Apple Covers Its Musical Bases

There are two ways you could look at Apple’s emerging music strategy. It’s either extremely ambitious, or Apple isn’t sure what to do in music so it’s trying everything.

The two need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, no one in the streaming music business seems terribly confident about their own business model right now, even as new players continue to pile into the market.

Apple is widely expected to announce a subscription music streaming service next week at its World Wide Developers Conference, offering unlimited, on-demand iTunes_adaccess to music from the major and leading independent record labels for $10 month. That will pit it Apple directly against Spotify, currently the leading subscription streaming service, with 15 million paying users and about 45 million users of its ad-supported free tier.

Unlike Spotify, Apple’s on-demand service will not include a free tier. But Apple isn’t writing off free music altogether. Far from it. According to the Wall Street Journal, is preparing to relaunch its existing free, ad-supported web radio service, iTunes Radio, adding programmed channels, some of which apparently will be hosted by celebrity DJs such as the rapper Drake, Pharrell Williams and Beats co-founder Dr. Dre, who is now working for Apple. Apple also recently hired away a group of producers and DJs from BBC Radio 1 to help with the programming. Read More »

Music Streaming’s Hidden Fees

Apart from precise dollar figures, there’s little in Sony Music’s original licensing contract with Spotify, uncovered by The Verge, that would surprise anyone familiar with how the major media companies do business with service providers (the full contract, which ran from 2011 to 2013, is here). Most of the money due to the label is payable upfront, in the form of a recoupable advances ($42.5 million over the three year term of the deal in this case), it includes a per-play minimum fee irrespective of Spotify’s own income, and it contains most-favored-nation (MFN) language assuring Sony that none of its competitors gets a better deal — all standard stuff.

Nonetheless, the contract provides a pretty good roadmap to where the money from streaming actually goes (hint: it’s not to artists).

spotify_1200x630_bThe advances payable by Spotify to Sony under the contract were recoupable (using a complex formula based on a fixed percentage of Spotify’s gross revenue, Sony artists’ aggreate share of total streams during the payment period and the minimum per-stream royalty) but non-refundable. If the actual payments due to Sony, as calculated under the formula, were less than the advance Sony kept 100 percent of the advance anyway. Read More »

Music labels finally getting a clue

Interesting piece by Brad Stone in this morning’s NYTimes on the music labels’ shift away from imposing punitive terms on digital music start-ups in favor of terms that might let them stay alive long enough to actually create some business for the record companies.

imeem-universalStone uses as his hook the recent experience of Imeem, which was on the verge of shutting down because its ad revenue could not begin to cover the millions it owed the labels in licensing fees, but was given an 11th-hour reprieve when Warner Music Group agreed to forgive Imeem’s debt and both Warner and Universal Music modified their licensing terms with the online music service. That allowed Imeem to raise new financing and stay in operation.

“We are trying to figure out how to restructure partnerships and develop a healthier ecosystem where entrepreneurs can continue to innovate,” Warner Music’s Michael Nash told the Times. Read More »