Monday, November 24, 2014

Taylor Swift: "Got nothing in my brain That's what people say"

That is what people seem to say, but it has always been my contention (and proved correct) that not only is she in control of her career - she does it right. Today as we read about her, there has been a growing recognition, however reluctant, after all she is a girl, of not only her singing, songwriting, performing talents, but also of her business acumen.

There is something unique about a Taylor Swift. Without denigrating other singers, pop or otherwise, it is clear that unlike most she is in charge of her career; it is not her 'managers' nor her label. It is she that leads her 13 Management company. And, she made the decision a long time ago to be responsible for her life's work. And a recent article Taylor Swift on 1989, Spotify, Her Next Tour and Female Role Models makes it abundantly clear that she is in charge (not Borchetta).
"With 1989, I was really putting my neck on the line, because I was the one saying I need to change directions musically. And my label and management were the ones saying 'Are you sure, are you positive? This is risky.' And I was the one who had to come back every time and say, 'No, this is what we’re doing.'”
The Spotify decision [See Taylor Swift and Big Machine Are the Music Industry (try and ignore Borchetta's hubris, try the Time interview] brought attention to the fact that it is Taylor that makes the decisions. The stories (most) rightly state 'Taylor this,' 'Taylor that,' not 'her label this,' 'her label that.' Although, there is a tendency for Scott Borchetta to attempt to take credit where credit is not due.

And because of the success of "1989" there are more 'business' articles about her rather than the ever ongoing tabloid saga of Taylor and X, although X has been mostly Harry Styles. Imogene Heap who collaborated with Taylor on "Clean" illustrated the stereotypical judgment of Taylor:
"I have to be honest here and say I had ever so slightly not done my homework on Taylor Swift but had done what I HATE others do of me, which is to pre-judge a person based on assumptions. I had assumed Taylor didn’t write too much of her own music (as is the case with many young, extremely successful artists these days who sell shed loads of records) and was likely puppeteered by an ageing gang of music executives, working to formulas and spread sheets." [Imogene Heap blog post]
But she goes on to say:
"How wrong was I? Totally clued up from a very young age (I had no idea what a publishing label even was at the age of 14 never mind moving my family to nashville so I could pursue a song-writing career!), hyper driven, hard working, really talented and a genuine lovely soul, with a few more boy troubles than she most but you can’t get it all right all the time!" [Imogene Heap blog post]
But there are others that have known the real Taylor for a long time. Lisa Snedeker in her Huffington Post article Taylor Swift Left Nashville a Long Time Ago Folks knew Taylor back in 2007 when she interviewed Taylor. Taylor was paying her dues at age 17 opening for opening for George Strait and Ronnie Milsap. You are not going to get any more country than these two artists. Lisa sets the stage for the recap of her interview with Taylor:
"I found her to be smart, open, honest, funny and without pretense. I was impressed then with what a savvy, no-nonsense business woman she appeared to be at such a young age. She literally had me at "hello." When I introduced myself, she ran up to me and gave me a big hug like I was her long, lost friend. I was blown away by how genuine she was then and I believe still is. I gave her a copy of the front page story I had written about her and had her sign one for me. I told her I had done the same thing for Toby Keith following a performance at the Berrien County Fair in Michigan, before he was a household name. I predicted in 2007 that she was going to be even bigger than Keith, a comment that was met with a genuine laugh from Swift."
Lisa reprints her full interview (Taylor is 17) in the article. A couple excerpts:
Taylor at 17: "What sets Swift apart is her songwriting ability. Swift wrote or co-wrote every one of the 11 songs on her self-titled debut album that was released in October including her first hit single, "Tim McGraw," which is which is currently No. 9 on the Billboard hot country songs chart."
Taylor: "I want to be edgier. Speaking my mind has been what I was raised for. If you are allowed to write your own songs, why not say something that is completely honest?"
Work ethic: "when she got the call to tour with Strait and Milsap from January through March. Swift says she didn't hesitate to say yes. 'I want to be working as much as I can. I give myself five seconds a day to think, 'Oh my God, this is really happening.' And then I spend the rest of the time trying to make it last.'"
"In discussing a prank played on Taylor: Another time, she had a 5-minute meet-and-greet with fans before the show and when she arrived, 500 people were waiting for her. 'I signed every single autograph after the show,' she said laughing." Already a professional at 17.
Lisa quoting Taylor's well known song co-writer Liz Rose:
"Liz Rose, who co-wrote seven of the songs, told The Associated Press that Swift was born to be a singer-songwriter. 'She's a genius, coming in with ideas and a melody. She'd come in and write with this old lady, and I never second-guessed her. I respect her a lot.'" [See my post Co-writers - a weakness or strength].
Finally, quoting Taylor expressing who she is:
"I really try to be the same person that I am on stage as I am off. I don't do things differently. I don't try to censor who I am. I think what's important is to just be who you are."
Taylor really hasn't changed much - maybe worker harder. Maybe she spends  little more than five seconds a day to think, 'Oh my God, this is really happening.' 

