I'm asking a favor—but not for me. I want you to do a favor for the music.
As a Swiftie, Venture Capitalist, Poet, I love this. And it should happen. How can we make it happen? Not just a wonderful post from you, but for real?
Holy Cow. This is the best, strongest, cleanest, most compelling, most right-on-the-mark letter I've read in years. Thank you, Ted. And I agree with you: Taylor Swift is the one musician and artist in a leadership position right now who can move or maybe disrupt or dismantle the entire mountainous system. Thank you for helping her so essentially, for your advance lifting of the heavy boulders, and for spelling out the layers of problems for all your substack readers. BRAVO
She should start with buying TIDAL. It sucks now, but it at least has the foundation of a good artist-based mission. The software needs to be completely re-written, but it has a pre-existing network of servers and all the necessary tech stuff in place. It would also let her join forces with Beyonce, the #2 artist in the industry, and it would give her some cred with the hip hop/R&B music community.
Sorry to say, Tay-tay isn't going to help anyone but herself. She does not care about my music, your music, or anyone's music who isn't named Taylor Swift. I admire your effort here, Ted. But it's a tad cliche to appeal to a big star. We need to think deeper about this.
Streaming expands the reach of no-name artists, immensely. I challenge you to prove me wrong. You admit here that "middlemen flourish" but then complain about how poorly streaming platforms pay musicians. It's the middlemen that are paying artists, my friend. Imagine how much more money major label artists would make if they eliminated all of the middlemen! It's a racket that's almost as bad as U.S. Healthcare!
You've got to stop blaming streaming. It's here to stay and they are not the ones doing the screwing.
The change needs to be a step by step process.
Frankly, I think you need to encourage young, unknown artists to continue partnering with streaming platforms and using 0 middle men - no labels, no music publishing, no baloney marketers.
Then the question becomes how to legitimately give all artists a chance to get heard. Because you're right about radio dying. It's just another racket. Always has been.
The entire industry is a racket.
It's probably a pipe dream to think we can get rid of all the dirtiness in the music industry. But we could at least hypothesize together. How does John Doe Musician get a chance to be heard? How can the listeners pick what's popular instead of being told what's popular by having the songs jammed down our throats?
These are the things we need to think and discuss - amongst US.
Not Taylor Swift.......she's part of the problem, my man!
I'm not even into her music, and I approve. From everything I've heard, she seems like a decent person.
(1) Please pardon my blasphemy, but in my humble and deeply unpopular opinion, the messianic rhetoric around Taylor Swift is absolutely out of control. It's disappointing to me that even Mr. Gioia seems to have succumbed to the almost worshipful mentality that has consumed the entire culture. Music journalists are afraid to publish even the mildest criticism of her work for fear of death threats. I am not exaggerating.
(2) I would be glad to be proven wrong, but I have witnessed little evidence that Swift has the selflessness to stick out her neck out for other artists in any substantial way. Sure, she has "gone to battle against power brokers” — when it was in her own interest, albeit not exclusively so. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But she almost appears to view her profession, to some extent, as a competitive business, with a goal of building her "market share" to monopolistic levels. The way she chewed up a massive slice of vinyl production capacity, shoving aside other, less commericially-significant artists, so that her fans could buy four copies of her album to hang on their walls and never put on a turntable, suggests a deep lack of awareness and/or concern for the effects of her actions on her fellow musicians. Her personal behavior and lyrics have frequently displayed a pettiness that is especially unbecoming of someone of her age and stature. Yes, it's admirable that she pays her staff well and makes donations to food banks, etc. More artists should follow her example. But for someone whose tour revenues are larger than the GDPs of some countries, it almost seems like the least she can do.
(3) I would be especially shocked if Swift would do anything meaningful for the obscure/experimental/avant-garde artists that I personally care about the most. This may be purely cynical on my part, but I suspect that the people who would primarily benefit from the venture proposed in this article would probably be the other “superstars" who are in the least need of help.
(4) Finally on a somewhat tangential note… There is plenty of room for differences of opinion, and I recognize that I am in the extreme minority. But I'm not convinced that Swift is the earth-shattering, once-in-a-millennium musical genius everyone seems to think. Yes, she is an immensely talented, ambitious, and diligent individual with a undeniable flair for crafting popular music, and her commercial success is certainly unprecedented. Millions of people derive a lot of pleasure from and feel a deep emotional resonance with her work, and I respect that. However, I don't think Swift can hold a candle, in terms of sheer creativity, to artists like Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, or Nurse With Wound, to name just a few examples, who have invented entire genres or expanded the very definition of music itself. And lyrically, it’s hard to argue that she is in the same league as, for example, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, or Bob Dylan. This is not to say that Swift's work doesn't have substantial merit. I like plenty of pop music, even though my preferences are more skewed towards extremely obscure material. But the overheated rhetoric around Swift and her output is excessive.
United Artists, for so many years, was the key place for independent Hollywood producers to pitch their tents, and the list of classic movies they backed is endless. Alas, in 1980, they financed a film called "Heaven's Gate", which nearly killed them financially, and they were ultimately amalgamated in a merger with MGM- one of the very studios the UA founders were rebelling against.
This was a lovely letter. It's funny but I buy Taylor's albums (especially her "Versions") to support her for the reasons you've outlined: her ethics, compassion, intelligence and more. Her music doesn't really speak to me as a 67 year old man, but I recognize the excellent songwriting and production--I fully realize that she doesn't need me as a fan but I feel lucky to have the experience of such an artist and human being during my time on this earth. I hope she does something. I hope she writes back to you Ted.
No answer to an exploitative system will ever come from a Persona; especially not one whose subsurface machinery benefits from that system. Ms. Swift is a person, "Taylor Swift" is a Persona; one that happens to have what must be the greatest marketing team to ever exist on God's footstool. The system will win in a battle with any Persona; consider what happened to Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam in the wake of their fight with Ticketmaster in the mid-90s (+ they were unassailably in the right, as we now see). Or even Prince, in his "symbol fight" against Sony; he was also right, but they made him a cautionary tale anyway.
Ms. Swift will not fix this; only we, the millions of customers, can.
The idea is quixotic for sure, but I will "dream the impossible dream." Here's hoping Ms. Swift will see Mr. Gioia's missive.
Upon first read, I don't see how this would change anything, except Taylor Swift and Co. would own everything and presumably make better choices as a benevolent dictator and Co.?
Brilliant letter Ted. I honestly don't know where you find the time to research stuff like this, but I'm sure glad you did. Thank you.
She benefits from the stagnant state of the industry and culture. She could not be as big as she is if there were more vibrancy. No reason for her to take any interest in this.
I'm a believer. No matter how many years go by...her genuineness, and kindness has never wavered or changed. Not that I expected it to, but how can someone be that successful and real. She can. I am not waiting for her to prove me wrong, because she won't. Tell you one thing. I'd love to do some tequila shots with her some day. That would be a hoot. There is probably a good portion of folks who were once part of the KISS Army are fans of the Swiftie Society. She just seems tireless to me.
They aren't gonna help us
Too busy helping themselves
They aren't gonna change this
We gotta do it ourselves
They think that it's over
But it's just begun
This is the revolution I am here for.
Perfect place to begin on the long path to change.
I so appreciate your hard work.
Bring it on!