Taylor Swift shake, shake, shakes up a slowing music industry

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    Finally tonight: how to achieve platinum status in the ever-changing music business and at a time when the album as we once knew it no longer sells.

    Pop superstar Taylor Swift and her team have found a successful formula. But can it be duplicated? And what does it say about the industry and how we consume music now?

    Once again, we turn to Jeffrey Brown, who has the story.


    This week, Taylor Swift is back on top. Her new album, "1989," named for the year she was born, debuted Monday and is on track to sell a million copies in its first week.

    It's not just the only record to do so this year, but it's triple the mark of the second bestselling album by the band Coldplay. And the million sales in the first week is a feat not accomplished since Swift's last platinum album, 2012's "Red."

    For the music industry as a whole, which has seen a 14 percent drop in album sales just from last year, it's a shot in the arm heading into the big holiday season.

    Zack O'Malley Greenburg covers the industry for "Forbes."


    For the music business, it's always important to have these kind of tentpole albums going into the holiday season, ones that you can point to and say that this is the big seller of the year and this is going to be a hot kind of gift item.


    Swift has always held crossover appeal, but "1989" marks her official move from Nashville darling to New York pop queen, a move that has its own risks, says Washington Post music critic Chris Richards.

  • CHRIS RICHARDS, The Washington Post:

    This came as a big declaration that she was now going to be a pop artist with a capital P.

    I think it's shrewd as a business position to try to appeal to that larger audience, but part of what made her such a superstar is the fact that she was both a massive pop star and someone that people thought they could relate to personally.


    And while she has vocal critics, and addresses them head on, few dispute Swift's mastery of today's music and marketing. She first teased this new album's release during a Yahoo! live event in August, appeared on "Rolling Stone" magazine's September cover, and this week has shown up all over TV and online, at all hours, for interviews and live performances for huge crowds.

    She's also spurned music-streaming sites like Spotify and instead partnered with retail giant Target to distribute the C.D.


    There's only one place to get more Taylor.


    I think the strategy that Taylor Swift and her team are using by not releasing the album onto streaming sites yet is one that we have seen other superstar acts use before, which is to make sure they get every opportunity to get actual unit sales, instead of, you know, kind of fractions of pennies per stream.


    In many ways, it's a very traditional marketing campaign, contrasting the more recent trend of releasing albums without any advanced promotion.


    You can see artists like Beyonce and U2 which in the past year have both used really bold sort of stunt-like album release tactics. Taylor Swift used a totally old-school music biz, old-fashioned promotion-publicity cycle to promote this new album, and it's working. And I think it's working because of the intimacy that she's formed with her fans over the years.


    Very new-school, though, is Swift's use of social media in all its various platforms, engaging with her fans on a very personal level via her own Web site, Facebook page, Tumblr and Instagram, as well as her Twitter feed, replete with photos of fans who have bought the new album.

    She's enlisted other popular young stars to help her promote it, with musician Lorde and actor, writer and producer Lena Dunham both tweeting their endorsements to their many followers.

    But Swift's success comes amid enormous upheaval for the music industry as a whole, with a continuing move away from album sales, to downloads and now to streaming services like Spotify and others, where musicians and labels say they earn far less.

    Zack O'Malley Greenburg's "Forbes" article suggested that "1989" could be the last platinum album ever, at least the way things are measured now.


    And as long as platinum is measured as the total actual albums sold, as opposed to streamed, the numbers are just going to keep down and down and down, as more and more people move the bulk of their consumption to services like Spotify.


    In the meantime, while Taylor Swift and a few others sing their way to the bank, music writer Chris Richards says other artists have a hard time breaking through.


    If you're not a Taylor Swift, life is very, very difficult.

    But, at the same time, I do — I'm a believer in the access to the Internet. And in a lot of ways, it's amazing. Anybody can put their music online, it can be heard around the world. It's getting attention that is the issue now. And access is unprecedented, but how musicians can sort of corral attention is the great mystery of our time.


    The official designation of "1989" as platinum would come from the industry sales tracker Nielsen SoundScan by the middle of next week.

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