And still today Taylor's work product control continues in all aspects of her profession. For example, the  "Blank Space" video. The director Kahn:
It [the concept (aka treatment)] all came from her. She gave me a call and had a very thorough idea of what she wanted, It was basically following the lyrics, in terms of specific moments and scenes.” [See my post The treatment - "Everything Has Changed"]
It is real easy to go on an n about Taylor. There is no singer-songwriter that is as involved in their career as Taylor Swift. I don't know of any other artist that would have Forbes, Wall Street JournalTime, Billboard, Rolling Stone, and BloombergBusiness Week writing about them. And they are writing about her success and business know how - not about her naked pictures, boyfriends, drunken behavior, etc.

Taylor through her music, performances and conduct gives the rest of the listening public an opportunity to hear and see a professional that gives us a much needed alternative. We (and even as a family) listen and watch because she is so damn good - yes, even excellent.

Thank you Taylor Swift.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Good advice: Take a lesson in personal branding from Taylor Swift

The Daily Northwestern : Burg: Take a lesson in personal branding from Taylor Swift: "These days especially it’s all about creating an image of yourself as a neat little package bursting with personality, no matter the career path. Competing with hot young professionals means you not only have to know what’s going on in your chosen job arena, but also you have to be charmingly unique, personable and, preferably, a proficient yet noncontroversial source of social media output. In a world where the line separating real life and internet life is increasingly blurred, you are a brand. Cultivate your brand. Learn it, live it, love it. Be #onbrand. And if you need a model to study the ways of successful, subtle but relentless branding, look no further than Taylor Swift. I’m being serious."

The Daily Northwestern is Northwestern college newspaper situated in Evanston, Ill. The article accurately depicts Taylor's marketing skills. The author struggles though to give Taylor credit. It is like she wants to - but can't come to the realization that it is Taylor that is the leader of the pack. 
"The pop-country sensation has slowly shed the “-country” portion of her appellation in a frankly brilliant series of secretly calculated moves over the span of a few years. If we’re being real, TSwift’s publicity team is undoubtedly the force behind the actual logistics of this image shift. But the lead-up to the late-October release of the singer’s newest album, “1989,” has been characterized by an impressive deluge of social media interaction that appears to be mostly the handiwork of Swift herself (a result of careful coaching by her team, I’m sure, but shhh)."
Maybe I want to give Taylor too much credit for her success. I don't think so. If one reads the articles and watch the videos that have documented her career one sees that it has been Taylor in charge.

She is the driving force in the brand Taylor Swift. Of course she has a business team - 13 Management. But it is her team, she is the CEO and she is the creative genius that makes Taylor Taylor.

Which video is best: "Shake it Off" or "Riptide?"

