Swift's songs at her request, including those from the hit album "1989," which just experienced the largest sales week for any record since 2002. At issue, in the words of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, is how best to go about "building a new music economy that works for everyone."

Ek said at the time that his service, which has both a paid and a free tier, had disbursed more than $2 billion to rights holders -- $1 billion from 2008 through 2013 and another $1 billion in 2014 alone.

Now Swift fans and the music industry at large will be watching to see whether "1989" does indeed launch on Apple Music when it arrives June 30.

Update, 8:29 a.m. PT:Added background and further details on Apple Music and Swift's battles over payments.