So let’s talk about Taylor Swift. I’ve been following her career for quite some time now and it amazes me what this young superstar has accomplished at the age of 29. Everything she does has quite some impact on the music business. Taylor Swift is strong, strikingly focused and totally in control of her own career. So I’ll go ahead and just admit it: I greatly respect Taylor Swift and love what we can learn from her.
First of all, she is one of the most successful artists of her time. Selling over 170 million records worldwide and winning countless prizes, including seven Grammy awards. She was one of Time’s people of the year. She has had as many top 40 singles as Madonna and was the youngest artist ever to win ‘Album of the year’.
Moreover, Taylor Swift is an important role model for women all over the world. She was included to Forbes’ list of 100 most powerful women in 2015. Far before #metoo, she sued former radio host David Mueller for groping her at a meet-and-greet event and won the case.
The American DJ had to pay Swift 1 dollar. But that wasn’t the point, as Swift emphasized in her statement. ‘My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard,’ she said. For Swift, the lawsuit was about raising awareness about what’s right and wrong when it comes to being in the presence of women. She promised to donate to organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.
“Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it’s unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing”
Fighting the industry
Even more striking are her efforts to (successfully) improve the music business — and this is where we all should pay close attention. Taylor Swift’s strong belief, as she stated in a well-written article in The Wall Street Journal, is that artists should always be paid for their work and their value. To ensure that this keeps happening in the fast-changing 21st century music industry, she decides to solely fight the big companies that fail to do so.
Take this example. She has a history of controversies with Spotify, having removed her entire music library for three years as a way to protest the service doesn’t pay artists fairly. Only recently, she signed a contract with Universal Music Group, demanding that any sale of their Spotify shares should be distributed to their artists. Before that, she took on Apple, forcing them to pay royalties to record companies during Apple Music’s three-month trial period for new members. ‘Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it’s unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing,’ she wrote in a blog post – which Elvis Costello has referred to as ‘a note from our future president’.
Looking at the bigger picture
Last year, Taylor Swift came into disrepute because she introduced a dynamic pricing-model for her (aptly-named) Reputation shows, making ticket prices shift the same way airline seats do: adjusting to market demand. Although it left her fans confused (some had to pay hundreds of dollars more than others), it was a brilliant move to push out the secondary-ticket market.
“companies shouldn’t be piggybacking on an artist’s hard work’s earnings”
Again, Swift was looking at the bigger picture here. Instead of trying to sell out as soon as possible, like many big artists do, she found it more important to point out that other companies shouldn’t be piggybacking on an artist’s hard work’s earnings, even if this meant that her concerts would show a couple of hundred empty seats. She embarrassed her critics by showing them how this dynamic pricing model actually worked out for her: according to Quartz, Taylor Swift made an extra 50 million dollars – money which would otherwise have disappeared to ticket resale sites like Stubhub.
These are all not just acts to ensure Swift’s own position as a female singer-songwriter. What she does, surely matters for all artists and for all women. People who are sceptical say that everything she does is just a marketing stunt. But believe me: you won’t go through so much trouble just to spice up your image. Moreover, marketing is about reaching your target audience. Well, I don’t think 14-year-old American girls are purely focused on artist’s rights or misogyny. Even if Taylor Swift wouldn’t take a stand in these social issues, they’d still enjoy her music.
So here’s my question to you. How come we judge men and women with strong opinions and beliefs differently? And why are we sceptic if a woman stands up for herself, trying to pursue a career? The Dutch press almost never pays attention to Taylor Swift’s accomplishments. And if American media do so, they always write about her in a disparagingly, pejorative way. ‘The biggest flaw in Taylor Swifts argument? She’s Taylor Swift,’ The Verge sneered in a very sceptical piece about her statements against streaming devices.
But be honest here. To achieve what Taylor Swift has at her age, is at least admirable. Let’s all be a little more open-minded and stop applying a double standard when it comes to being a man or a woman. The one artist can be just as successful as the other, regardless of whichever gender.
Ricardo van Loenen is founder and CEO of B. Building Business and has a background in marketing. His favorite Taylor Swift-song is Delicate.