Last week Forbes placed country music star and crossover pop queen Taylor Swift at number 18 on their list of the most powerful celebrities, with her yearly earnings landing somewhere in the $64 million range. Endowed with her new-found power, Swift has picked up her mighty pen to craft an op-ed in economic publication The Wall Street Journal detailing her optimism about the future of the music industry.
“You should know that you’re reading the opinion of an enthusiastic optimist: 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,” writes the seven-time Grammy winner.
“There are many (many) people who predict the downfall of music sales and the irrelevancy of the album as an economic entity. I am not one of them,” she continued. “Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently.”
The economic “blow” has been a relatively light one for Taylor herself, who was named by Billboard as last year’s highest-earning pop artist. According to The Guardian, her latest record Red sold more than 4 million copies in the United States as of last week and in Australia has been certified three times platinum. Which, in a way, makes Swift an authority on how to achieve album sales in the age of streaming and piracy.
Her solution is for artists to create albums that “hit” audiences “like an arrow through the heart”. She calls on artists to hone in on their inner Swifts, creating closer bonds with their fans who are only buying records that “have made them feel strong or allowed them to feel like they really aren’t alone in feeling so alone.”
It’s an easy point to make from an artist who, as mentioned, has already sold millions of albums. Still, even for those who don’t share Swift’s self-proclaimed optimism about the future of album sales, her point about hitting audiences in the heart, albeit flowery and indirect, is an apt one.
According to the latest Nielsen Soundscan figures, album sales dropped 15 percent since the the first half of 2013 and are still dwindling along with download sales. Music-streaming services and video and audio streams on the other hand are booming.
As pointed out by Slate‘s Jordan Weissmann “streaming rewards not just fandom but fanaticism”. With revenue accrued from streaming being based on the number of times a song is played, balanced with the fact that it takes a huge amount of streams to make some sort of profit, music needs to resonate on some emotional level with audiences to get them to listen repeatedly.
Or as Taylor puts it in typical Swift fashion, “Fans view music the way they view their relationships. Some music is just for fun, a passing fling…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 one of the highest earning musicians in the world, staying optimistic about the future of the industry which has earned you millions isn’t very difficult. Though as an artist who has managed to climb to the loftiest heights in such a precarious realm, Swift is at least in a credible position to shed some light onto how she achieved this feat.