Taylor Swift, Sadly It Ain’t Just About The Music Anymore

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

From the song — “Stairway To Heaven” By Led Zeppelin

In the recent media event full of drama worthy of a television special the current icon of the music industry, Taylor Swift, stood up to Apple in a carefully worded blog post on Tumblr, about royalty payments. Apple had previously decided that it’s new music streaming service, “Apple Music”, would be free for 3 months and therefore the musicians would not receive royalty payments for their work during the 3 month free trial period.

Apple is Apple. Takes courage to stand up and say: “No” to such a company. It certainly shows us that the team who runs the Taylor Swift social media network knows what they are doing.

After the Taylor Swift blog post went viral, I am positive the folks at Apple ran to do some number crunching. The PR division at Apple also ran the numbers about possible damage to the brand name. I am also fairly sure no one over at Apple broke a sweat over it. Indeed, it almost seemed that they knew they were trying to get away with something, and had contingency plans if they got caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

So, Lo and Behold! Within 24 hours of the post Apple backed down with a 180 degree flip. They agreed to make royalty payments even during the free trial period. It seemed as if Goliath could be beaten into submission. After all, Apple is up against stiff competition from many sources such as Google, Spotify and a long list of other services. Bad press from a music icon, no matter what the royalty payments would cost, was not something Apple needed when launching a new service.

In short, in this case the scoreboard read:
Taylor Swift & Fellow Musicians — 1 Apple — 0
Of course once again, Taylor Swift became the darling of fans and all the other musicians whom she stood up for.

All the above would be absolutely correct except for the fact that not one of the streaming music services is looking at their actual service of selling music as their prime business. Indeed I would go far and speculate that the folks at Apple lost no sleep over their submission to royalty payments. I bet they were actually smiling and still are laughing all the way to the bank.

It is a grave mistake in our age of data collection and our almost total abdication of privacy, (and if you own a smartphone or a computer you have abdicated your privacy), to view one single path in a market as the only path worth pursuing. Selling music is exactly the same as selling any other product in this respect. None of the companies who compete in this market are only after the cash from sales but rather they are after something tangible and worth a great deal more money in the long run. They don’t really care how much they make off the music track you purchased today. Selling music is a means to a greater end. What they do want to know is what you will purchase tomorrow — and they want to know that today!

Yes, we are talking about that ubiquitous term which no one can seem to get away from these days — “big data”. It is not only data related to type of music; your location or your mode of listening. The data these companies are after was once the stuff of science fiction — your mood; your emotions from the music; how it makes you feel and certainly how you react to it.

Think that is impossible? Five years ago if someone told you Facebook would be able to do facial recognition when most of your face is covered you would have laughed. Or if you were told that the art of photography would explode to such a point where pictures have become the preferred art of communication, you would have expressed disbelief.

Selling music is a means to a greater end. What they do want to know is what you will purchase tomorrow — and they want to know that today!

Think about it. We amass data in every conceivable area. Music, though, has an added, very personal and secret emotional level, where the mind and heart and body react to it on many different levels. Music (and art) are power. Imagine being able to harness those emotions and reactions into data. Imagine using that data to predict sales. Imagine using that data to compare to trillions of other bits of emotional information stored from people all around the globe.

The data these companies are after was once the stuff of science fiction — your mood; your emotions from the music; how it makes you feel and certainly how you react to it.

Still laughing? Well, the first generation of wearable gadgets is almost over and the second generation with much more sophisticated capabilities will bust out within less than a year. They can take pulse and blood pressure. They know how far you walk, run, bike. They even know your sleeping patterns. Do you actually think we are still that far away from measuring your heart rate and blood pressure while you listen to Taylor Swift or Adele or Katy Perry or Led Zeppelin or Billy Joel? And trust me. If you are listening to a music track you purchased, the supplier will know it.

Music, though, has an added, very personal and secret emotional level, where the mind and heart and body react to it on many different levels. Music (and art) are power. Imagine being able to harness those emotions and reactions into data. Imagine using that data to predict sales. Imagine using that data to compare to trillions of other bits of emotional information stored from people all around the globe.

Let us assume you listen to a music track your phone or watch takes note of your heart rate, blood pressure, increased rate of walking. And then the comparison begins between those physical reactions brought on by an emotional response to other songs you listened to. The data is analyzed on an individual and group basis up to a global one. Not far fetched. Once that is enhanced with sales and psychological profiles in data, do you really think it would be that hard to predict what you will purchase tomorrow. Especially when that is combined with data on your socioeconomic status, browsing habits, tweets, posts, uploaded pictures and friends in Social Media.

Let us also not forget that the streaming systems themselves ask you to rate the music. The process of rating will continue to get ever more sophisticated with the expertise of data analysts, psychologists, behavioral scientists etc. And every single piece of that information will be stored, categorized, and then analyzed.

I, for one applaud you, Ms. Swift. You took Apple on and you won the day. But please do not be fooled for a minute that you caused any lack of sleep for the folks at Apple or Google or Spotify or any of the others. The question of royalty payments was never critical. It was just a small notation for Apple in a gigantic ecosystem built on products. So if they could get away with not paying royalty, well why not try?

But the music streaming services are thinking way ahead into the coming years. Their goal is to amass, analyze and use the data to predict patterns of sales on any possible group of people or individual. They are looking into a not-so-far future where data includes emotional reactions and psychological profiling in a whole new data set. To be able to predict sales and market reactions and to immediately respond in real time.

You won the battle, Taylor Swift and you became a hero to millions. I am also sure your sales did not suffer in the least. But let’s face it. The royalty payments are just a drop in the bucket compared to what these streaming companies, conglomerates and corporate divisions intend to do with the amassed information.

Sadly, Ms. Swift, it ain’t just about the music anymore.

_________

About the Author: Ted Gross served as a CTO for many years with an expertise in database technology, PHP and OOP. He is currently involved in the application of Chaos Theory (with changes and additions), to big data and true OOP. He is also an author of literary fiction. Ted can be reached via email: tedwgross@gmail.com ; Twitter @tedwgross; LinkedIn @ https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=122538931 ; Skype tedwgross.144 & just about any other communication platform you desire :)

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