How Taylor Swift's Apple Marketing Muscle Helped Drake Get Out of the Gate
Apple Music head of content Larry Jackson sits in Jimmy Iovine's Southern California home texting Drake's two managers, Future the Prince and Oliver El-Khatib, as they make their way to Burbank to film an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Jackson, the former J Records, RCA and Interscope A&R, has been building a relationship with Drake and his OVO team for nearly two years, forming a partnership that has turned the rapper into the poster child for Apple Music's first year in the streaming business -- and its biggest success to date, reminding his boss and mentor Iovine of an earlier time.
"It's a lot like the relationship that Jimmy describes to me that he had with Suge [Knight] -- Suge was really with him side by side in a lot of those formative years of Death Row," Jackson says. "[Drake's team and I] talk a dozen times a day, at least. We've developed a well-oiled relationship."
Two weeks earlier Jackson was back at Iovine's house, on a six a.m. call with Republic Records chairman/CEO Monte Lipman going over the first-week numbers of Drake's sixth studio album, Views. Released April 29 as an Apple exclusive for both download and streaming, the album moved 1.04 million equivalent units in its first week and shattered the previous first-week streaming record in the U.S. -- set the week before by Beyoncé's Lemonade, a Tidal streaming exclusive -- with 245 million streams.
Spring 2016 may go down as a tipping point for streaming, as four of the five largest U.S. streaming releases for an artist have come since April. With Chance the Rapper's independently releasing Coloring Book (May 13) as an Apple streaming exclusive, and set to chart in the top 10 of the Billboard 200, it will mark the first time an album has made the chart based on streaming metrics alone.
The numbers are growing exponentially. Jackson sees a 500 million-stream week as "definitely around the corner," while Sonos CEO John MacFarlane predicted at IMS Engage on April 21 that global streaming subscribers could surpass one billion in just five years.
With Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal all fighting for customers, marketing has proved to be key, and thanks to Apple's deep pockets -- and Taylor Swift -- the company has outpaced its rivals in terms of media exposure. The first of Swift's new four-part series of Apple Music ads features the pop star running on (and falling off) a treadmill to the beat of Drake and Future's "Jumpman." (Jackson on whether Swift did her own treadmill stunt: "I'll go to the grave with that one. I can't tell you.")
"She sent me a bulletin board of ideas that and one of them was her falling and tripping on a treadmill, and the parenthetical sentence that came afterword was, 'This is gonna go viral,'" Jackson says. "And she was right." The placement sparked a 325 percent spike for Apple's #GymFlow playlist, and double-digit sales and streaming gains for the track, while the spot has 17 million YouTube views to date. Also worth noting: "Jumpman" is from Drake and Future's joint 2015 Apple exclusive What a Time to Be Alive, and Apple is sponsoring the pair's summer tour. And sources confirm that Chance the Rapper will also appear in an upcoming Apple Music ad following his streaming exclusive.
Still, Apple's 13 million global paid subscribers lags far behind Spotify's 30 million, while exclusives from Beyoncé, Kanye West and Rihanna have spurred Tidal past 3 million. The number of global streaming subscribers soared 66 percent in the past year to 68 million, according an April IFPI report, and streaming revenue rose 45 percent to $2.9 billion.
Indeed, Jackson says what is most impressive about the success of Drake's Views has been "the revenue," which he likens to "the opening of a hit film." But with Pandora, SoundCloud and others seeking to crowd the streaming space, Jackson isn't looking over his shoulder. "We've got blinders on," he says with a laugh. "We'll leave it at that."
A version of this was originally published in the May 28 issue of Billboard.