How Does Making Apple Change Its Plans and Pay Artists Impact Taylor Swift’s Brand?

Definitive voice on the streaming music biz

Headshot of Kristina Monllos

Taylor Swift yesterday penned an open letter to Apple challenging the tech behemoth's decision not to pay artists while consumers try out its new music streaming service, Apple Music, with a three-month free trial. Shortly after Swift's Tumblr post, which came a week ahead of Apple Music's launch, the brand changed its plans, announcing on Twitter that it would, in fact, pay artists.

Has Swift, one of the most successful pop stars in the world and an accomplished businesswoman in her own right, become the definitive voice of the streaming music business? Or, is the move indicative of a shift within the tech business in which content, not hardware, is king? 

It's a bit of both, according to analysts, who said that while the move certainly boosts Swift's role as a celebrity endorser, there has been a power shift within the industry. 

"Apple's future is going to be more driven by content than it is going to be driven by hardware," said Allen Adamson, North American chairman at brand consulting firm Landor. "If they don't have the right content online, it doesn't matter how fast your speeds are … you're cooked. And Taylor Swift represents the power of content." 

Apple Music, which was announced earlier this month at Apple's World Developers Conference, seems to be the brand's answer to Spotify, Tidal and the burgeoning streaming music industry.

"[Apple is] late to the streaming space, so they can't be the 300-pound gorilla in the room," said Tim Maleeny, chief strategy officer Havas Worldwide and managing partner at Havas Worldwide in New York. "Taylor Swift, like a handful of celebrities, understands that with great power comes great responsibility. She takes her visibility and her clout seriously." 

Swift has nearly 60 million followers on Twitter, and a day after posting her letter, the metrics of her reach are staggering. On Tumblr, the letter has almost 74,000 notes; on Twitter, it has almost 39,000 retweets and close to 64,000 favorites. 

"The reason she has legions of followers isn't just because she can write a catchy pop song, but her most rabid fans are behind her," Maleeny said. "Her relationship with her fans and the ongoing dialog that she has with them isn't just a genius way to build a following as a music artist, but it is an open dialog where she seems to represent them and recognizes that she could get their voices heard." 

Erik Ashdown, founder and CEO of indiloop, a music technology company, agreed.

"Taylor Swift is not a pop singer but a phenomenon," he said. "Swift's piece was well said and well received. It made perfectly clear that she is asserting that Apple is not the problem or necessarily the bad guy but, in this instance, are setting a very negative impression as to how music is perceived." 

For the Swift brand, it "adds a certain backbone to her brand image, which will be good for her," said Adamson. "It builds her credibility and strength in the marketplace as a brand and persona, and it will attract a whole range of different marketers who want to end up with the artist that pushed back and got something to change. Her role as a celebrity endorser, her stock just went up." 

That Apple changed course so quickly is important, too, according to analysts.

Jordan Cohen, chief marketing officer at Fluent, said, "In reality this episode underscores the strength of the Apple brand and the likely widespread adoption of its upcoming Apple Music offering." 

The move also shows that big brands can be flexible and change their minds, said Landor's Adamson.

"And big brands need to be more agile, be able to flex and change how they manage their brand based on market realities," he said. "Because if [Apple] had held the line here, they might have won this little battle, but they would have lost the war." 

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.