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Apple Music's Trent Reznor backs subscription streaming, but says free music 'here to stay'

By Roger Fingas

In an interview published on Wednesday, Apple Music executive Trent Reznor -- best known as the frontman of Nine Inch Nails -- said that while he's been converted to the concept of subscription streaming, he also believes free music is "here to stay."

A collaborative album with Saul Williams, "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!" proved to be a failure in getting people to choose between free downloads or paying $5 directly to the artists, Reznor told Vulture.

"Maybe 30,000 downloads occurred in the next week and less than 20 percent were paid for," he noted. "I thought that second number would be higher. At the time, I felt I was making a genuine offer, worded simply and confrontationally, for something I thought had genuine value. So I was bummed out by the result. It took the wind out of my sails as far as thinking of direct-to-customer as a sustainable business for a musician.

"In a way, that experience gave me a preemptive look at music today," he continued. "You're not making money from albums; instead they're a vessel for making people aware of you. That's what led me to thinking that a singular subscription service clearly is the only way this problem is going to be solved. If we can convert as many music fans as possible to the value of that, in a post-ownership world, it would be the best way to go."

Reznor ended up at Apple as a result of the company's $3 billion Beats takeover in 2014, since he was serving as Beats' chief creative officer. His role at Apple has been nebulous to the public, but he did help spearhead Beats 1 radio.

"Without going into detail, I'll say it's been an education," Reznor said in the interview. "I've been on the other side of artists b---- about payments and free music, and I agree with those arguments, but you can sit and b---- about the way things are, or you can try to affect some change.

"Working under the Apple umbrella, I have a unique opportunity to work on a streaming service from the inside. I thought I could help set a precedent where artists could actually be paid and the fans could feel like they were dealing with a service run by people who actually care about music."

Reznor described progress as "interesting," however.

"Where it seems to have wound up is that free music is here to stay. It doesn't seem like, with all the different services, artist payments are coming together in the way that one would hope," he commented. He noted however that he's gleaned a lot of data, for instance discovering that Nine Inch Nails is unusually popular in Mexico.

Reznor's views may counter some of the talking points of some other Apple executives, who have touted Apple Music's success and artist-friendliness, and in some cases attacked services with ad-based free tiers, such as Spotify. Apple Music is paid-only after a three-month trial.

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