Being pro active and innovative has been the secret to Taylor Swift’s monumental success over the past five years. Her album 1989 was the 1st to go Platinum (over 1 million sold) in a manner of 1 WEEK in 2014!
As a result, her annual earnings have risen to an all-time high of $64 million in 2014. She hasn’t been afraid to tweak (not twerk) the way music has been sold to the world. And, she didn't have to have a wardrobe malfunction, or a nude selfie instagram to tempt her fans to purchase her album!
Taylor turned back the clock to a time to when albums were both a must have and big business. She kept her music off of popular streaming services such as Spotify and used her massive fan base to sell old-fashioned CDs with liner notes and extra tracks.
Her organization excited her large fan base by tweaking their promotional strategies. In addition to the necessary late night talk show appearances, Taylor hosted private listening parties for fans at her four different homes, made Rice Krispie treats for them and included Polaroids with hand-written lyrics in each physical copy of her album.
As a result, Taylor Swift’s new album, “1989” was the first to go platinum in 2014, with 1.287 million copies sold in its first week, the most successful record debut since 2002. And, more than half of the sales have been physical copies of her CD's versus digital, according to Nielsen.
Being innovative as well as being creative I believe, is the only road to success for today's songwriters. The record buying public is hungry for something fresh, new and exciting to come on the scene.
Unfortunately, many songwriters believe that they have to write songs that sound like the hit of the day. In fact, record labels, publishing companies and struggling artists often fall into that same trap. They solicit songs that are copy-cats of the billboard Top 10. Because of this, the market is full of sound-a-likes. You can't tell who the artist is today because most of them sound alike. This spawns a lack of creativity on the part of the songwriters who desperately want to get a hit record on a major artist.
Here's something most in the recording industry don't talk about when it comes to low record sales. The huge number of the market that stopped buying physical CD's because of content. Many of today’s songwriters incorporate offensive language in their lyrics which most adults over 35 won't buy. They now listen to Oldies and Smooth Jazz stations instead.
Some writers are afraid to try a new direction for their music. Keep in mind, the Motown Sound was a new genre, Disco was a new genre, Hip Hop was a new genre, and Rap was a new genre. Somebody had to be the first to introduce it!I believe some singer/songwriter, somewhere has the courage to introduce a new direction and a new genre that will tweak the industry and make musical history. It could be you!
There are several major differences but I will just name a few. Instrumentation. Back in the seventies and eighties, usually you would have the bass, the drums, two guitars, two keyboards, congas.... and that would comprise the rhythm section. You would be vibing off each other and really play great, which would create some really good tracks. Then they would bring in the horn players and the string players. That is what they called the sweetening.
Today, in many cases, one person will use ProTools, Logic or Reason and create a track based on beats, synthesized horns and strings or other instruments. One person does not have the expertise to play the way a whole room full of skilled, seasoned musicians can play. Its impossible!
When it comes to the lyrics and the melody, back in the day, we had lyric writers and melody writers who were on staff full time. The major record labels would have 10, 12, 15, 20 and more. At Motown, we had to compete against each other in order to get a song out on their top artists, so it made us have to work really hard. And then it had to go through quality control in the A & R department. If they didn't like it, we had to rewrite again and again and again until we got it right.
Today, you will often have someone who will do the track and then call in individuals to do the lyric and the melody after creating the track. Well, that's like saying, “Okay Clay, here is some paint, put a house under it.” It's not going to work too well. It's not going to be as nice as if you built the house first and then painted it.
I'm aware of a number of producers of Pop Music today who create a track then ask the vocalist to sing on top of their track. The vocalist’s performance becomes secondary. The artist is not as important as the beat or track. That is BACKWARDS, the vocals are the MOST important part of a song. The music is to compliment the vocals not to upstage the vocalist.
And then when it comes to the singing, what happened in the 70's is, you would sing and sing your best as a vocalist, in order to get it right. Today, there's Auto Tune. So, if you don't get it right, they'd send it through Auto Tune and they'd correct it. That takes all the life and all the flavor out of it.
Fortunately, there are some who are combining the two, and I think that's beginning to work a lot better. They'll have the synthesized track, then they'll replace the sampled instruments with live musicians as much as possible. But still, they create the track first.
This is also noteworthy. The songwriters of the 70's had the goal of writing songs that had longevity. I was speaking with Gloria Jones (writer of “Gladys Knight's recording, “If I Were Your Woman”) she said, “Berry Gordy would ask us”, “ As a result, Motown's songs are some of the most covered songs in history. Unfortunately, the goal of many of the songwriters of today is just to get a big hit, not considering the future!
As songwriters, we most focus on the fact that creating music is an art. And to do our best is vitally important. We should write songs with lyrics that God will be pleased with because He gave us that gift.
- Clay Drayton