Tay­lor Swift, a savvy singer- song­writer ‘ at the top of the game,’ wields clout — just ask Ap­ple

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Faugh­n­der and Randy Lewis

As Kanye West learned the hard way back in 2009, it’s not smart to mess with Tay­lor Swift.

The rap­per’s at­tempt to up­stage the then- teenage singer- song­writer dur­ing an awards show back­fired al­most im­me­di­ately, with West’s “Imma let you fin­ish” be­com­ing a snarky In­ter­net catch­phrase.

Few to­day would dare grab the mi­cro­phone from Swift, now 25. Her clout was un­der­scored Sun­day when she forced Ap­ple — f inan­cially, the world’s might­i­est com­pany — to aban­don plans to with­hold artist roy­al­ties for mu­sic streamed dur­ing the three- month free trial pe­riod for Ap­ple Mu­sic.

“Three months is a long time to go un­paid, and it is un­fair to ask any­one to work for noth­ing,” Swift said in an open let­ter to Ap­ple in which she threat­ened to with­hold her latest al­bum, “1989,” from the ser­vice. “I say this with love, rev­er­ence, and ad­mi­ra­tion for ev­ery­thing else

Ap­ple has done.”

That was enough. Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tive Eddy Cue, who over­sees In­ter­net ser­vices in­clud­ing iTunes and Ap­ple Mu­sic, spoke with Swift that day and later posted on Twit­ter that the com­pany had changed course.

“Ap­ple will al­ways make sure that artist are paid,” Cue tweeted Sun­day night. “# Ap­ple­Mu­sic will pay artist for stream­ing, even dur­ing cus­tomer’s free trial pe­riod.”

Neil Young’s long­time man­ager El­liot Roberts called it “a wa­ter­shed mo­ment” and a rare vic­tory for mu­si­cians who have seen their earn­ings from recorded mu­sic steadily de­cline in the dig­i­tal age.

“This is a chance for artists to f in­ally re­claim their art,” he said. “I ap­plaud Tay­lor for fi­nally stand­ing up for that con­cept.”

Oth­ers had com­plained about Ap­ple’s plans, to no avail. Few in the in­dus­try were sur­prised that Ap­ple lis­tened to Swift.

“She wields a mighty sword,” said Nielsen an­a­lyst David Bakula. “She is at the top of the game. She is the most well- known, most well­liked and most out­spo­ken artist out there. When Tay­lor speaks, it’s so much more than just her so­cial media fol­low­ing.”

Swift has demon­strated busi­ness savvy and self- as­sured­ness on a par with her song­writ­ing skills through­out her ca­reer.

At 11, she per­suaded her par­ents to travel from their home in Wy­omiss­ing, Pa., to visit Nashville so she could pur­sue her in­ter­est in song­writ­ing.

She re­leased her self- ti­tled f irst al­bum when she was 16.

Her record la­bel, Big Ma­chine Records, was prac­ti­cally a start- up when Tay­lor signed with it — be­cause la­bel head Scott Borchetta promised her a strong hand in writ­ing and pro­duc­ing her own work.

In per­son, Swift is as­sertive and in­tensely fo­cused but also en­gag­ing. She has a politi­cian’s way with in­ter­view­ers, ask­ing them about fam­ily mem­bers they’ve men­tioned in the past and shar­ing anec­dotes that il­lu­mi­nate her own fam­ily dy­nam­ics.

Last fall, she in­vited fans to a pri­vate lis­ten­ing ses­sion in her Bev­erly Hills home for “1989.” She in­tro­duced them to her mother, An­drea, and fa­ther, Scott, as well as her cat, which she named Olivia Ben­son af­ter the char­ac­ter on NBC’s “Law & Or­der: SVU,” a show she says she’s “ob­sessed with.”

At con­certs, she is chatty and con­fes­sional be­tween songs, work­ing in nar­ra­tives that al­low con­cert­go­ers a view in­side her cre­ative process of song­writ­ing. She lets fans know that ev­ery sce­nario in her songs isn’t al­ways re­portage on her re­al­world com­ings and go­ings but of­ten the prod­uct of one young woman’s rich imag­i­na­tion, or drawn from the ex­pe­ri­ences of her many girl­friends in­clud­ing Lena Dun­ham and Se­lena Gomez.

