Dissecting Taylor Swift

It would seem these days that the favorite game of the music business is trying to dissect what has made Taylor Swift so amazingly successful so that it can be replicated. But the dissection is pointless. And her success won't be replicated anytime soon – certainly not by copying. The fact is, Taylor has a unique and preternatural combination of talents and abilities. Is she the greatest vocalist in the world? No. But she is far from the pre-packaged Disney-esque commodity that most folks seem intent on labeling her as. Unlike the Miley Cyrus's and Hillary Duff's of the world, it is Taylor herself at the center of her success.

She is a gifted pop songwriter with an uncanny ear for musical and lyrical hooks. She's also a very strategic thinker, understanding that it doesn't just matter what she does and says, but how she does it and in what order – something most people don't get at fifty, much less at twenty. And lastly, not only is she amazingly self-aware and willing to risk sharing her personal life through her songs, but she has the ability to translate those deeply personal feelings and experiences into universal truths that her audience relates to in a hugely personal way.

It's easy to slip into analyzing the music instead of listening to it. I did it. It wasn't until my third or fourth time through the new record, Speak Now, that I really heard it. First time through, when I heard the song Never Grow Up, I thought, "Wow. She nailed the target with that song. Parents and kids will both love it." Then, on listen number four, when she sings about her first night alone in her new apartment, it hit me. "Oh, crap. I remember that night. That feeling." It's been FOREVER ago, but she brought it right back like it was yesterday.

So get the new music. Listen to the lonliness in that song. Or the unvarnished hurt in Dear John. Or the catty fun of Better Than Revenge and you'll start to see the core of what makes Taylor so successful. I'm not saying it's Shakespeare. But I don't think she would say that either. But it's her. And it's real. Good luck to anyone trying to fake that.

Expect Less From Your Publicist

... and your manager, agent, label, sponsorship point person and everyone else who purports to represent your best interests out in the world. At a time when everyone wants more, more, more, I would contend that you should judge your team by what they say “no” to instead of how many things they say “yes” to.

Read More

Hello, Nashville. Is Anyone Listening?

The alternative band Ok Go has done it before with their breakout video Here It Goes Again, a video which should hit 50 million views in the next few days with traffic from this new song. And in the video above, you can see they've done it again. Exactly to what extent remains to be seen, but still, a less-than-household-name band gets 2.5 million+ views on YouTube in 3 frickin' days and you better be paying attention. They aren't doing it by making sure the artists' faces are clearly recognizable. Or recreating the story of the song on screen. They did it - TWICE - by creating something unexpected and compelling and fun. They worried less about the literal takeaway and more about what the video told the viewer about the band: they are creative, smart, different, fun and I like them.

If you are gonna put money into videos, make them something people want to see. Stop meeting expectations and start exceeding them. Better yet, defy viewer expectations! Partner with a filmmaker with vision. Someone who adds to the story, not someone who just puts pretty pictures on the screen while your audience listens to a song on their TV or computer. I know that alternative audiences and country audiences are different, but everyone wants to be entertained and engaged. And it isn't about money, because both these videos were pretty cheap. And by the way, there's a time and a place for a beautiful, literal video. But right now, Nashville is doing all their videos and album covers and everything else like a checklist of elements that have to show up. Big face? Check. Live footage holding guitar (which the artist may or may not be able to play)? Check. People pretending to have fun? Check. The result? The audience remembers nothing. You are making a logical case, not an emotional one. You're telling them instead of showing them. And it sucks. It really, really sucks.