There are many celebrities who have demonstrated their business acumen and made millions, some even billions. But the stand out among them is 33yr old Taylor Swift, the American pop music icon, whose ongoing “Eras Tour” is expected to become the biggest concert tour of all time, likely turning out over $1bn in revenues. So what makes Taylor Swift special?

“While other stars like Rihanna have parlayed their success as artists to launch other businesses, Swift has largely kept her empire within the confines of music” says Anne Steele for the WSJ in this article.

Steele lists out some management lessons from Taylor Swift’s life:
Keep your inner circle small: “She keeps her employee base small and her business close with a handful of confidants that include her parents, according to people familiar with Swift’s operations. She generally eschews outside managers, agents and lawyers who would otherwise take cuts of her business.”
She started her career at the very young age of 14 and demonstrated an incredible ability to work hard but also smart acumen – in trying to convince a radio station K-Frog to get her on air: “When Swift, playing in the station’s studio, got to the line in “Tim McGraw” that includes the lyric “someday you’ll turn your radio on,” she glanced over at Barker and instead sang “someday you’ll turn K-FROG on,” he said. The gimmick worked. The station immediately wanted to put her on the radio.”

Whilst the article talks about how she has carefully managed her social media profile to mobilise her audience and consciously worked on keeping her music fresh, what stands out is the way she has stood up for her artistic rights taking on record labels as well as Spotify head on:

“As sales surged weeks after the 2014 release of “1989,” Swift pulled her entire catalog from Spotify. She had battled with the streaming giant ahead of her album’s release, requesting that Spotify only make “1989” available to its paying subscribers, not on its free, ad-supported tier.

“Valuable things should be paid for,” she wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. “It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.” 

To rectify the relationship, Spotify Chief Executive Daniel Ek has said he flew to Nashville many times to speak with Swift’s label about why streaming mattered. It wasn’t until three years later, ahead of the release of her “Reputation” album, that she agreed to return her catalog to Spotify—which didn’t make concessions or change its payments to artists. By then, “1989” had moved 10 million copies worldwide, as keeping her music off the service spurred more sales.

“I don’t think there was anything Spotify did to convince Taylor. She is fiercely independent and makes many of her calls herself,” said Ek. “She realized there was a huge audience on Spotify.”

…In 2018, Swift signed a deal with Universal that gave her ownership of any music she records. Her first six albums remained with the independent label Big Machine, then were sold twice. Swift, having tried and failed to buy the rights to that music, called the sale “my worst case scenario” and pledged to rerecord her catalog as versions she would own.

No other artist has rerecorded to the same extent and with the same success. Swift adds previously unreleased songs that didn’t make the cut on the original albums, encouraging fans to buy the new versions.

She keeps fans involved, explaining why ownership matters. Streaming services and radio stations have replaced the old versions with the rerecords on playlists, and promoted them as new releases.”

Rerecorded versions of her “Fearless” and “Red” albums are outstreaming their original counterparts at a ratio of 3 to 1, according to a Journal analysis.”

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