5 Things You Can Learn From Taylor Swift's "1989"

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Friends, Taylor Swift is a song-writing, social marketing, style-defining genius.  And you can learn a lot from her.

Let me preface this by saying a few words: growing up, I was never the biggest Taylor Swift fan. I wasn't into the peppy hybrid of pop and country and I found her lyrics to be more representative of middle school drama than real relationships.

However, I surprised myself when I actually fell in love with her new cd 1989 which has topped the Billboard charts and blown everyone away with its financial success.

This summer on my road trip back to Wheaton with my father, we stopped through Nashville to visit friends and some of his business relationships with Disney.  I had the extreme pleasure of tagging along on a trip to Big Machine Records, Taylor Swift's record label.  We happened to be there on the exact day that she announced plans for the new album 1989 which would redefine her target demographic and also drastically change her musical style.

Taylor Swift has long been at the top of the music charts.  Every song seems to be a hit, from "Love Story" to "You Belong With Me" to "We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together."  And of course, there's now my new favorite, "Shake It Off."

What makes her so successful, besides her raw talent?  Why does she continue to captivate audiences and grow new support?

There are 5 key things you can learn from Taylor, which prove to be insightful for anyone with artistic pursuits.

1. Have a thesis statement.

Yes, it's not just for high school essay writing.  As a private writing tutor, the number one issue that I see in young writers is that they do not have a thesis, the single most important part of any writing piece.  I don't care if you're writing a novel, short story, creative non-fiction or media editorial, you need a thesis.  I don't care if you're a small business owner or an artist or a speaker or a musician, you always need a thesis statement, a clear and concise proclamation of the main point you want to communicate.

Here's why.

A thesis is much more than just a summary of what you plan to do.  A thesis is your goal and tells me, an audience member, what you hope to achieve and why.  When I work with speech students, I make them painstaking break down their topic by asking them questions such as, "Why did you pick this subject?  What do you hope to accomplish?  Why should I care? What is your angle?"  You always need a perspective.  And it's all about communication.

Taylor Swift has this down a detailed art.  Just think about it.  The first song on her new album is "Welcome to New York", which reflects Taylor's own move to NYC this spring.  The rest of the album basically follows this thesis:

"I've moved to New York, I'm single, independent and ready to shake off my old relationships — and red lipstick is my favorite thing."

The end.  She has a message which she clearly communicates.  It's succinct and wisely wrapped up in her preview song "Shake It Off"...which, much like an introductory paragraph or a short story outline, tells us her thesis statement.

2. Be involved in your own personal branding.

Branding is about how you define yourself to the public.  Marketing is how you tell your story.

Some people can play an infinite number of instruments.  Others can work an infinite number of marketing outlets.  This would be Taylor, since she has great dexterity at branding and marketing.  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, TV advertisements, Internet interviews and PR.  Leading up to the release of the new album, she shared song lyrics with fans as a sneak-peak to her follows.  1989 was announced about two months before its release and the video for "Shake It Off" followed shortly.  She didn't sit around waiting for media coverage — she made it happen by producing content and generating excitement that continued to grow until the album was for sale.

But here's what you may not know: Taylor is directly involved in almost everything.  Ever since she got her start, Taylor has been calling the shots because she has the innate ability to know what will resonate with her audience.

3. Learn the value of networking.

Lorde, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande are just a few of the fellow celebrities who are part of Taylor Swift's direct network who supported 1989.  But she also is a spokesperson for Coca-Cola and advertisements for the new album. Joint marketing is part of what the marketing world refers to as "synergy" where there is mutual benefit to both parties involved and both get the exposure they need. Taylor utilizes this to her advantage.

Also, think about the underlying benefit to being a spokesperson for Coca-Cola, especially in light of the lyrics from her new song Style, "I got that red lip classic thing that you like." Her new image is centered around being vintage and "classic" and what's more classic than original Coke?

4. Understand your target audience.

Taylor's audience has always been fairly clear: young adolescent girls who could relate to her on an emotional level because they could see themselves in her content.  However, with 1989 she has gradually made a shift into redefining her audience to a broader pool of people, connecting with more high school and college-aged students because of her more mature look and lyrics.

She goes even further than simply defining her audience.  She relates to them.  In releasing 1989, Taylor started the "Secret Sessions" in which she invited fans to her house to play a preview of the record for them.  She makes an effort to reach out to fans through social media and in person to establish that personal, genuine connection to her audience.  She views her art as a form of communication and understands that it is never one-way.  It's personal and results in an emotional bond. - "The Secret Sessions"

5. Find your niche and your style.

In addition to branding and marketing, Taylor has strong positioning (establishing where you are in the market).  Consider how she was able to successfully pull off a complete image re-brand.  She has the artistic freedom to redefine herself in a way that is culturally relevant.  That's any artist's goal: to be who you are and set cultural trends, not react to them.

This is because she's found her niche but she's bold enough not to be defined by it.

No matter what you're pursuing, you can gain insight into reaching your goals by looking at one of the music industry's most successful performers.  Taylor Swift has worked her way to the top by commanding her public image, having a direct say in her marketing, creating a strong thesis for focused communication and connecting with her audience on an emotional level.

Here's hoping you can learn how to make "sparks fly" like Taylor.



(Because sometimes a blog post just needs a postscript.)

When I was in high school, my sister and I were given pit passes to the Taylor Swift Speak Now tour.  Because of how the stage was positioned, there were times when we were behind her and had the most spectacular view of the audience.  I snapped this shot halfway through the set. 

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  1. This is a wonderful post, thoroughly describing a possible pathway to success for any writer, whether they are a songwriter or a novelist. My professors constantly prattle on about the importance of a thesis statement, but it truly is the very first step that any writer needs to take. Define it as specifically as you can! This is a wonderful break down of a successful song writer / entertainer in the music industry. You encapsulated Taylor Swift's marketing techniques perfectly!

    1. Thank you, Morrighan! I definitely agree. And I'm continuing to learn that the secret to writing success is so much more than just talent - it's also the ability to position yourself in the market and write something that will sell and resonate with your audience. (And Taylor is definitely good at that!)

  2. This is such a wonderful post. I love how you talked about Taylor Swift's 1989 album I am currently in love with her song Blank Space.



    1. Thanks Christine! And I'm so in love with the album, too - especially since I think it's a fantastic learning tool. Thanks for the follow!