|THURSDAY 14 MARCH 2019||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Already fighting a battle with the songwriters and music publishers of America, Spotify yesterday confirmed it was going to war on another front too, this time against its biggest competitor in premium streaming, big bad Apple. The streaming firm has filed a complaint with the European Commission accusing the tech giant of anti-competitive behaviour... [READ MORE]|
Spotify goes to war with Apple, asks EU to investigate anti-competitive behaviour
This has been a long time coming. Digital music companies have long complained about tech giants which - as well as manufacturing devices and/or controlling operating systems and app stores - also offer competing music services. The allegation is that said tech giants exploit their platforms to give their music set-ups an unfair competitive advantage.
Although complaints are sometimes also made about Amazon and Google, generally the loudest moaning has been about Apple's behaviour in this domain. Not least because Apple also has strict rules about in-app communications, which means you can't sign-post consumers when you are - for example - no longer allowing them to sign up within an iOS app in order to avoid having to pay your rival a 30% commission.
Spotify boss Daniel Ek took to his company's blog yesterday to announce that, "after careful consideration, Spotify has filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission the regulatory body responsible for keeping competition fair and non-discriminatory".
"In recent years", he then explained, "Apple has introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience - essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issues directly with Apple, we're now requesting that the EC take action to ensure fair competition".
That 30% commission on in-app purchases - often dubbed the "Apple tax" - is, unsurprisingly, Ek's top gripe. "Apple requires that Spotify and other digital services pay a 30% tax on purchases made through Apple's payment system", he wrote. "If we pay this tax, it would force us to artificially inflate the price of our premium membership well above the price of Apple Music. And to keep our price competitive for our customers, that isn't something we can do".
But, he explained, "if we choose not to use Apple's payment system, forgoing the charge, Apple then applies a series of technical and experience-limiting restrictions on Spotify. For example, they limit our communication with our customers - including our outreach beyond the app". Those restrictions, he said, can even include emailing customers.
Beyond the Apple Tax, Ek also complained that "Apple also routinely blocks our experience-enhancing upgrades. Over time, this has included locking Spotify and other competitors out of Apple services such as Siri, HomePod and Apple Watch".
Ek then set out a three part wish list for new rules the EC might want to enforce. First, he argued that all apps should be subject "to the same fair set of rules and restrictions", including those operated by an app store's owner. Secondly, "consumers should have a real choice of payment systems, and not be 'locked in' or forced to use systems with discriminatory tariffs such as Apple's". And, finally, "app stores should not be allowed to control the communications between services and users".
Concluding, Ek wrote: "Let me be clear that this is not a Spotify-versus-Apple issue. We want the same fair rules for companies young and old, large and small. It is about supporting and nurturing the healthy ecosystem that made our two companies successful in the first place. Consumers win and our industry thrives when we're able to challenge each other on fair footing. That's what competition on the merits is all about".
Companies like Spotify have been quietly lobbying on this issue in EU circles for a while. Indeed, for the streaming platforms - which will arguably benefit from the safe harbour reforms contained in the European Copyright Directive - this has always been a bigger issue than the copyright reforms that the music industry has been campaigning for.
Said businesses hope that EU law-makers will consider the issues around Apple, Amazon and Google controlling access to consumers while also operating their own content services as they start to put the spotlight on platform responsibility in the years ahead.
Of course, at various points Apple, Amazon and Google have all sparred with each other over how they deliver their content services to consumers using a rival's device, app store or website. Though Apple and Amazon have generally started getting on in this domain of late, with Apple Music as of yesterday fully integrated with Amazon's Fire TV set-up in the US. It already works with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant on the Echo device Stateside, with that functionality expected to also launch in the UK very soon.
Chancellor "missed a great opportunity" by not fixing venue business rates issue in spring statement
Both UK Music and the Music Venue Trust have previously hit out at the government for excluding music venues from a business rates relief programme designed to help small businesses on the high street. Bars and restaurants do benefit. Having access to that scheme is particularly important for those grassroots venues who saw their bills go up following a recent review of what business rates are due on any one property.
