Taylor Swift, the pop juggernaut, jumped sunnily into the debate about the future of the music business on Monday, arguing in a Wall Street Journal editorial that things are better than many artists and industry members feel and fear.
“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,” Swift wrote.
Swift, a seven-time Grammy winner, acknowledged the pressures buffeting the business, but argued that the answer was not – as some artists have done – to give away their music for nothing.
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.
Instead, Swift called on artists to seek a new connection with fans, an “arrow through the heart” poignancy that would overcome the collapse of the old revenue models.
“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.”
By Swift’s metric, artists seemingly are not bleeding enough. Earlier this year, weekly album sales in the United States fell to the lowest level since they were first tracked in 1991. The rise of digital music retailers such as iTunes, subscription services such as Spotify and video sharing on sites such as YouTube has accelerated the decline.
While the music business has been terrible for many artists, it has been good to Swift. Her latest album, Red, has sold more than 4m copies in the United States as of last week, according to Nielsen SoundScan figures. She earned $64m between June 2013 and June 2014, according to Forbes. In addition to selling music, she earns royalties on merchandise and endorsement deals with companies including Diet Coke, Keds and Cover Girl.
Swift was a precocious talent – and a precocious sales success. She scored her first No1 single on the country music chart at age 18. Two years later, she had the best-selling album in the United States, with Fearless. In December she turns 25.
In the Journal on Monday, Swift did not get into the nitty-gritty of music economics. Instead she shared more personal lessons about what artists who want to make it in music might aim for.
“This moment in music is so exciting because the creative avenues an artist can explore are limitless,” Swift wrote. “In this moment in music, stepping out of your comfort zone is rewarded, and sonic evolution is not only accepted … it is celebrated. The only real risk is being too afraid to take a risk at all.”
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