For Taylor Swift, the future of music might be a love story…but for The Good Groupie? The future of music is entirely up to music fans like me.
If TSwift’s op/ed in the Wall Street Journal isn’t on your radar, let me be the one to put it there. I heard a brief mention of it on morning TV yesterday as I was getting ready for work, and by the time I got to take a peek at Twitter, my timeline was littered with freshly composed rebuttals.
So naturally, I’m here to offer one more – but not as a music journalist, industry insider or label exec because I am none of those. I’m here to tell you what she got right and what she got wrong as a music fan – the exact person she spends half the article talking about; the exact person who controls the destiny of music right now.
First things first
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say this up front: I’m about 98% indifferent to Taylor Swift. I don’t love her, but I also don’t hate her. She’s just kind of there in my music world, floating around, doing stuff, whatever. Sometimes I listen and don’t mind a song (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – that ‘we’ is damn catchy). Other times, I never ever ever want to hear it again (“Love Story” – baby, just say no).
Considering her audience, I think she’s a decent songwriter. Taylor’s songs don’t speak to me lyrically, but I recognize that she has a knack for writing tunes about the things teenage girls deeply care about in a way that speaks to them. And despite her laundry list of ex-boyfriends, I think she’s one of the better female musician role models out there. Plus, anyone who actually writes or co-writes and plays their music automatically gets a dose of respect in my book.
That said, I don’t think she can sing live worth a damn (or TV audio is incredibly unkind to her) and that sometimes her PR machine works in overdrive to keep her relevant (and this op/ed might be exactly that since she hasn’t broken any high profile hearts in the past month).
What Taylor got right
“…you should know that you’re reading the opinion of an enthusiastic optimist…”
I really do appreciate that as someone who has lived through an incredibly crazy time to be on a label, TSwift survived the last nine years as well as she has – and still manages to be optimistic about the future of the crazy industry she works in. I don’t think I could be that rosy about a crumbling industry desperately trying to rebuild itself.
“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. However, some artists will be like finding “the one.” We will cherish every album they put out until they retire and we will play their music for our children and grandchildren.”
Spot on, TSwift.
As a music fan who will never stop championing listeners to tell me why they love the bands they love – the specific song or lyric or reason that made them fall for their favorites – I still understand that not every band is THE band. Some are just fun, mindless songs – my recent fave in this category was that dang Iggy Azalea song. Other music is beautiful or atmospheric or what you listened to during your high school years, your college years, etc. But there are very few bands that deliver their music like a punch to the gut or an arrow to your heart, as she describes. They are rare and special and should absolutely be cherished.
What Taylor got wrong
“…the music industry is not dying…it’s just coming alive.”
The music industry isn’t most definitely not just coming alive – that happened back in the late 1950s. It’s dead and has been for awhile. What it IS doing, like every other industry on the face of the planet, is going through a massive rebirth while it tries to figure out how to harness the power of the Internet – a tool that rocked our world in a way I don’t think we’ll truly understand for another decade or two.
The platinum albums and return to buying full length records TSwift waxes semi-poetic about is a thing of the past. Speaking as a music fan, bands that still subscribe to this idea are completely out of touch with how we, as fans, access music and are never going to get anywhere. (This is the reason I lose patience with my beloved Hanson brothers – they still ask us, as fans, to call our local radio stations and request their music. Seriously, boys? You broke up with your label more than a decade ago. I’m sorry, I love you…but you’re never getting played on Top 40 radio again. It’s time to move on.)
As fans, we are given more access to our favorite bands than ever before because of the Internet. When they stop in our towns on tour, we feel more connected to them because we saw what they thought about the latest Games of Thrones episode on Twitter Sunday night. We saw what they ate for lunch on the bus or in the van on Instagram earlier that day.
If I connect with your music, it’s because I connect with some piece of you that’s reflected in your music. And that’s how you harness the power of the Internet and grow that band/fan relationship.
