The Gimell Experiment

Published by @piggymouse1 on 2017-09-28

Dear Volunteer

This is the start of a project that I hope will end in persuading Apple Music and the other major streaming services to change the way they calculate their royalty payments.

Streaming royalties are currently calculated by Apple taking all the money they receive and then dividing it pro rata between all the tracks played. On the face of it, this sounds fair, but consider this:

  • Suppose Apple Music starts with just one subscriber paying £10 per month. This person listens to one normal classical album each evening. This album has, say, 8 tracks, making 240 tracks per month. The Apple payout is 58%. £5.80 / 240 makes a per-track payout of £0.02417.
  • A second subscriber joins, again paying £10 per month. This person runs a pop playlist on loop for 12 hours a day featuring tracks that are 3 minutes long, thereby clocking up something like 240 tracks a day, or 7,200 tracks per month.
  • The two £10s are now added together, as are the two track-counts. 58% of £20 is £11.60, which gets divided between the 7,440 tracks our two subscribers have played, making a per-track payout of £0.00156 (about 93% lower than it was before).
  • If our two subscribers had their £10 (or £5.80) divided only between the tracks they personally played, then the high volume Pop user would see their per-track payout drop to £0.000805, while the low-volume Classical user’s payout would be £0.02417. The overall payout from Apple, of course, would be unchanged.

So there is our problem, most of the subscription fee paid by a Classical subscriber is paid to Pop record labels.

I have attended many meetings with other labels, with trade organisations and even with Apple but nothing gets done. The labels can’t agree on a common approach, the trade organisations are dominated by the major companies who make most of their money from pop music, and Apple just wants their share of the subscription revenue and are not concerned how the royalty pot is divided.

If our experiments are a success we may decide to run a guerrilla campaign to try to embarrass Apple into changing their system.

At this early stage, we need to keep “below the radar”, analyse the data and learn how to exploit the weaknesses in their systems.

To give you an idea of what might follow, one potential tool in any campaign is Apple’s playlist system. I can change the tracks in the playlist you are running at any time. If we can grow our group of volunteers to a sufficient size we may, for example, be able to manipulate the Apple Music Classical Chart with the intention of attracting publicity for our campaign.

The ability to run playlists up to 24 hours a day will be an important part of any campaign. It allows a relatively small group of volunteers to have a significant impact. We need to learn how to do this while minimising the inconvenience for our volunteers. Please share your experiences with me so that I can circulate the best ideas and warn against any issues that become apparent.

It will take a week or two for us to identify your ID number, and those of your fellow volunteers, in the royalty reports we receive from Apple. I will write again when that process has been completed. In the meantime, please keep the playlist running as often as you can.

With best wishes