Apple Plans to Incentivize Musicians to Upgrade Their Sound

Apple plans to incentivize artists to use Dolby Atmos spatial-sound technology in their recordings by giving them more platform weight.

Photo of person holding AirPods
Photo by Screen Post via Unsplash

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

Apple is turning up the volume against music-streaming rivals. 

Bloomberg reported on Monday that Apple plans to incentivize artists to use Dolby Atmos spatial-sound technology in their recordings by giving them more platform weight and potentially paying them higher royalties on Apple Music. Apple’s power play comes after rival music streamer Spotify suffered a pretty bruising wrap to the year. What makes Apple think it’ll work? Cue Pink Floyd’s Money in surround sound.

From The Silver Screen To Your Ears

Dolby Atmos is a surround-sound technology that gives audio a three-dimensional quality. For example, if someone recording in Dolby Atmos stands far away and shouts, that’s how it comes across when the recording is played. If they stand right next to the microphone and whisper, that’s how it sounds, too — good for anyone trying to build tension. Dolby Atmos got its first big break in the movie business in 2012 with the debut of Disney Pixar’s film Brave, and it’s become a fixture in movie theaters since. Now Dolby wants a world outside of cinema — and Apple’s here for it.

Apple has Dolby Atmos capabilities built into its AirPod headphones, as well as its various other devices including iPhones, iPads, and on its Apple TV 4K streaming service (not to mention Apple Music), so encouraging more musicians to use the tech makes Apple’s music offerings and devices that much more appealing:

  • Sources told Bloomberg that Apple’s incentives will apply to artists simply for offering their tracks in Dolby Atmos. It’ll be more than just a few elevated royalties trickling in via a niche market of dedicated audiophiles.
  • Spotify, Apple Music’s biggest rival, doesn’t offer Dolby Atmos sound. It’s also undergoing deep cuts at the moment, with CEO Daniel Ek announcing 17% staff cuts last week.

Stream Squeeze: Any way to squeeze a bit more juice out of streaming rights might just look like an oasis in the desert right now to Hipgnosis, a fund which owns the streaming rights to smash-hit artists including Beyoncé, Leonard Cohen, and Justin Bieber. The fund announced Monday it’s unloaded $23 million in rights to “non-core” songs at a 14% discount compared to last September, when it sold $465 million — nearly half of its whole portfolio. Let’s hope that doesn’t turn out to be a mirage…