Taylor Swift urges artists not to give away music for free

Swift defends music industry in impassioned article for the Wall Street Times

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If anyone can save the music industry it’s probably Taylor Swift. The country-pop star has written a column for the Wall Street Journal in which she weighs the competing demands of art and finance and concludes that good music will ultimately triumph.

The Nashville singer, 24, who enjoyed her first chart-topper aged 18 and has sold 26 million records, waded into the debate over the future of a shrinking record industry, in the unlikely environs of the WSJ.

Swift, who boasts 41 million Twitter followers and 66 million Facebook “Likes”, called on musicians to avoid giving their music away for free.

“Music is art,” Swift wrote. “And art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.”

But the singer, who has built a huge fan base through narrative songs which illuminate the lives of her largely teenage audience, said it was that relationship between fans and musicians which will replace a declining economic model based upon sales.

Swift wrote: “The way I see it, fans view music the way they view their relationships. Some music is just for fun, a passing fling (the ones they dance to at clubs and parties for a month while the song is a huge radio hit, that they will soon forget they ever danced to).

“Some songs and albums represent seasons of our lives, like relationships that we hold dear in our memories but had their time and place in the past.”


During her short career, Swift has witnessed a technology-fuelled revolution in the interaction between fan and performer. “I haven't been asked for an autograph since the invention of the iPhone with a front-facing camera,” the I Knew You Were Trouble singer wrote, calling autographs “obsolete.” For her young fans, Instagram followers are “currency”.

Album sales have declined by nearly 20 per cent this year, as streaming services become more attractive, but Swift believes the album will not become an “irrelevancy”. She wrote: “I’d like to point out that people are still buying albums, but now they’re buying just a few of them. They are buying only the ones that hit them like an arrow through the heart or have made them feel strong or allowed them to feel like they really aren't alone in feeling so alone.”

An “enthusiastic optimist”, Swift believes that “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.”

Swift’s economics came in for criticism. The Vox website responded: “This might make sense if you're Taylor Swift and your enormous army of fans will pre-order anything you tell them to, but the most important lesson of the internet music revolution is that the vast majority of consumers actually reward convenience. Taylor Swift does not understand that the internet killed scarcity.”

But the Slate blog’s senior business correspondent, Jordan Weissmann, said Swift had a point. “With streaming services, artists are compensated based on how often their songs are played. Moreover, it takes an enormous number of streams to make a decent profit.

“Giant hits and old, bankable back catalogues have always been the lifeblood of the music business. Now, they're even more important. In that context, shooting fans through the heart -which ensures your songs stay on repeat - isn’t the worst business advice.”

Swift also touched upon the sexualised representation of female artists in music videos. “There continues to be a bad girl vs. good girl/clean-cut vs. sexy debate, and for as long as those labels exist, I just hope there will be contenders on both sides. Everyone needs someone to relate to.”