Independent labels threaten to boycott Apple Music

Just days after the divisive launch of Apple Music, independent music labels are considering boycotting the service after Apple revealed it would not pay them any royalties during the three month trial service for customers. While it is common for streaming services like Spotify to lure customers in with a free trial, until now these streaming services have taken the hit for the royalties themselves – paying out of their own pocket. Apple is the first service to allow use of their catalogue completely for free, and without royalties to artists.

This was confirmed last week when a contract for independent labels emerged with a tough ‘take it or leave it’ approach. Either join and allow Apple free streaming of their content for 90 days or surrender their contract with Apple in its entirety – including streaming, downloads and iTunes Radio.

The overwhelming fear (or expectation, or hope, depending on the way you see it) is that when Apple Music launches, millions of people will trial the new streaming service. As a consequence, streaming on Apple Music will rise, while downloads plummet on iTunes, and numbers on other streaming services start to fall. If these artists agree to the trial, their music will be played for free as other sources of royalties dry up as well. Alternatively, they could refuse the free trial and have their royalties from all Apple sources completely wiped. What a choice.

It is especially damaging for those artists with scheduled new music to hit the market. Any album, single or EP released during that time will have its royalities lost in the abyss created by Apple Music should they agree to the trial – or worse, completely inaccessible on Apple should they decline.

Anton Newcombe, front-man of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, confirmed these fears when Apple threatened to remove his music from iTunes if he failed to sign the agreement.

Likewise, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has also taken to Twitter to slam Apple for misusing its power and lacking innovation. He threw his support behind Spotify (while also reinforcing that physical copies are better). He blamed the poor interface of iTunes for originally driving him away, and tweeted that he wished that those with power used it to ‘literally make things better’.
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It is a risky move from Apple in many ways. If enough indie labels resist the free trial, Apple may launch without a slew of important labels. As Spotify has seen, lacking key artists is a major turn-off for customers, especially when customers already have a direct alternative to Apple Music in the shape of Spotify.

Apple aims to compete with the likes of Spotify and Pandora, as well as the Jay-Z-run Tidal. We’ve all noticed similarities between the two, most notably pulling in heavyweight Drake to add celebrity sparkle.

However, with few indie labels wanting to risk having their iTunes revenue cut, it seems for the moment the massive corporation has these independent labels cornered.

We don’t yet have much more information about royalty payments and other features of Apple Music: check back for more enws in the coming weeks.