Engaging Culture

How Taylor Swift Beat Apple

To launch it’s new Apple Music streaming service, Apple recently offered a three-month trial to the public. Great idea. But Apple (who incidentially is worth about $729 billion) planned to not pay the artists for their music during the trial period, which means that Apple would essentially be having the artists themselves underwrite the promotion.  As many of you already know, Taylor Swift was the most vocal artist objecting to the idea, and her criticism was the strongest reason Apple finally backed down. How she did it is a great lesson in protesting anything you consider an injustice. Here’s what we can learn:

1) She kept it civil. It all started when she wrote an open letter to Apple on Tumblr: “Apple Music will not be paying writers, producers, or artists for those three months. I find it to be shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company.”
Note that she didn’t criticize the integrity of the company or their leadership. She actually noted their “historically progressive and generous” past. Starting out by ripping into your opponent gives them few options for responding in a positive way. Taylor took the high road and it allowed Apple to save face. That’s a significant reason they turned around so quickly.

2) She made an honest comparison. “We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.” Hard to argue with the logic. Again, no nasty remarks, just a real physical comparison that gives everyone an idea of what’s at stake.

3) Finally, she reminded Apple that actions from her past show what she is capable of doing.  Earlier, she had withheld her entire catalog of music from Spotify because of their low pricing structure, so Apple understood she would probably withhold her newest (and highly popular) album “1989.”

Literally within hours, Apple caved and reversed its decision.  I applaud Taylor Swift for standing up because she has the clout that thousands of smaller artists don’t have. But she also made a principled stand that didn’t drive the opponent away, marginalize them, or create an enemy. At the same time, she showed she was a serious adversary.

It’s a good lesson to learn next time anyone wants to make significant change happen.

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  1. I agree with your comments and examples but if this would not have been a big name artist do you think Apple would have relented? I don’t think there would have been the media buzz if it had been a less known independent or similar.

    1. Agreed Barry – it’s a great lesson in influence, which is why #3 matters. You have to prove there could be consequences. And why I’m happy she made the stand, since thousands of lesser known artists wouldn’t have had that influence.

  2. I agree with both of you Phil and Barry. One point though is; yes influence makes things much, much easier, but the relative nobody should not count themselves out because they may not have a great amount of influence. If you take the time to thoughtfully and politely make your case, explaining it so novices to the issue can understand the issue clearly, you can effect positive change to great enterprises.

  3. Of course it wouldn’t have been a story media was interested in if T. Swift wasn’t involved. I think we often fail to remember that, without an existing audience or influence, it’s hard to be a catalyst for change on a global scale. That’s counter cultural since we tell people they can change the world no matter who they are, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I think change happens when people are receptive to the individual starting the movement in the first place. In this case, she had clout, she handled it professionally (aka no whining), and she has the backing of other industry influencers (not just fans). Not many of us can say that. We’d rather complain that no one is listening than doing the work to become a credible voice in that space.

  4. So you’re assuming that what we saw was real…..

    I can tell you many (not all, but many) in and around the business think it wasn’t…that it was another win-win, nicely-executed PR play by two who are quite good at it.

    Something interesting to note is the line, “We don’t ask you for free iPhones.” That’s a true statement, but that’s because all of the key phonemakers send, in one way or another, their new product(s) free to any celebrity who is frequently photographed in the hope that the product will be used, seen, and quickly adopted by the celeb’s sheep-like….a less-expensive version of the cellphone placement in movies…..you know, like the one I saw the other night in which one of the characters pulled out a particular cellphone identifiable by its unique shape, held it up to his ear, and clearly talked into its lockscreen….. 🙂

    1. Working here in Los Angeles, I’m very familiar with product placement. Your idea about it being a set up is interesting, but doubtful. Positive PR is too valuable a tool for Apple – particularly with their sized business – and I don’t think they’d gamble negative publicity in an effort to see their music platform. But it’s always worth exploring all the angles…

  5. U2 gave their new album for free (to the iPhone 6 release) and people complained that they didnt want it on their phones. I found U2’s generous and giving attitude more Christian however, Ms. Swift has also shown unusual generosity to her fans, even personally delivering gifts to their door.
    Although I agree with you on one level (her professionalism) one does have to wonder why soneone witht the successs, power and money as she has, is concerened about missing out on a3 months of music income. Had she pledged it all to charity, I would be cheering her on.

    1. Actually, I consider her speaking out on behalf of the thousands of smaller artists who don’t have her platform about the same thing as pledging it to charity… 🙂

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