This week’s new music releases falls on Monday rather than Tuesday. Not typical to the way things tend to run. Perhaps that’s why Taylor Swift decided to set her fourth studio album release date for this exact day. It’s a ‘unique’ occurrence, unique just like how things seem to get whenever Swift herself is inserted into the conversation.
While the announcement of the Billboard Hot Country and Hot R&B Charts changing their ranking criteria is now almost two week old news, the implications of narrowing attitudes toward sales and music trends lingers easily. In ‘honor’ of the fact that Swift’s album, “Red,” dropped today, this commentary highlights some of the strengths in Swift’s fan engagement strategy and contemplates why some of her methods can or can’t be applied to other areas of music.
Incidentally, Billboard chose to preemptively acknowledge, in their own write up, the ranking changes; the alterations clearly and directly bolstering standings for Swift on the Hot Country charts. Individuals took both sides of the situation; for and against including multiple radio formats in genre- specific tabulation. All kinds of discussions and debates have buzzed around social media about how such a move almost forces the hand of anyone trying to place on the country or R&B charts for those respective careers in music. A change.org petition was even started to try and revert the alteration -but to no avail.
What made things look even more incriminatingly rigged and like a game of “playing (industry) favorites”was the way Swift went about things in the time leading up to Red’s release. At least five of the 16 tracks were teased by Swift (roughly one a week starting late September after the Max Martin track, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” dropped in mid August) for her fans to hear the morning a single was going up for sale and then the single would be out on iTunes that night.
Yes, subject matter hears relationships and breakups abound but still, topic obsession aside, this is a smart course of action because it’s like gradually leading fans to the bigger picture. If one gets teased, it’s natural one is going to be that much more anxious to see or hear more. The seemingly untouchable relationship between Swift and her legions of fans makes the idea of a download and listening landslide for each single hardly a thought of fantasy. So Swift’s grip on the country charts is that much stronger.
Charting Advantage: Taylor Swift
Now, Red has officially hit shelves and the record is available in its entirety. Well, let’s pause and do some math for a moment.
If fans around the world are completely firm on their decision to purchase each separate single when it first comes out, by iTunes standards, that’s at least $5.16 total. (1.29 x 4) Go to purchase the full record and on average, let’s say it is bought for $16.99 (a number that is approximate -above iTunes but lower than another full retail price of $18.99.) The end of it all sees a person down $22.15. The first positive is that the record at least has a track list of a decent length. However, just for hypothetical sake, what if all of Swift’s Twitter followers double bought her music; singles and record. The excess purchases leads to the below given profit.
$6.45 x 19,900,687= $128,359,431.15
The other day, I came across a humorous Tumblr post, wherein the user put up a short conversation with her father about the release of Red. The gist of the conversation was that the father reminded his daughter Swift would end up making MILLIONS of dollars because fans just like his daughter were insistent on having access to the music right then and there and, as such, Swift would be selling material to them twice. Well, when this father said millions, he was not off the mark whatsoever.
Profit Advantage: Taylor Swift
This advantage ‘awarded’ might seem unnecessary because Swift isn’t the only one able to put out singles or with the ability to market. This I’ll concede to because it’s true. Convincing millions of people to buy identical merchandise from you more than once takes very smooth marketing and engagement skills and isn’t a super secret choice available only to Big Machine Records.
However, that said, here is the point of contemplation for everyone else:
One would think these aspects of Taylor Swift’s success and profit would be imitated by other musicians and possibly other music mediums like broadway or even opera. It’s been said time and again lately, that we’re currently living in a ‘singles world.’ The basic premises of how Swift keeps her fans hooked and craving connection in conjunction with a single-heavy album, is, at the very least, attemptable by anyone else claiming to be a musician. If this fan engagement style doesn’t stick, fine, you move on, but who would aspire to spread their music across the world and not be vested in a genuine connection with the people who love your work? This is another reason why putting out so many separate tracks even before your record drops, is not so odd. What is odd is why Swift is the only one who gets such a volume of chatter about her actions as compared to everyone else.
Swift benefiting so largely from the diluting of the “pureness” of others’ songs that are competing for space on the Hot Country (and similarly the situation with the Hot R&B) charts might not leave the nicest thoughts in my head but it is nevertheless fascinating to observe the total fan reaction towards a high profile musician who engages so often and sincerely with her supporters. It can at times feel patronizing and certainly over the top (counting down the hours to midnight every hour on the hour via Twitter starts to hit grating territory.) but if I had a dime for every time a Swift fan said the word “excited” on some form of social media when they get wind of a “this is coming soon.” message about anything Swift related, I might be as rich as Swift herself.
Anyone happen to catch the word play in today’s title?