Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ Offers 7 Essential Lessons For All Musicians
Taylor Swift’s surprise release Folklore hit #1 on iTunes in more than 85 countries, is breaking records across all major platforms, and is the top album debut of 2020 so far.
That success came despite – or perhaps because of – Folklore being a very different kind of record for Swift.
And along with an album that critics are calling her best ever, came 7 timely lessons for every musician, producer, and record executive.
1. Reflect The Moment
Taylor Swift does not sing about the current crisis or even directly about the pain and isolation it has caused. But while not about this moment, “Folklore” is clearly a product of it.
“Most of the things I had planned for the summer didn’t happen,” Swift wrote announcing the surprise release, “but there is something I hadn’t planned on that DID happen.”
2. Quality Matters
Best known for clever country and pop hits, Swift has wowed fans and the critics with quality and depth of this new release.
In 2017, Pitchfork called Swift and her music “beleaguered and defensive” along with “sadly conventional.” Non in 2020, the same tastemaker publication declared Swift’s new music wonderfully “threadbare and nuanced.”
3. Don’t Chase A Hit
There is not a single song on the new album that screams hit or that is even particularly radio-friendly. Instead, fans and the media have picked their own favorites and made them hits.
The track “cardigan” debuted at #1 on the Global Spotify chart, claiming the most daily Spotify streams in 2020. The song also reached #1 on iTunes song chart and was the most added song at Top 40 and Hot AC radio airplay charts nationwide.
That fans choosing which song is a hit feels revolutionary is a testimony to what’s wrong with the much of the music industry.
4. Don’t Go It Alone
While the album was created in relative isolation, Swift had lots of help. She co-wrote much of it with Aaron Dessner of the National. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon also appears alongside Taylor Swift’s regular collaborator, Jack Antonoff.
This combo of new and familiar collaborators clearly paid off.
5. Lead Your Audience, Don’t Follow It
If you’d polled the legions of Swiftie’s as to what kind of album their heroine should surprise them with during the pandemic, it would certainly have been much breezier and escapist than Folklore. But judging from their rapturous reaction, this reflective and thoughtful record is exactly the message they needed, even if they didn’t know it before they hit play.
6. Evolution Not Revolution
While the music and approach on Folklore are new for Swift, most of the topics and imagery are not. Lost love, missed opportunities and cardigans will all feel comfortable for Swift’s fans. But as her fans have matured, so has Swift’s delivery.
7. Use Your Platform Thoughtfully
Whether fighting for gay rights or against unfair music industry norms, Taylor Swift has always used her massive platform well.
Folklore is now exceptions.
Who Swift is and what matters to her is still there. But to uncover them, you need to listen and be mindful – two lessons that Taylor Swift has obviously learned well. – Bruce Houghton