You don’t have to give your life away but allow me to connect with you on small things here and there, and I become a genuine fan who will buy every album you make and follow you to the ends of the earth – no middle man label exec necessary. (This is how I became the girl who follows Quiet Company around Texas. Seriously. A couple Twitter conversations, and those poor guys can’t get rid of me now.)
“In mentioning album sales, 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.”
In my humble opinion, we as music fans are buying less of your label-made albums because there’s less hit-them-like-an-arrow-through-the-heart albums to buy, plain and simple.
Look, when we live in a world where the Beyonce vs. Freddie Mercury meme exists…it’s because music fans aren’t stupid. We recognize good, quality music when we hear it, and we know it doesn’t take the record label powerhouse to accomplish that. Sometimes, all it really takes is one guy.
The problem here is music isn’t sacred to the music industry. Labels buy the formulas that work because in an uncertain industry, they want the guarantee they’ll make their money back.
But that means they don’t care about the meaningful lyrics or lush musical arrangements that sound like nothing else you’ve ever heard. And as labels continue to buy their formula bands and pass on the ones making meaningful music, there are going to be less hit-them-like-an-arrow-through-the-heart albums to buy.
Which means we, as music fans, must take it upon ourselves to go outside the radio and box stores with a tiny music section to find our music. We have to take an active role in hunting for and discovering the music that matters to us – not rely on someone else to tell us what that music is or where to find it.
“In the YouTube generation we live in, I walked out onstage every night of my stadium tour last year knowing almost every fan had already seen the show online. To continue to show them something they had never seen before, I brought out dozens of special guest performers to sing their hits with me.”
Poor you and your stadium tour woes while I sit here trying to drag my friends to see every last local band I can because I want to support meaningful musicians.
Sorry, now that the snark is out of the way…
This is the one thing I have to disagree with the most. Yes, we can see your show on YouTube after tour stop #1, but even with the popularity of sites where artists can host a live streaming event to play a show for the entire Internet…there’s still something incredibly special about buying your ticket, going to a show and not just hearing but experiencing the music live – even if you know exactly how the show is going to go.
After 35 Hanson shows, I know that every single one is going to be: 3-4 upbeat songs, 1-2 mid tempo songs that bridge into a 4-5 song acoustic set, maybe a solo by 2 band members (all 3 if we’re really lucky), and then another mix of 10 mid tempo and upbeat songs, a cover and 2 encore songs.
And you know what? 35 shows. I keep going because the music is good in my world, not because I want to be surprised. God help us if we, as music fans, ever lose interest in the beautifully simple act of live music.
Go on your tour. Play your shows. And don’t try to out-do yourself. Just be you and play the music. That’s all we really want live.
Why the future of the music industry is up to fans – like you & me
TSwift is a little right but mostly misses the mark for me with this rose infested view of the music industry. So what great solutions do I have? How do we make this all work? How do we ensure the quality music we love keeps getting made by the bands we love, the ones who are writing the soundtrack to our lives as we live them?
Are you tired of hearing me tell you to support the bands you love? Good – cause here it comes again:
And buy a record as directly from the band (on their website, at a show) as possible so they get as much of the money as possible.
GO SEE THEM LIVE!
Nothing beats putting your money where your mouth is and showing up to see them live.
Lots and lots of merch. Bands get the most bang for your buck from merch.
SHARE THE LOVE!
Tell your friends about the music you love and why they might love it to. And trust me, a personally recommended band is going to go a lot further than a Facebook post saying, “Hey, check them out!”
Look, the Internet changed everything, and that’s why the music industry is where it is right now. The beautiful thing about it is that we, as fans, have the power to choose our own music. We don’t need a label to make music happen – we just need to support the bands we love so they can keep making the music we love.
You can read every article you want on how the industry has changed and where it’s going to go. But if you ask me – the fan – what I think about where it’s going?
I say it’s entirely up to us right now.
Let’s not blow it.
Photos by Angela Duncan Photography