UK Music confirmed last month that its campaign to get venues added to the list of businesses that benefit from that relief scheme now had cross-party support in Parliament. The trade body's CEO Michael Dugher also met with Hammond, alongside Labour's Shadow Culture Minister Kevin Brennan, to discuss the issue.
However, Hammond didn't then mention it in his spring statement. Responding, Dugher said yesterday: "The Chancellor missed a great opportunity with his spring statement to give some much-needed help to hard-pressed grassroots music venues. It's ludicrous for the government to say that grassroots music venues are 'not similar' to pubs and clubs".
"We will keep pressing the Chancellor to listen to UK Music, the Music Venue Trust and senior MPs from across the political spectrum who want him to urgently rethink this policy", he added. "Our chance of developing future talent is put in jeopardy if performers cannot find a place to play to nurture their talent and grow their audience. Supporting grassroots venues must be a key part of the government's industrial strategy for music".
However, UK Music did welcome some of the announcements Hammond made yesterday. The lobbying group said it "welcomed the Chancellor's announcement that a £700 million package to help small and medium-sized enterprises invest in apprenticeships will be rolled out from next month" and the promised "new investment in cities and city regions".
The Social says it needs to raise £95,000 in two weeks to avoid closure
"Rising rents and an offer to the building's leaseholder from a cocktail and wine bar chain have put The Social under very serious threat", says the venue's management. "The bar's founders need to raise money to buy a controlling share in the venue from the leaseholder in order to keep The Social open. Unless new investment is found in the next two weeks then the iconic venue will be forced to close its doors".
Hoping that it won't become part of the ongoing trend of London venues shutting their doors, the statement goes on: "When we opened in the summer of 1999, [the venue] was part of a thriving musical landscape in the capital".
"The Social joined a list of central London music venues such the Astoria, the LA2, The End, Turnmills, Plastic People, The Falcon, the Metro and Madame JoJos (to name a few)", it adds. Now it's one of just a couple of places left to see bands or DJs in the West End. The 20th anniversary should be a point of celebration; not for a quick, tearful goodbye before the wrecking ball arrives".
News of The Social's landlord issues comes as The Cellar in Oxford announced its closure, after two years of battling to remain open.
Michael Jackson "innocent" posters to be removed from London busses following complaint from survivor charity
The adverts - showing Jackson with the word "innocent" over his mouth, plus the slogan "facts don't lie, people do" - first appeared on busses and bus stops in London last month. This followed a successful crowdfunding campaign by fans to raise £20,000, ahead of the broadcast of the documentary 'Leaving Neverland', which tells the story of two men who say they were abused by Jackson as children.
Initially TFL said that the adverts had not broken any of its rules, so had been allowed to go on display. However, it now says that it has decided to remove them, "due to the public sensitivity and concern around their content".
This follows concerns raised by The Survivors Trust, which offers counselling and other support services to adults and children who have been the victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse. The charity said earlier this month that it was "particularly concerned" by TFL's decision to run an ad campaign "that endorses Jackson's innocence in the lead up to the documentary's broadcast".
"The decision to prioritise advertising revenue over the option of remaining neutral on such an emotive topic is disappointing", it went on. "The most recent Crime Survey Of England And Wales showed that less than one in five victims of rape or assault by penetration reported this to the police, 25% of these choosing to remain silent as they did not think that they would be believed. An advertising campaign such as this perpetuates this fear amongst survivors and is very misplaced".
The adverts had been scheduled to stay on display until 24 Mar.
Meanwhile, a producer of 'The Simpsons' - Al Jean - has spoken about the recent decision to withdraw from circulation an old episode of the show guest starring Jackson. Jean, who co-wrote the episode, said that the show's bosses now believe that Jackson used it to "groom" young boys. Speaking to The Daily Beast, he says that withdrawing the episode "wasn't something that makes me happy" but "it's something I agree with completely".
He then adds: "What saddens me is, if you watch that documentary - which I did, and several of us here did - and you watch that [Simpsons] episode, honestly, it looks like the episode was used by Michael Jackson for something other than what we'd intended it. It wasn't just a comedy to him, it was something that was used as a tool. And I strongly believe that".
