Taylor Swift just wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal and it’s filled with fascinating insights into the music industry in the era of social media.
At 24 years old, she has won seven Grammys, sold 26 million albums and has over 51 million digital downloads. I think Swift has been so incredibly successful not just because of her musical talent, but because she is brilliant when it comes to marketing and understanding how the music industry has changed.
For example, in her op-ed piece, Swift talks about the celebrity autograph being all but dead.
I haven’t been asked for an autograph since the invention of the iPhone with a front-facing camera. The only memento “kids these days” want is a selfie.
Swift also explains that the YouTube era is forcing artists to be more creative with their live performances.
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.
Swift sais people in the entertainment industry are getting jobs because of their Twitter followers, and in fact artists will get record deals because they have fans—not the other way around.
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. In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans — not the other way around.
According to Swift, the notion of distinct musical genres is changing as everything is mixing with everything.
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.
And Swift insisted the concept of the album isn’t dead, despite declining sales. She said people will still buy an album from an artist they like, they’re just more selective. She still believes there’s a huge opportunity for musicians who can form a relationship with fans.
I think forming a bond with fans in the future will come in the form of constantly providing them with the element of surprise. No, I did not say “shock”; I said “surprise.” I believe couples can stay in love for decades if they just continue to surprise each other, so why can’t this love affair exist between an artist and their fans?
Swift certainly has mastered a love affair with her audience. She has found enormous success because she’s accepted change. She was one of the first artists to embrace social media and understand the tremendous value of connecting one-to-one with fans. Her success has been well-earned, not just in her talent but in her ability to adjust to an ever-changing music industry.
Having grown up in age where autographs were priceless it’s hard to imagine a selfie taking their place. It’s also hard to imagine concert goers watching a concert on YouTube before ever going to a show, or that artists would get record deals because of the number of Twitter followers they have as opposed to their talent. Yet, I’m smart enough to know that’s the new world we live in.
Swift was smart enough to realize that years ago.