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

in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV
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.


  • Reply 1 of 8

    Resect to Mr. Reznor but the success or (not) of this:
    A collaborative album with Saul Williams, "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!"

    should not be regarded as a definitive industry case study

  • Reply 2 of 8
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,163member
    Odd -- the source article doesn't sensor out the word "bitch" (context: complaining), which seems perfectly reasonable as this is how adults actually speak. 
  • Reply 3 of 8
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    When the supply (music) is greater than the demand (music buyers), free or low cost will be the result.
  • Reply 4 of 8
    I've been reading the Apple Insider regularly for about a decade now, and now I finally decided to register to post. Long time reader; first time posting. I'm a Nine Inch Nails fan. It was because of Trent Reznor and his work with Apple computers that made me even consider buying one myself. So it makes me happy to see that he has an official roll at Apple Music as Apple Music executive Trent Reznor. I'm still a fan of Nine Inch Nails and Apple Computers. Also if anyone else is a fan of both and haven't been keeping up with NIN recently, you should check out all the new music at The extended instrumental version of The Fragile is magical; buy it now*.

    *This guy introduced me to Apple; I feel compelled to try to return the favor 😊

    Also, if this article interests you, the vinyl mission statement in the store at is worth taking a look at to give you an even better sense of what Trent Reznor thinks about music formats.
  • Reply 5 of 8

    A collaborative album with Saul Williams, "The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!"

    should not be regarded as a definitive industry case study

    You're right, the sample size is too small; however, it was still an interesting experiment. And if what he's currently observing in the industry is reflective of the results of that experiment, it is worth mentioning. As diverse as music consumers are, perhaps an "industry case study" isn't really possible. Can you believe some music consumers buy cassettes with new music on them?
  • Reply 6 of 8
    kamiltonkamilton Posts: 281member
    Mr. NIN is fortunate he made his mark and his $$ prior to today's streaming paradigm.  If he were starting out today, he'd go unplayed and unpaid.  Probably graduate to a promising career outside the music industry.  New definition of sellout.  
  • Reply 7 of 8

    I agree with a lot of what Trent says. I think he is being pragmatic about the situation. The fact is that the entire streaming thing hasn't been that great for artists.

    Like he said, albums are now just used to announce your presence. The real money is in the endless touring, at least for artists.

    As far as whether famous artists would make it in today's environment, it is difficult to say. There seems to be a right time for someone to just click, whether it was The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, whoever. It would be very difficult to recreate such circumstances.

    Still, I'm happy to subscribe to Apple Music and listen to the music I love and discover new music I enjoy. And I prefer NIN to Radiohead!

  • Reply 8 of 8
    Gotta give Apple credit for having the guts to leave such an important of the business in the hands of rockstars and rappers. Crazy and awesome.
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