20 years old and Taylor Swift is probably the biggest star on planet earth. Remind you of anyone? (How about Michael Jackson, age 21, when he dropped his first true game-changer, 1979’s Off The Wall?)
Swift’s new album, Speak Now, has spoken loud and clear, topping a million units in the first week of sales – that’s double what Fearless did in its first week in 2008. Out of the gate, Swift’s label, Big Machine, shipped over two million units for the October 25 release date.
Speaking at the Next BIG Nashville conference this past September, Big Machine Records head honcho Scott Borchetta openly referred to the elaborate marketing plan for Speak Now.
When Speak Now’s first single, “Mine,” leaked on TMZ.com this past August, Borchetta said months of hard work and strategy were jeopardized and the record release could also ultimately be tarnished. “I just want the world to hear my Taylor record,” Borchetta jokingly begged the audience. It was a small window inside the head of a visionary record exec, a businessman with an absurdly hot commodity on his hands.
The leaked single aside – and the subsequent rush of the song to iTunes – one aspect of Borchetta’s marketing plan was a media blitzkrieg. Big Machines’ phones were ringing off the hook with magazine cover requests (we would know) and the newsstands were a sea of Taylor. The big two human interest pubs – People and Us Weekly – had exclusives, and I wouldn’t bet against seeing Swift on the covers of national music rags like Rolling Stone and top-shelf reads like Vanity Fair in the near future.
But media exposure alone doesn’t necessarily put bodies in record stores. In fact, record stores are actually quite low on the radar for Speak Now. In a recent NPR interview, the general manager of Nashville’s Grimey’s record shop, Doyle Davis, said he moved four units of the new Taylor Swift album during it’s opening sales week.
As Borchetta told Rolling Stone, Big Machine is mostly banking on non-music outlets like Target, WalMart, Starbucks and Rite Aid to push sales. “We’ve gotta be very aggressive because we don’t have record stores anymore,” he told the magazine.
But ultimately what moves records isn’t just a great marketing plan. Some might argue that Swift’s new record lacks the innocent sheen of Fearless. The party line is that Swift wrote the record entirely by herself, without the help of Nashville songwriting rainmakers like Liz Rose.
If that is true, it shows a 20-year-old savant, capable of writing lines like “You made a rebel out of a careless man’s careful daughter” that would be equally stunning in a Shakespeare play or on afternoon radio. And that’s the kind of thing that still sells records.