"I think it was part of what he used to groom boys", he goes on. "If you watch the documentary and then you watch that episode, something's amiss ... Nobody's perfect, and other guest stars have been far from perfect, but this is the only episode where there was a point to the episode that was other than just having the guest star do a comic performance on the guest star's part, which I didn't realise at the time".
Stormzy launches new writers' prize
"I know too many talented writers that don't always have an outlet or a means to get their work seen", says the rapper. "Hopefully #Merky Books can now be a reference point for them to say 'I can be an author' and for that to be a realistic and achievable goal. Reading and writing as a kid was integral to where I am today and I, from the bottom of my heart, cannot wait to hear your stories and get them out into the big wide world".
Aspiring writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry from the UK and Ireland, aged between sixteen and 30, have until 12 Apr to put themselves forward for the new prize, with the shortlist announced on 2 May. The overall winner will be revealed on 6 Jun and all shortlisted writers will be invited to a free workshop.
Stormzy launched his Penguin Random House imprint #Merky Books last summer, kicking things off with his own book, 'Rise Up'.
Ludovico Einaudi announces UK tour dates and Barbican residency
The 'Seven Days Walking' series of albums are set to be released one per month, starting this Friday. The new UK live shows will follow two sold out performances at London's Union Chapel later this month.
Tickets for the tour will go on sale this Friday. Here are the dates:
31 Jul: London, The Barbican
Vampire Weekend, Alicia Keys, Roots Manuva, more
Other notable announcements and developments today...
• Did you ever notice how, when bands want to make a big impression because they've been away for a while, they often put a celebrity in their music video? Well, anyway, Jerry Seinfeld is in the new Vampire Weekend video. As are a number of other famous faces. The band will also play three London shows next week, one at EartH in Hackney on 21 Mar, followed by two nights at the Islington Assembly Hall (the first on Friday evening, the second on Saturday morning).
• Alicia Keys is set to publish a "part autobiography, part narrative documentary" - titled 'More Myself: A Journey' - through Oprah Winfrey's Oprah Book company in November. Here's a video announcing it.
• Roots Manuva and Living Colour's Doug Wimbish have released a new collaboration, 'Spit Bits'. The track is taken from the new 'Pay It Back Vol 7' compilation on Adrian Sherwood's On-U Sound label, which is due out at the end of the month.
• Blawan and Pariah have announced the first release from their Karenn project for five years. The 'Kind Of Green' EP - "five slices of pudding for your pet fowl", as they describe it - will be released on 12 Apr.
• Frankie Cosmos have announced a collection of new stripped down, piano-based songs, which will be released in weekly batches over the next month. Titled 'Haunted Items', the album will only be available on digital music services. The band have also announced that they will play a one-off UK show at EartH in London on 1 Apr.
• G Flip has released the video for recent single 'Drink Too Much'.
• Praa has released the video for new single 'Infinite Regress'.
• She Drew The Gun have announced UK tour dates for October and November this year. Their biggest ever headline tour, it will include a date at London's Electric Ballroom on 17 Oct.
• Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Ariana Grande is vegan, but her new Starbucks collaboration isn't
When she announced the Caramel Cloud Macchiato earlier this month, she did suggest it was vegan, encouraging fans on Twitter to "try the soy version". However, replacing the milk in the drink with a non-dairy alternative, as Buzzfeed points out, does very little to improve its vegan credentials.
The issue is with the drink's toppings. The 'cloud foam' that gives it its frothy head is made with egg whites, while the caramel sauce on top of that contains butter. You could make it vegan by removing those, but then it would just be a macchiato, which isn't new or directly endorsed by Grande. Though that's seemingly what many Grande fans have walked out of the coffee shop with - a number of Starbucks staff having written on social media that they've been inundated with requests for a vegan version of the drink.
Grande's endorsement of Starbucks seems relatively recent. It has been pointed out that in the past the music star has joked about her dislike of the coffee chain on Twitter. It's almost as if this is a cynical brand partnership more about money than anything else.
Anyway, Grande hasn't commented. Perhaps she's too busy drinking caramel cloud macchiatos. Or not. Is it worse to say she does or doesn't drink them?