Taylor Swift says Apple Music freebie strikes a sour note

The pop star is holding back from Apple's new music streaming service, arguing that its free trial offer will deprive musicians of the earnings they deserve.

Jon Skillings Editorial director
A born browser of dictionaries and a lifelong New Englander, Jon Skillings is an editorial director at CNET. He honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing for tech publications -- including at PC Week and the IDG News Service -- back when the web was just getting under way, and even a little before. For CNET, he's written on topics from GPS to 5G, James Bond, lasers, brass instruments and music streaming services.
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  • 30 years experience at tech and consumer publications, print and online. Five years in the US Army as a translator (German and Polish).
Jon Skillings
3 min read

Taylor Swift during her June 19 performance in Cologne, Germany, at a stop on "The 1989 World Tour." Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images for TAS

When it launches next week, Apple Music will be minus a blockbuster album from one of today's hottest pop stars.

On Sunday, Taylor Swift said that she will withhold her album "1989" from Apple's new streaming-music service, which launches on June 30. At its debut, Apple Music will come with a three-month free trial offer, and it's that freebie that has Swift up in arms.

The issue: During that period, Swift said, Apple Music will not make payments to musical artists, writers or producers. She called the policy "shocking" and "disappointing" from a company that been more generous in the past, and urged Apple to change its plans.

"Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing," Swift wrote in a Tumblr post.

She urged the "astronomically successful Apple" -- a clear nod to the company's record-setting profits -- to "pay artists, writers and producers for the 3 month trial period... even if it is free for the fans trying it out."

Apple was not immediately available for comment. But late in the day Sunday, the company did an about-face: executive Eddy Cue took to Twitter to say that Apple would reverse its policy and ensure that payments would go out to cover the trial period.

Swift's aria of anguish marks the latest clash in a long-running dispute -- stretching back to the days of Napster more than a decade ago -- between musicians and tech companies over how artists can best be compensated for songs accessed and played over the Internet.

It also comes as the music industry finds itself in the midst of yet another technological transition, from the era of CDs and, later, downloaded songs and albums to the new age of music streamed through always-on services such as Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Rdio and -- soon enough -- Apple Music, the first subscription-based streaming service from the maker of Mac computers and iPhones.

Apple Music will cost $10 a month, with a $15 option that will let families of up to six people share a subscription. It also includes a round-the-clock radio station called Beats 1, and a service called Connect through which artists can share songs directly with fans.

And then there's that free trial period.

In her call for change from Apple, Swift said that she is standing up for new bands, young songwriters and behind-the-scenes producers who deserve payment for the works they've created. And although she decried Apple's decision on royalties, she also praised what she called the company's creativity and progressive thinking, and called Apple "one of my best partners in selling music."

"These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much," Swift said. "We simply do not respect this particular call."

This is not the first time Swift has taken a strong stand at the expense of a streaming-music service. In November, at her request, Spotify removed all of Swift's songs, including those from the surging "1989," which just experienced the largest sales week for any record since 2002.

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

But the dollar volume alone can't soothe all the tensions over compensation, given the rapid ascent of streaming music and the struggle that goes with it to figure out new payment models. Other high-profile artists who have voiced concern include Pink Floyd and Radiohead's Thom Yorke.

Still, Swift acknowledged that change for the better may not be out of reach, eventually: "I realize that Apple is working towards a goal of paid streaming. I think that is beautiful progress."

Update, June 22 at 8:35 a.m. PT: Added that later Sunday, Apple responded to Swift and reversed its policy, saying it would make royalty payments to cover the trial period.