While waiting for her new song to be dropped on Tuesday, I believe, I became completely enamored with "Shake it Off." But, her recent cover of "Riptide" on BBC 1 is terrific video displaying genuine emotion.Push comes to shove - its "Riptide."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Taylor Swift, Inc. - an Indie?

Why not? Look - in the Rolling Stone cover story Taylor made it clear, if it were not already, that she is not in the 'country music' genre anymore - she will be found in the'pop' genre. If so - what is her advantage to stay with Big Machine?

Big Machine, headed by Scott Borchetta, is country. Everyone of the label artists, except Taylor, is a country performer without any quibbles about 'country.' content. Big Machine is located in Nashville - capital of country music. Borchetta has zero expertise in pop music.

Of course it is arguable that Taylor was not part of the Big Machine label. That is, Taylor has operated as an independent subsidiary of Big Machine. Maybe the byline "A Big Machine of Her Own" from Billboard Power 100: Taylor Swift spoke the truth.

But why switch labels? Instead of searching for a new label, e.g., Universal, why not start one? Now that question would be premature for a new artist. And frankly, for most music artists. They are typically one dimension - they know how to perform whether it is singing or writing a song or playing an instrument. The business end is beyond them. That is why a good portion of their money goes to agents and managers, etc. The advantage is that it leaves them the time to be a performer. For many, being an artist is all that counts.

But Taylor is hardly a new artist. She is well versed on the business side. Taylor is one of the most interesting artists in this century, albeit that might be too limiting. But, as I read the reviews, articles and posts, even those from competent media reporters, I have a different perception of Taylor.

It is not that of Taylor the brainless, boyfriend destroyer, can't dance, and looking good in shorts Taylor. But the singer-songwriter, performer, etc', Taylor; and more importantly, Taylor Swift the CEO, the source of innovation and creativity for the brand Taylor Swift. That is not to take away from her management team - one she formed with chosen experienced executives.

Her management team is her company 13 Management. It is a privately held being led at the last time I looked by the experienced Robert Allen. This from in 2013:
"As Swift’s manager, Robert Allen works with his colleagues at 13 Management to organize and oversee her tours, at home and abroad.  Born in England, he knows how to move artists, retinues and gear around Europe.  As the older brother of Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, he learned the basics by managing the group’s business and travel.  This led to work with Ozzy Osbourne and other major acts, with whom he became familiar with the great concert venues of Asia."
Taylor has essentially two roles at 13 Management. She is the founder and CEO and also the product. Allen is responsible for the business side of Taylor Swift brand. But, it has been said that no significant decision is made without Taylor. She runs a tight ship that includes all aspects of music production, except the record label. Why does she need Big Machine as her record label?

A good read is Behind the music: What do record labels actually do? You'd be surprised. The 'surprise' is that the label provides more to the artist than one might realize, but Taylor and her 13 Management company provides that and more. One important element noted was that the record label provides local expertise, however, Big Machine local expertise is country, not pop. Borchetta has no pop expertise. There are no 'pop' artists seeking to be on a country label.

Ed Sheeran's producer, Jake Gosling: "What Ed and I had done without a record company had proven to the label that we could do it on our own, that all we needed was help and support and finance, getting us to more people and being able to pull the strings when needed to get us on a TV show – those moves are harder to do when you're a bit more independent." Harder, but apparently not that hard.

Isn't it clear that Taylor with her own management company along with her financial and performance (singer, songwriter, touring, etc.) successes puts her in the spot to [access] more people and being able to pull the strings when needed to get [us] on a TV show?

Gosling continues: "You still need labels. You've got to remember they've got marketing teams, press teams, radio pluggers, accounts departments and when you get bigger you need help with that stuff. You need a good team around you." And the kicker. "OK, maybe you could hire those people yourself and set up your own label, but there's something to be said for deciding that you want to make music and be creative, and I don't want the hassle. You can be really creative but not very good at business and marketing.

And Gosling final pitch for a record label: "What I like about record companies is that they present and nurture artists." Frankly, I doubt that Taylor has ever needed Big Machine, especially Borchetta, to present and nurture her.

