Taylor Swift, the seven-time Grammy winner, is known for her articulate lyrics, so there was nothing surprising about her writing a long column for The Wall Street Journal about the future of the music industry. Yet there's reason to doubt the optimism of what she had to say.
"This moment in music is so exciting because the creative avenues an artist can explore are limitless," Swift wrote. "In this moment in music, stepping out of your comfort zone is rewarded, and sonic evolution is not only accepted…it is celebrated. The only real risk is being too afraid to take a risk at all."
That's hard to reconcile with Nielsen's mid-year U.S. music report, which showed a 15 percent yеar-on-year drop in album sales and a 13 percent decline in digital track sales. This could be the 2013 story all over again, in which streaming services cannibalize their growth from digital downloads, whose numbers dropped for the first time ever last year, except that even including streams, album sales are down 3.3 percent so far in 2014. Streaming has grown even more than it did last year, 42 percent compared to 32 percent, but has failed to make up for a general loss of interest in music.
Consider this: in 2014 to date, Americans purchased 593.6 million digital tracks and heard 70.3 million video and audio streams for a sum total of 663.9 million. In the comparable period of 2013, the total came to 731.7 million.
Swift, one of the few artists able to pull off stadium tours, believes it's all about quality. "People are still buying albums, but now they're buying just a few of them," she wrote. "They are buying only the ones that hit them like an arrow through the heart."