What Taylor Swift Gets Right

Taylor Swift’s new album opened big last week and everyone is talking about how she pulled her music off Spotify.

As usual most people are looking in the wrong direction.

Many argue that the web and streaming services don’t pay enough money or they hurt musical artists or how terrible things have gotten since the Internet arrived.  So we hear the same old story about how our lives were just better when we had CDs.

This is the direction that Ben Sisario initially takes in his New York Times piece.

Then something remarkable happens. He finally gets to the real story about why Taylor Swift is successful and many other musical artists are not.  Put simply—Taylor Swift gets the social web.  She understands the world we live in today and doesn’t waste time thinking about yesterday.  She acts boldly and aggressively to reach her fans where and how they live within today’s media environment.

Sisario and his editors made a classic journalistic error.  They buried the lede. The important stuff comes when Sisario wraps it up with,

“… the most effective piece of promotion may have been Ms. Swift’s own deft command of social media. On Twitter and Instagram, she excels as an authentic personality who establishes direct connections with her audience by doing things like reposting images of fans holding copies of her album, said Matt Britton, chief executive of MRY, a youth marketing agency that is part of the Publicis Groupe, the global advertising giant.

“She has been able to take one person and spread herself out into millions of itty-bitty pieces of Taylor Swift and touch as many people as possible,” Mr. Britton said. “When you do that, you generate a kind of advocacy and excitement that no level of advertising could.”

That kind of engagement may inspire just as much loyalty in her fans as her music does, a valuable lesson for the music industry at large.

Claire Thompson, a 30-year-old entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, said that she pre-ordered “1989” from iTunes as soon as it was available, and that it was the first album she could remember buying since Beyoncé’s self-titled album last year. She also said that she follows Ms. Swift closely on Instagram and likes the way “she pops up like all my other friends do — Dana’s at the Giants game, Taylor’s at the Knicks game.”

“It makes you as a fan feel like you’re a part of her life,” she added. “We all feel that if we met her, we would be friends. You feel connected to her. It’s nice to feel that.”

So you want to be successful as a musical artist in today’s world?

Make fans a part of your life, become an authentic personality who establishes a direct connection to your audience and generate a kind of advocacy and excitement that no level of advertising can.

And quit pining for the good old days.

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at chris@digitaldorr.com or follow me at @chrisdorr
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  • Opsoclo Films

    She made a wise choice, i agree with her statement that “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.”(The Guardian).” I once read in Ted Hope’s article it delivered the same message “If you want make films you must able to sell it.. in order to make films in future, hence art(film/music/etc) is not for free. It keeps you making more art and feed you and provides a roof for you to live a life”. I’m bad at remembering the words… But something like that was mentioned.

    • chrisdorr

      Thanks for the comment. I agree. I also believe that there are also situations where an artist may choose to give something away for free, or let her fans know that they can pay whatever they want. We are in era where one size does not fit all, so different pricing or gift strategies might apply depending on the business model the artist adopts. And an artist may choose multiple business models.

  • VampireMob

    *Great* article and take on marketing anything in the present and future.

    Also reminds me of Gary Vaynerchuk’s “market in the year we live in” rant.

    The future is about accessibility, not celebrity.

    • chrisdorr

      Thanks for your comment, yes you are right about accessibility.

      • VampireMob

        I’d love to know how much her cookie parties for fans (and the costs of executing them) impacted sales vs. any traditional advertising.