If you've been paying attention, you probably heard that Taylor Swift released an album last week. The album itself is a decade old, but she re-recorded the entire thing--plus tracks that were never released. It's the second album Swift has re-recorded in an effort to own her music after a drawn-out dispute with her former label.
While there are some new songs on the re-recorded version, I'm less interested in the music. That isn't to say it isn't good--I just think there's something much more interesting in Swift's approach. Swift has managed to do what few artists have--own her music. More importantly, however, the way she's done it happens to be a valuable lesson for every entrepreneur:
1. Cultivate Affection
Swift told Seth Meyers that she is enjoying the opportunity to "go back and kind of live this nostalgia with fans who are the reason I get to do this. I get to do things I know they wish I would have done the first time."
That's a powerful thing for any brand, and Swift has--more than almost any other musician or artist--cultivated an extraordinary level of both affection and loyalty from her fans. I say "cultivated" because that's exactly what Swift does, giving her audience exactly what they want.
"I really do feel like I know them really well," Swift told Jimmy Fallon. "I go online. I look at what they think about things. I really care about their opinions... I think I know what they are wanting."
For example, she recorded a short film featuring the 10-minute version of a song that wasn't even released as a single when the album first came out. That song, "All Too Well," is widely considered a favorite among both fans and music critics and has taken on a life of its own. The film now has over 37 million views on YouTube in just four days.
And, during the pandemic, Swift dropped not one, but two surprise albums for her fans. It's not really complicated--Swift gives her fans exactly what they want, and, in return, she earns their affection. That turns out to be quite powerful. Especially for an artist like Swift who is as much entrepreneur as artist. Which, leads us to:
2. Take Control of Your Destiny
"Something that happened years ago where I made it very clear that I wanted to be able to buy my music, and that opportunity was not given to me, and it was sold to somebody else," Swift told Meyers. "I just figured I was the one who made this music first, I can just make it again. So that's what we're doing... When something says in parenthesis 'Taylor's Version,' that means I own it, which is exciting."
The fact that the songs all say "(Taylor's Version)" is really quite brilliant. She's signaling to her fans that "this is the one you should buy or stream." At the same time, the unspoken piece is to stop streaming the originals since those aren't hers.
Swift's music has made her and a lot of music executives a lot of money. But the power dynamic in that relationship has always skewed away from the artist, even though Swift is one of the most successful artists of her generation.
Largely because of her entrepreneurial savvy, combined with the loyalty of her fans, Swift is able to go back and rerecord her music knowing that those fans are behind her completely. The work she has done to build that connection is now paying off as she takes control of her own destiny.
3. Have Fun
Listening to Swift talk about this experience, you get the feeling she's having fun. That doesn't mean it's not work, but you can tell that Swift isn't only very good at what she does, she loves doing it.
That's actually a pretty important factor of success. If the thing you're decided to devote your life to isn't fun for you, you're probably doing it wrong. At a minimum, you should probably find something else to be doing.
On the other hand, when you have fun doing whatever it is you do, not only does it make the hard parts a little easier, it also becomes contagious. People want to be a part of it. That's true regardless of what you do--and it might be the most important lesson of all.