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Apple Music To Offer Dolby Atmos Incentive To Artists, Record Labels

by January 12, 2024
Apple Music & Dolby Atmos

Apple Music & Dolby Atmos

How to Enjoy Spatial Audio Music - Join the Revolution!

Bloomberg’s Ashley Carman recently published a report stating that Apple is offering incentives to artists and record labels to produce music in the Dolby Atmos format, which works with Apple’s Spatial Audio technology. Bloomberg is one of the most reliable sources of information on Apple, but the rumors of such a plan actually began spreading back in October of 2023, when a leaked email from Apple was sent to Digital Music News. The email said that Apple would be restructuring its royalties for Apple Music, and that tracks available in Dolby Atmos would receive increased compensation per stream. 

The leaked email said that:

 “to recognize the creative investment and value that high-quality Spatial Audio brings to both fans and artists, we will be making changes to how royalties are calculated. Plays of content available in Spatial Audio will receive a higher royalty value.” 

Interestingly, the language of the email suggests that the songs don’t have to be played back in Spatial Audio in order to earn the higher royalties — they simply need to be available in Spatial Audio. Bloomberg’s report confirms this to be the case, citing “people with knowledge of the matter,” as its anonymous source. These knowledgeable people asked not to be identified because the changes to Apple’s royalties system have not yet been announced by the company.

The added “weighting” to streams of songs that are mixed in Dolby Atmos will reportedly go into effect at some time in 2024. This could mean that artists who have already embraced the technology will suddenly earn higher royalty payments without changing a thing. Meanwhile, artists and labels that have not offered music in Atmos will have a tangible incentive to do so, even if they aren’t invested in the format from an artistic perspective. And this could lead to some negative unintended consequences. Both the leaked email and the report by Bloomberg indicate that listeners wouldn’t actually have to play the Atmos version of a track in order for the artists and/or labels to collect increased royalties. If the song is merely offered in Dolby Atmos, any stream of that song — including the stereo version — would receive the benefit of increased compensation. This policy would naturally encourage musicians and record labels to offer as much content as possible in the format, and it could easily lead to an influx of sub-par Atmos remixes of existing music, along with half-hearted Atmos versions of new material. Apple Music specifically forbids labels from submitting Atmos tracks that are simply up-mixed from stereo, but it’s not hard to imagine that AI-based tools could soon be used as a shortcut to create Atmos mixes devoid of artistic intent.

 Spatial Audio AirPods Pro

The good news is that mixing music in Dolby Atmos has become more affordable and more accessible in recent years, as an increasing number of studios and mixing/mastering professionals have adopted the technology and made the necessary investments in Atmos-capable equipment. Apple’s Spatial Audio technology, which works with Dolby Atmos, was only just introduced in 2021, and it’s probably fair to say that many consumers have had their first experience with Dolby Atmos via one of Apple’s gadgets. Apple’s Spatial Audio technology is designed to make audio feel three-dimensional, as if it were being played back via a multichannel Dolby Atmos system, even when the actual playback hardware is a pair of AirPods or a HomePod speaker. If more content is available in Dolby Atmos, perhaps more consumers will be convinced of the value added by Apple’s Spatial Audio implementation. Of course, Dolby Atmos tracks can also be played back on actual Atmos-capable home theater systems, and the Apple TV 4K is a popular playback device for those with real-deal Dolby Atmos home theaters. See our article Apple Music Lossless & Dolby Atmos How YOU Can Enjoy Every Bit of Resolution! Chief Audioholic Gene DellaSala also has a great YouTube video on How To Enjoy Spatial Audio Music.

 Spatial Audio

Other Streaming Services that Support Spatial Audio

Of course, Apple is not the only music streamer offering content mixed in Dolby Atmos. Tidal offers Dolby Atmos music as part of its HiFi Plus tier, and Amazon Music Unlimited currently has thousands of songs available in Atmos (and in Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format) available at no extra cost beyond the standard $9.99/month subscription fee for the service. The Amazon Echo Studio smart speaker even does a surprisingly decent job of making a case for Dolby Atmos music. Other popular speakers and soundbars from brands like Sonos and Samsung have brought a taste of the Atmos experience into the homes of more “ordinary” folks (i.e., non-audiophiles). But the streaming service catering to the largest number of ordinary folks — by far — is Spotify. And as of now, Spotify offers no support for Dolby Atmos, nor spatial audio listening of any kind. In 2021, the same year that Apple Music became lossless and Apple introduced Spatial Audio, Spotify promised that a new lossless version of its service would arrive by the end of that year. The company has yet to follow through with a lossless HiFi tier, but rumors suggest that it’s still coming, and that it might include Dolby Atmos, when and if it becomes reality. Although Spotify’s streaming service is beloved by millions, the company has faced harsh criticism for its royalty structure, which pays artists relatively little compared to some competitors, such as Tidal and Deezer. Perhaps Apple’s use of increased royalty payments to make Dolby Atmos more enticing is also a strategy to improve the public perception of the company, and widen the gap between itself and Spotify, which many would claim does not value artists or treat them fairly. What’s certain is that, for now anyway, Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio are potentially significant differentiators for Apple Music compared to Spotify.

 Apple Music Ariana Grande Dolby Atmos on iPhone

Again, the change in Apple Music’s royalty structure has not yet been announced by Apple, but Bloomberg’s report presented the change as a fait accompli. Apple declined to comment. Even without this incentive in place, more and more artists are releasing music in Dolby Atmos. Whether you’re into The London Philharmonic Orchestra or Taylor Swift, it’s not hard to find Atmos music that will speak to your tastes, but the majority of recorded music out there is still strictly stereo. It’s interesting to see Apple’s push to make Dolby Atmos a truly mainstream format for music. But the company’s AirPods alone brought in $14.5 billion in revenue in 2022, so it’s no surprise that Apple is willing to invest heavily in music and audio. And while Apple’s Vision Pro headset, scheduled to launch in 2024, will certainly begin life as a niche product, Apple claims that it will boast the most advanced Spatial Audio system ever. Apple also says that 80 percent of Apple Music’s subscribers worldwide listened to at least some music in Spatial Audio during 2022. Will Apple’s new royalty scheme be a good thing or a bad thing for Dolby Atmos music? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below.


About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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