Want Better Apple Music Royalties? Get Taylor Swift on Your Side

17 hours. That's all the time it took for Taylor Swift to give Apple a sound thrashing and get the company to agree to pay artists royalties for their songs during Apple Music's free three month trial period. As if that wasn't big enough news, Apple senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue announced the change to the world via Twitter.

Taylor Swift calls out Apple over Apple Music royalty termsTaylor Swift calls out Apple over Apple Music royalty terms

Taylor Swift posted an entry on her Tumblr blog Sunday morning announcing she wouldn't let her 1989 album onto Apple Music because the deals Apple and record labels struck didn't have any royalties being paid during the free trial period. She said,

I'm sure you are aware that Apple Music will be offering a free 3 month trial to anyone who signs up for the service. I'm not sure you know that 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. 

Ms. Swift already has several successful albums and, as she says, can support herself and her band and crew playing live shows. For her, this is about helping artists who don't have enough pull to be heard by Apple.

Apple's deals with U.S. record labels have it paying out about 71.5 percent of the money Apple Music brings in. Outside of the country, that number jumps to about 73 percent. Both are higher than the industry average, which should translate into more money making it to the artists.

The other side of that deal left Apple without any obligation to pay royalties for the songs subscribers listen to during the free three month trial period. The idea, apparently, was that artists and labels would make up the difference when the above average royalty payments kick in.

Independent music labels in the U.K. banded together to say they wouldn't sign on for Apple Music because losing three months of payments would "literally put people out of business."

And then Sunday morning's blog post happened.

"I say to Apple with all due respect, it's not too late to change this policy and change the minds of those in the music industry who will be deeply and gravely affected by this," Ms. Swift said. "We don't ask you for free iPhones. Please don't ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation."

While her words spread like wild fire around the Web Apple was clearly taking notice, too, because Sunday evening Mr. Cue dropped some surprise comments on Twitter announcing the company would pay artists for their content even during the Apple Music trial period.

He said, "#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period," and "Apple will always make sure that artist are paid #iTunes #AppleMusic."

Apple's new plan for royalty payments is something the company was no doubt at least mulling over, but it's pretty clear Ms. Swift's blog post was the impetus for actually making the change. Mr. Cue's response on Twitter was a big surprise—and a sign that we're dealing with a changing Apple.

Announcements outside of the PR stream wasn't Apple's modus operandi, although recently we've seen executives making public announcements and talking openly with media. Ahead of this years Worldwide Developer Conference, for example, Jeff Williams revealed Apple would be giving developers access to the Apple Watch sensors. CEO Tim Cook agreed to an impromptu interview with Christina Warren, and the Phil Schiller sat down for an interview with John Gruber.

Now we have Eddy Cue responding to Tumblr posts with big streaming music service changes via Twitter. This is a new Apple we're dealing with: one that responds to criticism, makes swift changes, and responds openly.

The change in royalty payments won't likely make that much of a difference for the mega stars in the music industry, but for unknowns hoping to get their chance and small labels that are just getting by, this is a big deal. For them, every revenue stream counts, and losing three months worth for every Apple Music subscriber was something many weren't willing to do—and now they won't have to.

Praising Apple for deciding to pay artists during the Apple Music free trial period is perfectly fine. The company made a decision that will hopefully help artists who already don't make much money. It's also OK to criticize Apple for swinging a deal that got it out of paying royalties for three months, and it's OK to criticize the record labels who didn't see any problem with not paying their clients.

Love her or hate her, Taylor Swift did something pretty remarkable yesterday. She managed to get one of the most powerful companies in the world to make a change to benefit artists, and spurred one of the company's senior executives to personally respond on Twitter. That adds up to an amazing 17 hours.