Where will the music industry be in 20 years, 30 years, 50 years?
That's the question Taylor Swift attempts to address in a rambling op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.
While most people predict "the downfall of music sales and the irrelevancy of the album as an economic entity," she proclaims herself "one of the few living souls in the music industry who still believes that the music industry is not dying…it's just coming alive."
As many have pointed out, Taylor Swift just happens to be one of the few living souls in the music industry still making buckets of money from album sales, so this assessment is perhaps less convincing for anyone who is not Taylor Swift.
The majority of the piece is either very broad or bizarrely self-congratulatory. Case in point: "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," and "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," Swift writes. This declaration comes before noting that while album sales have plummeted, some albums are still selling, namely "the ones that hit [people] 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." Hmmm. Sound familiar?
While no one knows what set off Swift to pen this op-ed, it does come at an interesting time for the music industry. Musicians can no longer expect to rake in cash from record sales (streaming radio brings in pennies vs. higher margin CD sales) but rather must focus on other revenue streams -- mainly concerts and merchandise (It's no coincidence that more artists are becoming spokespeople for any brand that will have them.)
In light of these changes, Swift suggests, artists must get creative in both their performances and their interactions with fans – cranking out the same performance every night is no longer enough because fans have already seen the show online.
It's not just how stars need to preform that's changing – Here's Swift on how the channels through which young aspiring musicians become breakout stars have already radically shifted (it's the hands-down most interesting part of the piece):
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.
Develop an online following, Swift preaches, and offline fame will follow.