Taylor Swift has done it again.
With Red (Taylor's Version), the 31-year-old artist has just re-released her second album in less than a year. And just like Fearless (Taylor's Version), this newest album has debuted number one on the Billboard 200.
(Swift is the only artist to release a re-recorded album that peaked atop Billboard's famous list, and now she's done it twice.)
How does she do it? How does Swift continue to reinvent herself, creating value for her fans?
Swift revealed the answer in a recent interview, and it has something to do with her favorite song on the album.
Speaking to Jimmy Fallon, Swift confessed that when she was writing the original "Red" album, she had a favorite song: "All Too Well." Still, said Swift, often her personal favorites don't line up with the songs that end up being singles or having videos.
"But what happened on this album," explained Swift, "was this song became the fans' favorite on its own. My favorite and their favorite song aligned."
This brings us to the lesson, which we can sum up in a single sentence:
- Your sweet spot is the intersection between what you love to create and what others love to consume.
This is important because as an artist, it can be tempting to create only for yourself. But for most artists, much of the appeal of creating art is in finding an appreciative audience, and inspiring that audience.
But if you're a creator, how do you apply this lesson to your own work?
Here are three ways:
Start creating. A lot.
In a separate interview with Seth Myers, Swift highlighted an interesting point when reflecting on the original Red album.
"There are like fourteen different genres on [the original version of Red]," Swift relates. "It's a real patchwork quilt of genre. I was really experimenting."
When you start to create, you have to experiment. You must create as much as you can, in order to learn from the process.
If you're writing, write as much as you can.
If you're illustrating, create as many illustrations as possible.
If you're producing videos, or movies, or short films, make as many as you have time for.
Once you do, you'll have data to collect and analyze. You'll start to notice patterns.
Most importantly, you'll discover not only what you enjoy doing, but what brings others joy, too.
Listen to feedback.
Now comes the hard part. Whether you invite it directly or not, your audience is going to give you feedback.
And sometimes that feedback hurts.
"I go online, I look at what [the fans] think about things," said Swift. "I really care about their opinions and their theories and their teasing and their mocking and their joking. It's all from a very loving place."
I've often compared critical feedback to a freshly mined diamond. To the layperson, it looks like an ugly rock. But if you know how to cut it and polish it, you'll find immense value.
So, pay attention to what your fans are saying, even if it hurts to hear. Because learning to see your art through the eyes of others is key to increasing its value.
Double down, and focus.
Once you've figured out both your passion and the passion of your fans, once you've listened to their feedback and seen things through their eyes, now you're ready to level up.
Distractions will come. But you need to turn them down.
In the past couple of years, you haven't heard much out of Swift while she's creating. Of course, you could say that she only makes appearances when she's promoting her work, but that's the thing...
She's had plenty of work to promote. In fact, Swift has released four albums since mid 2020. Swift says the first of those four, "Folklore," was conceived and produced while laying low during the early stages of the pandemic.
Once you know what you want to create, prioritize it over your other work. Find your flow, build on your momentum. Don't let less important things get in the way, or you might lose the opportunity to make something special.
So, whether or not you're a fan of Taylor Swift the artist, you should definitely learn from her process:
- Create. A lot.
- Listen to feedback.
- Double down and focus.
If you do, you'll find your sweet spot--and create work that you and others truly love.