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 Nashville.com 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?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

'Shake It Off' a great sign for things to come

Taylor Swift Goes Pop: Why 'Shake It Off' Is a Great Sign For Things to Come | Billboard: "With "Shake It Off," music's most dependable superstar dives into the unknown… and sticks the landing."

The reviewer asks: "Was that Taylor Swift gone, replaced by an artist whose most unique features had been sanded off?"

"But then I listened to "Shake It Off" again, and started noticing the immaculate design -- the way she connects the lines of her verses with "mm-mm's," the handclaps that she conjures when she's about to drop that "sick beat" in the bridge, the descending notes in the chorus ("Players gonna play, play, play, play play") that make her declarations about the state of the world sound all the more inevitable."

"Shake It Off" is not, in fact, the sound of Swift losing her most defining features, or becoming a generic pop artist. Taylor is still being Taylor, the type of writer any musician would dream of becoming, but she's shedding her damaged skin like a snake and morphing into a more carefree, confident narrator. "

"Damaged skin?" Not sure that is appropriate. Apparently, I am assuming, the reference is to country music. I am one, maybe a few, hopefully more, that liked her country side. It wasn't too country, but not too pop. Right in the comfortable middle. I won't be disappointed if she doesn't, but I hope her next album, 2 years hence, will be a little bit country.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Haters exposed

"Shake it Off" is about the haters. And if you read the reviews the haters stand out. The song on its own is terrific, but add a sensational video - pure entertainment. The song speaks for itself. The video is funny with Taylor self deprecating as usual.

The haters are those that don't listen or watch yet criticise. The haters are those that watch the video and criticise the dance mistakes not realizing that the mistakes are purposeful. The haters are those that can't appreciate humor. The haters are those that can't appreciate quality performance merely because Taylor is a success.

The biggest haters are the various reviewers from assorted gossip media. They can't grasp that Taylor has evolved - she is 24 now. The song isn't about Styles or Mayer or any ex-boyfriend. One might argue that the song is somewhat similar to "Mean." But it is a song and video that entertains. If you don't laugh during the video then count yourself as a natural born hater.

Two good reviews:

Taylor Swift's New Album, 1989, Breaks No Rules Whatsoever - Businessweek: If you want to understand how the music industry works, all you have to do is follow Taylor Swift. "She does things smoothly and cleanly so that they turn out as shiny and perfect as her red lipstick."

Taylor Swift Goes Pop: Why 'Shake It Off' Is a Great Sign For Things to Come | Billboard: "With "Shake It Off," music's most dependable superstar dives into the unknown… and sticks the landing."

The reviewer asks: "Was that Taylor Swift gone, replaced by an artist whose most unique features had been sanded off?"

"But then I listened to "Shake It Off" again, and started noticing the immaculate design -- the way she connects the lines of her verses with "mm-mm's," the handclaps that she conjures when she's about to drop that "sick beat" in the bridge, the descending notes in the chorus ("Players gonna play, play, play, play play") that make her declarations about the state of the world sound all the more inevitable."
"Shake It Off" is not, in fact, the sound of Swift losing her most defining features, or becoming a generic pop artist. Taylor is still being Taylor, the type of writer any musician would dream of becoming, but she's shedding her damaged skin like a snake and morphing into a more carefree, confident narrator. "
Lyrics. Video.