Taylor Swift's Partnership With Apple Is a Landmark -- and Predictable -- Deal

Taylor Swift, 1989 World Tour
Larry Busacca/LP5/Getty Images for TAS

Taylor Swift performs on stage during the 1989 World Tour Live at Ford Field on May 30, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. 

It can be seen as a portent of things to come -- and business-as-usual for one of the world's biggest stars.

"Different year, different partner." That is an accurate description of the industry maneuvering behind Apple Music's new relationship with Taylor Swift and the pair's just-announced exclusive on a 1989 tour documentary.

Those looking for greater meaning in the Swift/Apple partnership can look at it as a changing of the guard; many of the most popular artists have shunned streaming services over the years. Occasionally a band like Metallica or Led Zeppelin would bring their catalogs exclusively to Spotify to great fanfare. And occasionally an artist successful enough to rile their distributors, from Thom Yorke to Adele, would keep their music off streaming services for one reason or another. Now Swift, an outspoken critic of Spotify who has routinely kept her newest music off streaming services, is going with Apple Music to release new content. 

This isn't your older brother's music business; the market has changed over the last 14 months. Swift took a stand against free on-demand music -- audio, not video -- by pulling out of Spotify after the release of 1989 in November of 2014. She followed that with another statement, one heard throughout the creative community, against Apple's plan not to pay royalties during Apple Music's three-month trials. Apple quickly relented. Apple executive Eddy Cue, who oversees all things iTunes and Apple Music, even called Swift to give her the news. With that door opened, Apple walked through and stole Swift from its competitors.

It's all about the relationships. Apple has partnered with artists such as Drake and Pharrell Williams and lures artists to its Beats 1 radio station for everything from worldwide premieres to sit-down interviews (including Swift). Apple is also making a hard push into television. Apple TV was once a hobby in a prolonged development phase. Now its taking on Amazon Fire TV and Roku in an attempt to create the dominant over-the-top video streaming product. (Apple is also working on an actual Apple television -- not just a little set-top box but an actual HD television -- that may be released in 2016.) Video success is predicated on exclusive content -- Netflix has it. Amazon Prime has it. Clearly Apple will have it, too.

We're in a new era. Top talent will go to streaming services for the right price and right opportunity. And while the Swift/Apple partnership may mark a changing of the guard, it's really just a continuation of old practices. To wit...

Before Apple Music was Comcast. The cable television provider was the lead sponsor for Swift's 1989 tour. Comcast customers had access to on-demand access to a slew of video content featuring Swift. It also gave its customers the opportunity to have a backstage tour and a meet-and-greet experience.

Before Comcast was iHeartRadio. The radio company negotiated its first licensing deal with Swift's label, Big Machine, back in 2012. The deal pays Big Machine for both broadcast plays and online streams. It's safe to assume Big Machine gained some airtime, too -- it was explicitly part of the Clear Channel's deal with Warner Music Group the following year. iHeartRadio has also provided Swift huge promotional support for 1989, hosting listening parties in a handful of major markets and securing a Secret Session broadcast simultaneously on Yahoo! Live and iHeartMedia's contemporary hit radio stations.

Before iHeartRadio was Target, the retail partner for Swift's last three albums. Target exclusively sold a deluxe version of each, along with three bonus tracks, and gave those albums heavy promotion by airing television ads touting the album release and its exclusive version. Target got even more bonus content for the 2010 album Speak Now; in addition to the three bonus tracks were the "Mine" music video and a behind-the-scenes special about the making of the video.

Swift's new Apple deal is a business-as-usual move for an artist and label who are wringing every ounce of sales and promotional benefit out of anyone willing to meet them halfway -- or so.