Posted inEditor's Pick

Taylor Swift Is a Music Business Genius: A Reading List

Mark Armstrong | Longreads | July 7, 2014 | words

A brief guide to the music business, according to Taylor Swift: Featuring the Wall Street Journal, Planet Money and The New Yorker.

Posted inNonfiction, Reading List

Taylor Swift Is a Music Business Genius: A Reading List

Taylor Swift has done it again, this time getting Apple to change its streaming deal with artists. Here’s a collection of stories on how the pop star runs the music industry. 

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1. The Future of Music Is a Love Story (Taylor Swift, Wall Street Journal)

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Swift says the future of music will be saved by this—the ability of a star to make millions of real friendships:

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.

2. The Secret Genius of Taylor Swift (Zoe Chace, Planet Money, 2012)

It’s not just the emotional bonds that will matter—it’s also the ability to thrive in a fragmented world where streaming overtakes individual album sales. Planet Money reported in 2012 that Swift and her team still know the best ways to move albums:

As Paul Resnikoff, editor and founder of Digital Music News points out, she has chosen from the toolbox only the outlets that would give her the most money for every album sold: Outlets that pushed a full album purchase.

The first week her album came out, you could only get it in a few key places: iTunes, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Target. You could order a Papa Johns pizza and receive the CD — at the sticker price of around 14 bucks.

But the tools Swift didn’t use are as important than the ones she did. By refusing to release her singles on Spotify, or any other streaming site, she pushed her fans to buy the album. Spotify pays the artist pennies on the dollar. Taylor Swift skipped it.

3. You Belong With Me (Lizzie Widdicombe, The New Yorker, 2011)

As the New Yorker’s Lizzie Widdicombe noted in 2011, there were early signs that Swift had a keen business sense:

Early on, Swift assumed that she would follow her parents into business. “I didn’t know what a stockbroker was when I was eight, but I would just tell everybody that’s what I was going to be,” she recalled, during an online Q. & A. with fans. “We’d be at, like, the first day of school and they’re, like, ‘So what do you guys want to be when you grow up?’ And everybody’s, like, ‘I want to be an astronaut!’ Or, like, ‘I want to be a ballerina!’ And I’m, like, ‘I’m gonna be a financial adviser!’ ” But she eventually had a country-music epiphany, inspired by listening to nineties crossover hits—Faith Hill, Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks. The melodies were good, but she especially liked the storytelling. “It was just such a given—I want to do that!” she said.

4. Taylor Swift Is the Music Industry (Devin Leonard, Bloomberg Businessweek)

After selling 1.29 million copies of her new album 1989, then pulling her music from the streaming service Spotify, Devin Leonard goes to Nashville to meet Scott Borchetta, founder of Swift’s label Big Machine Records, to understand the economics of being a label in 2014:

For that reason, Borchetta and Swift chose to initially withhold 1989 from Spotify. They did the same thing with Red in its early weeks. “We’re not against anybody, but we’re not responsible for new business models,” Borchetta says. “If they work, fantastic, but it can’t be at the detriment of our own business. That’s what Spotify is.”

Photo: evarinaldiphotography, Flickr