Most of what Taylor Swift writes for public consumption ends up coming to us through ear buds or loudspeakers, but this week she has turned her attention from song lyrics about bad boyfriends to prose with an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. Her topic? The future of the music business.
It's no real surprise that the 24-year-old pop-country hitmaker comes down squarely on the sunny side of the street, identifying herself at the outset as "an enthusiastic optimist: one of the few living souls in the music industry who still believes that the music industry is not dying … it's just coming alive."
That's an easy position to take when you're that rare artist who remains capable of selling more than 1 million copies of a new album in a week, as Swift did with her two most recent albums, 2012's "Red" and 2010's "Speak Now." And when each of your albums has outsold its predecessor, even in the midst of a globally shrinking business.
But she's not so optimistic that she ignores the seismic changes in the record business even since she entered it in a significant way nine years ago. The fact is, she's recognized and taken advantage of those changes, thus contributing significantly to her ascent to the top tier of pop music stardom.
She recalls "when I walked into my first record-label meetings [in 2005], explaining to them that I had been communicating directly with my fans on this new site called Myspace. In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans — not the other way around."
Ultimately, she argues that free isn't the way to go: "Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free…."
"[M]y prediction," she continues, "is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album's price point is. I hope they don't underestimate themselves or undervalue their art."
Swift's fifth album is due this fall, if her regular schedule of releasing new music holds. We'll see then if she can continue the upward streak she's maintained in the eight years since the release of her debut album.