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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Taylor Swift & L’affaire Apple In The Digital Universe

As known for quite sometime, Apple is working to get its new streaming music service, Connect, up and running. It followed what is generally taken as the standard way of launching things: offer the service free for the first three months. But, Apple then made a decision that quickly showed itself as short-sighted. Apple also decided that during the three months, writers, performers, and producers - in other words, all the people who created the content Apple was giving away - would not get paid any royalties. A call taken by them , before being upturned owing to opposition by many in the industry most notably, a 25 year old Taylor Swift. The manner in which the upstage unfurled itself is legendary. The affected indie artists and record houses could have threatened to sue. Apple, of course, has the resources to fight the battle and the outcome could have gone in any direction. The larger issue, of course, was actually taking on the mighty corporation, Apple. Doing so would have been a big risk for an artist. Except, as it turns out, Taylor Swift - the winner of seven Grammy awards, 11 Country Music Association awards, 20 Billboard Music awards, who could perceive no such risk for herself.

Taylor Swift wrote one note, and the world’s richest company, Apple couldn't shake it off. What an electric impact that this record industry star has made. It was just yesterday that Swift published a post threatening to pull her latest album from the about to be launched Apple music streaming service. Her principal concern (though she says in her post that her view reflects the views of her fellow industry artistes) for keeping mega-hit 1989 off Apple's new streaming service: the world’s most cash rich company wasn't planning to compensate the artistes and business of the record music industry - music writers, producers, and artists during the three-month free trial period. The star, aptly called as the music industry,who could easily endure the pay cut, decided to speak for the 99% of the industry who couldn't. She wrote, “These are not the complaints of a spoiled, petulant child. These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much. We simply do not respect this particular call”.

Ms Swift is right on the money. Quite arguably, she is not a lone voice in this battle against Apple's policy—she's just the most impactful, latest and probably the loudest. It may be noted that Beggars Group, associated with such an array of indie labels like 4AD, Matador, and Rough Trade, released a statement about their decision to steer clear of Apple's contract: "Whilst we understand the logic of their proposal and their aim to introduce a subscription-only service, we struggle to see why rights owners and artists should bear this aspect of Apple’s customer acquisition costs." (The best iTunes album seller in history—Adele's 21—belongs to Beggars Group label XL Recordings.) Another indie label exec told Rolling Stone, "A lot of independent labels are of the same mind – that it's kind of a raw deal." The American Association of Independent Music expressed some concern:

Please do not feel rushed to sign Apple’s current offer.
And yet,it was unmistakably Taylor Swift’s widely followed blog - which got the mighty Apple to see sense and back down. Apple’s Eddy Cue responded positively to her demands in a series of tweets. In her earlier Wall Street Journal op-ed , she wrote:
The value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace.
Her WSJ op-ed and her controversial decision to stay off was of course controversial but she has come a long way in acknowledging that streaming is a trend that she and the industry can’t fight and has to embraced. Ms. Swift’s bold stand with L’affaire Apple needs to be welcomed. For her stature and success, she could have just remained silent - taking on Apple would send cold shivers down the spine for many in the technology, retail, entertainment industry and Ms. swift has shown real leadership and changed the course. What Ms.Swift gains from this move is much more valuable than album sales. To quote Bob Lefsetz, a music industry observer:
Efforts like Taylor Swift's are career-defining moments of credibility that are trumpeted for eons, they're what cement artists' careers. It's not only hits, it's identity. Records come and go, people remain. If you stand for something, you're the hook that catches the velcro loop, and we're all loops waiting to be caught.

Ms. Swift is a tour de force in the world of entertainment. Her records sell too well and her live performance tickets get sold in record time and yet she stands apart from her peers by an almost old-fashioned sense of poise. How Ms. Swift engaged Apple tells a story of the modern leader. She combined analytical skills and emotional intelligence to turn Apple around leveraging social media expertise and analytical reasoning.. As technology increases its role in our lives, and more decisions are handled by software, the role of humans in the world is becoming less clear. Humans possess capabilities that computers are still far from matching. As analytically adept as they may be, computers are still far from understanding and using the soft skills, such as emotional intelligence. Ms. Swift nicely demonstrates why soft skills are so important in the modern world, and how deftly used they can lead an army. No wonder Apple couldn't shake off Ms. Swift.

Recently, Fortune magazine while naming her amongst the most powerful women earlier this year wrote,”

She’s also the highest-paid woman in the music industry. In the past year, Swift racked up an impressive list of savvy business moves. Back in November, she pulled her entire catalogue from Spotify, saying that the streaming service doesn’t adequately compensate artists. Since then, she’s proved to be one of the savviest brand creators going. The singer took steps to trademark some of her key phrases (think “This sick beat”), devalued paparazzi snaps by posting her own photos to Instagram, and, just this week, made the news for buying up any adult-sounding web domains that include her name.
Fortune further noted that She’s become a massive cultural influencer—exemplifying the exact model leadership that forms the basis of this year’s list. Ms. Swift has definitely stood up in time and made her stand be counted with the mighty Apple and in the process is standing more tall. In the process, the world is witness to how effective one can be if determined in the digital universe, to make change happen through influence. Powerful lessons indeed out of this happening for individual(s) and mighty corporations as well.

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