Taylor Swift's View Of The Future Of Music Is Actually Not That Far Off
from the not-that-crazy,-actually dept
It seems like a bunch of folks collectively rolled their eyes at the news that superstar singer Taylor Swift (or the people she hires to do these kinds of things) had penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the “future of music.” Of course, there are few artists out there that inspire rolling eyes like Swift does these days — and there are some nutty claims in her opinion piece (and the writing is… stilted, at best). The main problem with the article is highlighted nicely by Nilay Patel over at Vox, who points out that she doesn’t understand basic economics. And that’s clear from this bit:
In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace. Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently.
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.
This is, as Patel notes (and I’ve been discussing for over a decade), a very, very naive view of economics. Based on this, the more you spend putting into the album, the higher you should price it, and the world should reward you for that. That, of course, is not even close to how the world works. You don’t get rewarded based on effort. You get rewarded by providing a product that people want at a price they’re willing to pay. Sometimes, perhaps, pouring more “heart an soul” into the product may help, but plenty of artists put their heart and soul into lots of works and get basically nothing for it. Sometimes it’s because that heart and soul isn’t enough and the product sucks. Sometimes it’s because no one hears the music. Swift is lucky that she has the core of the traditional recording industry and all its marketing muscle behind her. I would imagine that the singer sitting at home in his or her garage pouring their heart and soul into a new recording and hoping to have it heard might find that they’d actually do much better giving the work away for free to get some attention for it.
That said, most of the rest of Swift’s piece is actually a pretty good look into where the music world is these days, in which the focus needs to be on connecting with fans and giving them a unique experience that isn’t easily copied. On connecting with fans, she notes:
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 like Kevin Kelly’s concept of “true fans.” Of course, it’s weird that Swift would mock the idea of giving away works for free — when it’s possible that giving away such works might actually help artists build those bonds, enabling those true fans to look for ways to support them later.
From there, Swift discusses how giving unique experiences is key to the future of music:
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?
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.
Exactly. There, she’s recognizing the value of a unique experience that can’t be copied or “pirated,” and which people have to pay to experience. And, once again, it seems odd that she’d knock the concept of free music, when that very same free music can help drive a lot more fans to want to go to these unique and special shows in which she “surprises” her fans.
The op-ed comes off a little silly in places, but the overall view of where the future of music is actually is pretty much spot on. Connecting with fans and giving them a unique and valuable experience. It’s almost like something some of us have been saying for many years now. Yeah, the part about free music is a bit off, but the overall vision seems very much in line with reality.