Seven ways Taylor Swift has shown management steel

23 June 2015 -


As Apple blinks first in standoff with country-pop star, we evaluate her no-nonsense management style

Jermaine Haughton

It’s time we took a good look at the management style of Taylor Swift – and described said style as “pretty ruthless, actually.” Not many people can say that they’ve managed the rare feat of getting Apple over a barrel, but that is exactly what Swift has done this week – convincing the tech giant to compensate artists for music that iTunes customers use during their three-month trials.

Swift’s superstar presence in what was a long-running row – sparked largely by independent labels – seems to have provided a tipping point, following her recent blog post, To Apple, Love Taylor, which urged the firm not to withhold payouts for trial-run tracks. Apple will instead pay a “per-stream” royalty on behalf of sections of the audience who are sizing iTunes up.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for internet software, responded directly to the star on Twitter, stating: “Apple will always make sure that artists are paid.” He added: “#AppleMusic will pay artist for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period. We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.”

This impressive result is but the latest reflection of Swift’s tough management style and strong business acumen, which is unlikely to have been drawn purely from a backroom team of advisors. Here are seven other, high-profile business achievements that the 25-year-old has chalked up.

1. Trademarking lyrical catchphrases

Lawyers for the Pennsylvania native have implemented an aggressive brand-registration strategy since the start of the year by filing for trademarks on phrases that crop up in her recent album 1989. Any subsequent approval of the filings – which cover terms such as “Party like it's 1989”, “This sick beat” and “Nice to meet you… where you been?” – would make it illegal for third parties to use them on bootleg merchandise. That reflects Team Swift’s policy for the singer’s name, logos and official imagery. Etsy shop owners, for example, have reportedly received cease-and-desist orders from Swift’s lawyers for selling unofficial, Swift-inspired goods. (Source)

2. Snapping up .adult and .porn domains in her name

In a shrewd action designed to safeguard her family-friendly image, the country-pop star bought namesake web addresses under the new .adult and .porn suffixes, before those domains were released for sale by governing body the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Wary of “domain squatting” by cash-grabbing web trolls and speculators, Swift’s pre-emptive purchase of and prevent third parties from attaching her name to adult-oriented online content. (Source)

3. Abandoning Spotify’s free-streaming service

Swift’s Apple battle was certainly not her only run-in with a major streaming platform. Last November, Swift and her label removed her entire catalogue from Spotify’s freebie outlet – including her 2012 album Red – over concerns that artists who were in the loop had received insulting payouts for their songs. The singer stressed that she wanted her music to be available via premium streaming for paying subscribers, as opposed to a free stream for everyone, to ensure the product was not devalued. Despite having more than 15 million paid subscribers and 60 million active users, Spotify pays artists on average between $0.006 and $0.0084, according to Spotify Artists. (Source)

4. Joining Jay Z's Tidal music service

Swift’s opposition to free streaming was further underlined by her move to back new paid-subscription service Tidal. Led by hip-hop mogul Jay Z, Tidal offers its featured artists stakes in the profits, and the platform’s management claims it exists to “restore the value to music.” Swift joined an array of well-known musicians, such as Coldplay, Madonna and Beyoncé, in releasing her music to the service – and while Tidal faces a battle to surpass its rivals in a crowded marketplace (including Apple Music, Rhapsody and Beats Music) Swift has nonetheless thrown in her lot with a high-powered circle of friends. (Source)

5. Genius-level image makeover

A major part of Swift’s ascendancy over the past 18 months has been her smooth and seamless transition from young, pure-country sweetheart to slick, pop superstar. Selling more than 1.2 million copies of 1989 in its first week – becoming the only artist to go Platinum in the whole of 2014 – Swift extended her reach well beyond her loyal fan base and quashed concerns that she had strayed too far from her country roots. “The biggest challenge of this year was actually convincing members of my own team that this was a good call,” Swift said. “That was, I think, something that really frustrated me at the time – like, ‘guys don’t you understand? I promise this is what I’m dying to do’.” (Source)

6. Engaging with fans

With more than 21 million Instagram followers and a 59 million-strong Twitter audience (roughly equalling the population of the UK), Swift’s success has been founded on her strong interaction with her fan base. Managing to attract teenage, female supporters from both suburban and inner-city areas, Swift has used a number of creative promo campaigns such as sending 32 of the her most fervent Tumblr followers personalised FedEx boxes containing gifts that she handpicked and wrapped herself. Jeffrey Carr, professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, said: "the more engagement anyone who is at that level has with the 'common people' is a good thing, rewarding those who are the best customers and heavy users and recommenders." (Source)

7. Reviving the dying love for CDs

Rather than focusing her attentions purely on digital campaigns, Swift has also attempted to revive flagging interest in physical CDs through clever marketing initiatives – such as a promotion whereby Polaroid images of the artist during pensive moments were included in the packaging of 1989. The stunt not only aimed to turn the album into a piece of art, but encouraged fans to collect several copies. Dedicated fan Nadia Afkhami, for example, recreated poses from every one of the special-edition Polaroids – a feat that went viral on Tumblr. (Source)

So, where has this management style and business sense come from, you ask? Well, it could be that she’s simply a natural. In 2011, the New Yorker quoted her as saying: “I didn’t know what a stockbroker was when I was eight, but I would just tell everybody that’s what I was going to be … We’d be at, like, the first day of school and they’re, like, ‘So what do you guys want to be when you grow up?’ And everybody’s, like, ‘I want to be an astronaut!’ Or, like, ‘I want to be a ballerina!’ And I’m, like, ‘I’m going to be a financial adviser!’”


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Image of Taylor Swift courtesy of FashionStock / Shutterstock.

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