A deft user of so­cial media, Swift has kept up the di­rect con­nec­tion with fans with the ad­vent of Twit­ter and Face­book. Swift of­ten pa­trols In­sta­gram and Tum­blr posts about her to find and re­ward her most ar­dent fol­low­ers with in­vi­ta­tions to spe­cial events, con­cert meet- and- greets, phone calls or per­son­al­ized mer­chan­dise.

She has co- pro­duced her al­bums — a rar­ity in the mu­sic busi­ness for any woman, but all the more un­usual for one start­ing out as a teenager.

And she’s also ex­erted a hands- on role in the mar­ket­ing of her mu­sic, mer­chan­dise and craft­ing her con­cert pro­duc­tions.

Each of her last three al­bums, “Speak Now” in 2010, “Red” in 2012 and “1989,” re­leased in Oc­to­ber, sold more than 1 mil­lion copies in the f irst week of re­lease, a feat that has be­come in­creas­ingly rare as mu­sic fans have turned more to stream­ing and f ile shar­ing rather than pur­chas­ing sin­gles or al­bums. “1989” has sold 4.9 mil­lion copies in the U. S.

All told, her al­bums have sold 28 mil­lion copies in the U. S. ac­cord­ing to Nielsen Mu­sic. Forbes es­ti­mates her net worth at $ 200 mil­lion.

All that has trans­lated to clout few other artists can claim.

Last Novem­ber, she pulled her cat­a­log from Spo­tify, the Swedish stream­ing ser­vice that counts 20 mil­lion pay­ing sub­scribers, in a dis­pute over Spo­tify’s so- called freemium model, which gives users free ac­cess if they tol­er­ate com­mer­cials be­tween songs. About 55 mil­lion peo­ple use the free ver­sion of Spo­tify.

For artists less pop­u­lar than Swift — and that’s al­most ev­ery­one — pulling mu­sic from Spo­tify and sim­i­lar ser­vices means miss­ing out on a fast- grow­ing busi­ness and lots of ex­po­sure. But Swift is in a rare po­si­tion of power to put pres­sure on the tech com­pa­nies.

“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,” Swift wrote in an opin­ion piece for the Wall Street Jour­nal last year. “I hope they don’t un­der­es­ti­mate them­selves or un­der­value their art.”

Ap­ple Mu­sic, set to launch June 30, won’t have a long- term free model but does plan to of­fer new cus­tomers their f irst three months of ser­vice for free.

Ap­ple ex­ec­u­tives hope the three- month trial will get users to pay the $ 9.99 a month for ac­cess to its li­brary of 30 mil­lion songs. But the smaller in­de­pen­dent la­bels ex­pressed fears that the loss of rev­enue would be too costly for their oper­a­tions and artists.

Ap­ple showed no sign of back­ing down, how­ever — un­til Swift spoke up.

“I’m happy she did it,” said vet­eran mu­sic in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive Irv­ing Azoff, who man­ages the Ea­gles. “I give ku­dos to Ap­ple for two things: They’ve de­signed a ser­vice, I’ve seen it in a big way, and if it works the way it’s sup­posed to it’s go­ing to be in­cred­i­ble.

“Sec­ond, Eddy Cue is a good guy, and they are an artist- friendly com­pany. He saw the er­ror in their ways, and the fact is he stepped up and fixed it,” Azoff said.

The gen­er­ally pos­i­tive re­sponse to Swift’s let­ter con­trasted markedly with the re­ac­tion to Jay Z’s strug­gling stream­ing ser­vice, Tidal, which promised higher roy­alty rates for la­bels and mu­sic pub­lish­ers. Jay Z and his fel­low co- own­ers — in­clud­ing Madonna and Jack White — were blasted by crit­ics who scoffed at the im­age of mu­sic’s high­est earn­ers com­plain­ing about low roy­alty rates.

Swift care­fully worded her let­ter to con­vince con­sumers her protest was not about lin­ing her own pock­ets but about sup­port­ing strug­gling in­die artists, writ­ers and pro­duc­ers.

“I am elated and re­lieved,” Swift tweeted on Sun­day. “Thank you for your words of sup­port to­day. They lis­tened to us.”

Sascha Schuer­mann Getty I mages

TAY­LOR Swift’s open let­ter was fol­lowed by Ap­ple’s change of course.

Eric Jami­son I nvision / As­so­ci­ated Press

TAY­LOR SWIFT, shown with tro­phies she won at the Bill­board Mu­sic Awards last month, has ex­erted a hands- on role in the mar­ket­ing of her mu­sic.


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