Indie Labels and Musicians Balk at Apple Music Terms, Apple Denies iTunes Threat

Anton Newcombe of the band Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM) recently took to Twitter complaining that Apple had threatened to pull his music from iTunes if he didn't sign up to be a part of Apple Music streaming. Mr. Newcombe's comments have circulated widely, but Apple issued a statement to Rolling Stone on Friday saying, "[Indie music] will not be taken off."

Anton Newcombe

Anton Newcombe with Brian Jonestown Massacre from Glastonbury 2014

Mr. Newcombe started the story with the following tweets:

Note that despite that last tweet's assertion, Apple won't make money during the three month trial period directly—it's a free trial, and thus Apple will not be collecting money to share. That said, Apple will be selling at least some devices based on the strength of that service.

Anton Newcombe and BJM

Mr. Newcombe has a storied career as an indie musician that began in 1993 with the release of Spacegirl & Other Favorites. In 1996, BJM released three albums— Take It from the Man!, Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request, and Thank God for Mental Illness—all of which are great. Check out the song "Anemone" for one of their best.

Mr. Newcombe and his band BJM—along with The Dandy Warhols—were the subject of a documentary called Dig!, a movie that shows both Mr. Newcombe's brilliance and his volatile personality. And, for those keeping score at home, BJM was a major influence to my old band, The Atomic Love Bombs, including the song "Let It Burn (Song for Anton Newcombe)."

I mention Dig! because it might help add context to Mr. Newcombe's Twitter rants, where he accused Apple of trying to bully him (it probably happened to one degree or another). For instance, he mistook a fake Twitter account—@APPLEOFFICIAL—for a real one, and said that Apple had $700 billion in cash, and uses that money to hire full time Internet trolls.

So, take the whole story with a grain of salt, but there is probably a little fire behind this smoke. Whether or not there is, Apple felt compelled to deny that bands will be removed from iTunes. That could be because many indie labels outside the U.S. have rebelled against the very same terms Mr. Newcombe is complaining about.

Indie Rebellion

The issue is the three month trial period for new users. Apple struck deals with the major labels that gives them a higher percentage of subscriptions after the three month period, but pays them nothing during that period. Mr. Newcombe takes that a step further by doubting Apple would really pay the higher rate it has offered (again, keep those grains of salt handy).

Indie labels in the UK and other markets have claimed that those terms—with the higher rates after the trial period—would put them out of business, and they have largely said they would not sign on.

With that in mind, it's no surprise that Apple is playing a little damage control. Coverage on this story has included terms like "bullying" and "market power" and other negative terms that aren't likely to help the company's negotiations.

Whether or not someone at Apple threatened Anton Newcombe with pulling his material from iTunes if he didn't sign on for Apple Music streaming (and again, I imagine some version of that threat did take place), the company is making it clear that it won't happen (now).