Any time Taylor Swift makes headlines, my instinctual reaction as a writer is to swat with scorn, like she’s a nuisance fly hungry to shit all over the freshly-grilled cheeseburgers at a picnic. I think her music is bland and uninteresting, made even worse by droves of bland and uninteresting fans who embrace her unique personal brand of vanilla white girl uniqueness (…I do like it when she plays banjo, though). I’ve joked here on BroBible about her OMG! brunch-with-my-girls! cattiness, listed reasons no one should ever want to date her, and, hell, just yesterday called her the “Queen of Basic Bitch.”
But I’m an idiot.
Taylor Swift has her shit together.
Some genius editor at the Wall Street Journal convinced Swift to pen an op-ed for the paper about the music business. While many like to bitch and moan about the industry’s tectonic shift in the digital era, Swift comes across as not only an optimist, but also as a futurist with invaluable advice for anyone looking to strike out in the business. She believes that “the music industry is not dying…it’s just coming alive,” noting how every artist has handled the blow from piracy, file sharing, and streaming differently, especially when it comes to hitting the bottom line.
She starts with the proliferation of new business models within the business. For starters, Swift believes it’s not always about giving your art away for free. I read this as a polite “fuck you” to every boisterous aspiring rapper/DJ in existence, especially the young guns looking to break through in their respective scenes with only a handful of tracks. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was The Rolling Stones’ discography. Via:
In recent years, you’ve probably read the articles about major recording artists who have decided to practically give their music away, for this promotion or that exclusive deal. My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet…is that they all realize their worth and ask for it.
Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.
Preach! While the remix culture we live in is great, the free mixtape/track/Soundcloud business model that music industry’s bottom feeders survive on has created a shit-load of free clutter. Sorting through it requires significant PR/management pull on the artist, which certainly doesn’t come cheap. Just look at all the weak-ass college rappers who want to be the next Mac Miller. Every single day my inbox is flooded with subject lines lauding “the next Wiz Khalifa” or “the next Tiesto” who played some backyard party.
The artists who actually start to stand out are the artists who value their live show. This natural evolution is where things get tricky: Does one keep the online masses happy with more free music (and, thus, push oneself to continue creating/producing new music) or make the easy money that comes from show after show after show, honing your craft in front of an audience on a stage? It’s a double-edged sword: If an artist goes the live route, will they actually grow and evolve to title billing OR will they always be stuck playing shitty fraternity parties for an easy buck? Or, if an artist only produces, are they just adding to the clutter (without really being able to ever actually live off their art)?
Strike a balance between creating and performing, just like the most successful musicians in the industry have always done.
This is where Swift’s formula to industry success is important: Don’t just create one or two songs every year that everyone in the world will hear ad nausea (I’m looking at you, Pitbull); Create an album that your hard-earned fans want to hear over and over again. Make it that album that they create memories to, like baby boomers did to Exile on Mainstreet or Led Zeppelin IV:
In mentioning album sales, I’d like to point out that people are still buying albums, but now they’re buying just a few of them. They are buying only the ones that hit them like an arrow through the heart or have made them feel strong or allowed them to feel like they really aren’t alone in feeling so alone. It isn’t as easy today as it was 20 years ago to have a multiplatinum-selling album, and as artists, that should challenge and motivate us.
It’s easy for Swift to say “I’d like to point out that people are still buying albums” when you could literally have a physical copy of RED delivered to your door from Papa John’s with the purchase of a large pepperoni pizza when it came out. But modes of distribution aren’t the point; The emotions that music evokes are:
There are always going to be those artists who break through on an emotional level and end up in people’s lives forever. The way I see it, fans view music the way they view their relationships. Some music is just for fun, a passing fling (the ones they dance to at clubs and parties for a month while the song is a huge radio hit, that they will soon forget they ever danced to). Some songs and albums represent seasons of our lives, like relationships that we hold dear in our memories but had their time and place in the past.
However, some artists will be like finding “the one.” We will cherish every album they put out until they retire and we will play their music for our children and grandchildren. As an artist, this is the dream bond we hope to establish with our fans. I think the future still holds the possibility for this kind of bond, the one my father has with the Beach Boys and the one my mother has with Carly Simon.
This is 100% true. Becoming a beloved popular musician who can making a living off their art isn’t just about creating great music that’s uniquely you, it’s about crafting a unique fan base who’s emotionally invested in every little thing you do. And it’s easier to do than ever in the age of Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. Even though they know exactly what your concert product is going to look like, they’ll come out in droves simply because they want to see what an artist does next. They want to be there for the experience. This explains why I’ve gone to over 50 Phish shows and still keep coming back for more; It feels like it’s part of who I am, not just something to do:
In the YouTube generation we live in, I walked out onstage every night of my stadium tour last year knowing almost every fan had already seen the show online. To continue to show them something they had never seen before, I brought out dozens of special guest performers to sing their hits with me. My generation was raised being able to flip channels if we got bored, and we read the last page of the book when we got impatient. We want to be caught off guard, delighted, left in awe. I hope the next generation’s artists will continue to think of inventive ways of keeping their audiences on their toes, as challenging as that might be.
And, as mentioned earlier, social media is where it’s at. Look at the success of Hoodie Allen with his 447,000 Twitter followers, cultivated over the years from simply being himself. Take it away, Taylor:
A friend of mine, who is an actress, told me that when the casting for her recent movie came down to two actresses, the casting director chose the actress with more Twitter followers. I see this becoming a trend in the music industry. For me, this dates back to 2005 when I walked into my first record-label meetings, explaining to them that I had been communicating directly with my fans on this new site called Myspace. In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans—not the other way around.
She’s also down with genre-blurring, which explains why Swift has drifted far, far away from her roots on country radio. Is that a bad thing? Definitely not when it comes to her central money-making philosophy of opening oneself to new fan bases:
Another theme I see fading into the gray is genre distinction. These days, nothing great you hear on the radio seems to come from just one musical influence. The wild, unpredictable fun in making music today is that anything goes. Pop sounds like hip hop; country sounds like rock; rock sounds like soul; and folk sounds like country—and to me, that’s incredible progress. I want to make music that reflects all of my influences, and I think that in the coming decades the idea of genres will become less of a career-defining path and more of an organizational tool.
This moment in music is so exciting because the creative avenues an artist can explore are limitless. In this moment in music, stepping out of your comfort zone is rewarded, and sonic evolution is not only accepted…it is celebrated. The only real risk is being too afraid to take a risk at all.
Swift’s path to success is a proven one: It emphasizes a quality product, constantly reminding them you’re around, and genuine caring for the hard-earned fanbase a musician cultivates. She ends:
And as for me? I’ll just be sitting back and growing old, watching all of this happen or not happen, all the while trying to maintain a life rooted in this same optimism.
And I’d also like a nice garden.
Damn straight. Vine-ripe tomatoes in the summer are fucking delicious.