Think what you will about her music but Taylor Swift is helping musicians get paid. Fighting a changing musical landscape, she’s shown no fear in taking on some of the world’s biggest streaming services and at the end of the day, she’s raking in big bucks because of it.
Reputation, Taylor Swift’s most recent album released this past November is an example of this. The biggest selling album of 2017, in its first week alone, Reputation sold 1.22 million copies in the United States and, factoring international sales, topped out at over 2 million copies. Though Reputation is now streaming online and has been since the first week of December, what its first week sales prove is that when you build anticipation effectively and when you demonstrate the value of your music as an artist, there are many people still willing to pay for it.
Taylor Swift has notoriously taken a stand against streaming services which, as most of us know, provide little compensation to artists. For less popular artists, they are largely at the mercy of streaming services. To get exposure, they are forced to play the game. With Taylor Swift, someone who has built an international brand over the last decade, she already has the exposure. By withholding her content from streaming services and choosing to release music the way she wants to release it, she’s maximized her income as a musician and proves that streaming may not be the be-all, end-all for musicians looking to get paid.
Much like Taylor Swift, every artist in the music industry should be looking at how to maximize their income. Throughout the last two decades, many artists have refused to release their music according to the schedules of streaming services and online song marketplaces such as iTunes. Artists like The Beatles refused to allow iTunes the right to sell their music and you know what, they were still one of the best-selling artists in the world. Then, in 2010, they joined iTunes and made a killing financially again off their content hitting the service.
There are those who argue that yes, if Taylor Swift doesn’t make her music available online, it will only end up pirated. Even so, her sales numbers don’t necessarily match this argument. Even with her material being pirated as it presumably is, she’s still raking in more money in non-streaming sales than she would if she let her album stream.
According to some estimates, to make the money that Taylor Swift makes off of only one CD sale, she would have to acquire approximately 133 hours of listening through streaming. In terms of getting paid and with an artist as popular as Swift, there’s no questioning what anyone would do.
For anyone who criticizes Taylor Swift or others for withholding access to their content need be reminded that music is a business. Instead of executives at Spotify getting rich off her, Taylor Swift has taken things into her own hands and, financially speaking, she’s better off for it.
For developing artists, the thing to take away from Taylor Swift is that this ain’t about “playing the game” or “not playing the game”. It’s about making the most of the opportunity to make money. As a developing artist, yes, you may need to get on these streaming services because of the exposure there. That said, if you can find creative ways to make income outside of streaming, challenge yourself. Remember, these are all tools and there are no established systems so play your hand the way you want to play and make the most of what’s there.