Apple supports artists’ right to choose — what about songwriters?

Frank Ocean is expected to release his upcoming album exclusively on Apple Music, at least initially. Photo: Ole Haug ©Creative Commons —

I’ve been a fan of Frank Ocean every since his debut single Novacane hit the airwaves in 2011. But being a fan of his demands incredible patience — we’ve been waiting for his sophomore album since Channel ORANGE was released in 2012. After many false starts, Boys Don’t Cry was finally set to be released this past Friday. There’s still no sign of it, and when it does appear, I still won’t be able to stream it. Why? Ocean has done a deal with Apple Music, where it will be available exclusively for the first two weeks, and I subscribe to another streaming service. Cue: yet another slew of articles decrying artists who “limit access” to their music.

This is not one of them.

Ocean is not the only artist to strike such a deal — last week Britney Spears announced her long-awaited album will also be available on Apple Music soon (of course, there is a slight chance that she may have meant “among other services”, but it’s not likely).

#Glory. My new album & the beginning of a new era. Available 8/26 on @AppleMusic. Pre-order tonight at midnight ET.
— Britney Spears (@britneyspears) August 3, 2016

Apple Music appears to have snapped up the most exclusives lately, including deals with Drake and Taylor Swift, while Jay-Z’s Tidal — unsurprisingly, given the connection — secured Beyoncé and Kanye West. Meanwhile Spotify who, unlike Apple and Tidal, has a free ad-funded version, was sitting on the sideline, professing how bad it was for artists to not be on all platforms from the start, that it leads to piracy.

Spotify got support from Scott “DJ Skee” Keeney, who argued it was ok for Netflix and Hulu to have exclusives, but not music services because they “each have 99% of the same content — and it’s not really worth it to pay another $9.99 a month for a few albums”. (Isn’t that an argument for more exclusives?)

He continued:

No one wants to feel like they’re getting ripped off just to hear an album they want by an artist they love.

But, if he loves the artist, why doesn’t he support them by simply buying the album? It’s still a great deal to be able to access almost all music all the time for £9.99. Counting inflation, albums cost less than half of what they did in the 90s, and I didn’t feel ripped off buying them then — because music is precious to me.

Besides, why is it that music creators, unlike other professions, are expected to give their work away, and not have any say in how it’s used or monetised? Why should we be able to dictate where it should be available?

Songwriters don’t even have the right to negotiate such exclusives. In the US, all a digital music service has to do is send a Notice of Intent (NOI) to the publisher, saying they intend to pay them for the usage to be able to feature a track. Yet the US Department of Justice still thinks songwriters have too much say over how their works are used, so to undermine whatever power we still have left, it has now ruled that both ASCAP and BMI must accept 100% licensing — meaning that if a licensee clears a track with one writer (and/or their PRO), it doesn’t need to bother doing so with his or her co-writers (and/or their PRO). The result, apart from making the administration and distribution of royalties even more complicated, is that compositions become yet more desperately undervalued in the digital space.

I remember an artist manager at an EU debate a few years ago arguing that artists shouldn’t have the right to prevent their music being used, because copyright should not be about control but about fair remuneration. I pointed out that without the right to say no, there is no chance of fair remuneration. Put simply, if you can’t say no, you’re not operating in a fair free market. It has always puzzled me that in the US, the capitalist capital of the world, songwriters are subjected to more restricted market rules than in Sweden during social democratic rule.

ASCAP and BMI have announced that they will fight the DoJ decision. It would be greatly appreciated if a corporation such as Apple would also come out in support of songwriters in this dispute. After all, its senior VP, Eddy Cue, recently said:

We agree 100% with artists that they should have the right to decide where their content is available — whether it’s free or when it’s free, when it should be paid or how much it should cost.

How about it, Mr Cue?

Originally published at