Apple is finally throwing its money around to help Apple Music win. Singer Pharrell today announced that his new single “Freedom” will be available exclusively on Apple Music the day of its launch, June 30th.
Pharrell tweeted and Facebook posted a teaser still image and 15-second preview of the song, something Apple Music’s Connect feature is will likely allow users to do to quickly promote their content in a way that ties back to where they can monetize.
Pharrell almost surely didn’t give Apple his single out of the kindness of his “Happy” heart. Music exclusives cost money, or at least guaranteed promotion that will make the artist money. Bloomberg Businessweek had reported that Apple was in talks to score exclusives from top name artists back in April, but none were announced onstage at WWDC alongside the reveal of Apple Music. Now it’s clear that exclusive content is a strategy for Apple.
Apple Music needs content to distinguish itself from long-standing competitors like Spotify that offer a similar catalogue and functionality at the same price point. First off, it can’t be missing huge swaths of it. The company’s plan to not pay royalties during Apple Music’s three-month free trial led to boycotts by indie bands managed by Beggars Group, and a public shaming by Taylor Swift. Apple since retreated, saying it will pay royalties during the free trial. Now Billboard reports that move has convinced independent label collectives Beggars Group and Merlin Music to sign on with Apple Music.
Exclusive content done right could draw users into Apple Music’s three-month trial. If they don’t cancel, they’ll become paying subscribers automatically. Jay-Z’s Tidal streaming service tried to dangle exclusives to get people to sign up, but it’s had very few actual must-hear songs released solely on its app.
Getting in bed with Apple makes sense for the artists, as well. Pharrell will surely get tons of promo on Apple Music’s New and For You sections, and plays on its radio service BeatsOne.
But it’s also lucrative long-term. Artists want a following on Apple Music as it’s a powerful channel for connecting fans straight to purchases, not just low royalty streams. If Pharrell can get a bunch of people to follow him on Apple Music from the “Freedom” exclusive, those fans will be shown his album when it comes out, and could be shown Pharrell merchandise and concert tickets they can buy that really earn artists money.
Now the question is just how much Apple will pay or promise to get more exclusives lined up for the June 30 launch.