Does this from the Rolling Stone cover story sound like someone that needs or even wants nurturing?
"When she first turned in the record [1989], she says the head of her label, Scott Borchetta, told her, "This is extraordinary – it's the best album you've ever done. Can you just give me three country songs?"
"Love you, mean it," is how Swift characterizes her response. "But this is how it's going to be."
I think we know who is in charge of her career.

And it has been Taylor that has done all the leg work to promote herself. I suspect, especially now, that her marketing and promotion is handled all within 13 Management. And it is doubtful that Borchetta or Big Machine ever provided the financial support to establish the Taylor Swift brand.

I recall a story about one of Taylor's early promotional videos where she relates that it was Borchetta's wife that made the dress (wedding dress if I remember correctly) in the video. And another story was that Taylor's parents invested some money in the new start-up Big Machine. In the beginning, Borchetta wasn't in any financial shape to present and nurture Taylor.

There is nothing obvious that prevents Taylor Swift from setting up her own record label. It seems that from a professional view - she is ripe to start her own label. It is a challenge that she is now well equipped to take on. Everything is in place. But is she ready personally?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Rolling Stone - in 1989 Taylor sheds country

Cover Story: The Reinvention of Taylor Swift. I am not going to delve too deep into their excellent cover story. Rolling Stone has always, it seems to me, been fair when writing about Taylor. And this article is no different. There are numerous media outlets providing their insights and analysis of the article.

But, if anyone had any doubt - Taylor made it clear that country days are in the past. "She says she won't be going to country-awards shows or promoting the album on country radio." Many on the country side had hoped that this album might be an aberration, i.e., the next album surely will be country.

There is some insight about the album content, e.g., Jack Antonoff apparently has co-written one or more of the songs. How many depends on where you are in the cover story. In one place - he has recently co-written several songs with Swift. But in another place - says that for the one song they wrote together."

Another revelation is that she and Max Martin are co-executive producers of 1989. Now there are essentially two definitions of "executive producer" in the music industry. One is the person that is strictly on the business side and the other fits Taylor and Martin.
"In the music industry, the executive producer of an album is often in control of the business side of production, distribution, and promotion. This role can entail obtaining financing, allocating the budget, etc. At times, the executive producer may also provide artistic input such as which songs are placed in the final cut and the order in which the songs are placed. In this instance, the executive producer is usually someone who has had input in producing some of the tracks on the album." [Executive producer].
It is doubtful that we will see Nathan Chapman with any credit. Even though Chapman has been her producer in all of her albums, he is country through and through. One guesses that if a break is to be made it ought to be a clean as possible. But this gives rise to whether any of her band and back up dancers will be part of the forthcoming tour.

And what becomes of Big Machine as her label? Big Machine, other than Taylor, is country. Everything about it is country - the music, the artists, the location, etc. And, we see in one quote that Taylor operates independently from Big Machine (not news) and demonstrates just how clean the break is for Taylor. When Borchetta asks Taylor for three country songs in addition to the 13 she handed over she says:
"Love you, mean it," is how Swift characterizes her response. "But this is how it's going to be."
It is not too difficult to argue that this is her last album with Big Machine. This is a Taylor Swift Max Martin album. Will she soon be a new independent label? [See Robert Papanos comment in the prior post.]

And finally (but it won't be), she once again buries the gossip media rumors about her and Selena Gomez: "She likes it [New York] so much she's trying to recruit friends to move here – like her buddy Selena Gomez. 'Project Selena,' Swift says. 'I think I can do it.'"

See this video: "Behind the cover story: Josh Eells on what it's really like spending time with Taylor:."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

1989 Tour

Isn't anyone a least bit interested? The media is still engrossed with the song and album and her soon appearance on The Voice, but when does the tour start? You know she is working on it and probably has it firmed up. It seems that new albums and tours go hand in hand. They are not designed sequentially.

And how about a Red Tour DVD?