Taylor Swift is getting a lot of grief on the internet today for an essay she penned for the Wall Street Journal, arguing that the music industry has a bright future.
The reaction to her thesis has ranged from snarky derision to more methodical forms of ridicule. But ultimately, dismissing the views of one of the world’s most successful artists—Swift reportedly made $64 million last year—is both condescending and absurd.
Swift’s belief that people will still buy albums in full might be questionable. But the idea that people will pay for music “that hit[s] them like an arrow through the heart” and that there “are always going to be those artists who break through on an emotional level and end up in people’s lives forever,” seems pretty sound. In fact, it reminds me of comments made by Steve Albini, the legendary grunge-era figure who produced seminal albums for Nirvana and the Pixies in the 1990s. “Music is no longer a commodity, it’s an environment, or atmospheric element,” he told me earlier this year. “Consumers have much more choice, and you see people indulging in the specificity of their tastes dramatically more. They only bother with music they like.”
As the Journal points out, the music industry’s revenue has been sliced in half (and then some) over the past decade, mainly due to declining CD sales, a phenomenon itself caused by piracy, digital downloads (which allow people to buy individual songs rather than full albums) and the growth of streaming services. This trend is undeniable. The question is whether music, as an art form if not an industry, is actually losing out as a result.