Ten-time Grammy winner Taylor Swift has just unleashed her eagerly awaited sixth album Reputation. She pulled out all the marketing and promotional stops to try and sell more than a million copies in the first week, which she did for her last three albums and which is increasingly rare, since album sales are down and streaming is up.
While the world waits to see just how Taylor Swift’s new album performs, we decided to track how artists at the other end of the sales spectrum are contending with the music industry’s big changes — those who are trying to make a name for themselves and who don’t have the same mighty marketing muscle behind their new albums.
We picked a Canadian musician also named Taylor to illustrate the reality for a working musician when your last name isn’t Swift.
Taylor versus Taylor
The first difference: Taylor Knox is a he.
- Taylor Swift was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Nashville to pursue music.
- Taylor Knox hails from Aurora, Ont., and moved to Toronto to work as a musician.
- Taylor Swift is tall at a reported five feet 10 inches.
- Taylor Knox towers over her, measuring up at a whooping six feet five inches.
But in other statistics, the other Taylor has a decided edge.
- Taylor Swift`s lead single Look What You Made Me Do off her new album set a record as the most-viewed video within its first 24 hours with more than 43 million views. It now has close to 700 million views.
- Taylor Knox`s videos for the two singles off his debut album Love each have less than 5,000 views.
- Taylor Swift has 85.6 million Twitter followers.
- Taylor Knox has 570 Twitter followers.
- Taylor Swift launched her new album with appearances on ABC during prime time, on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, and has plans for a soon-to-be announced global stadium tour.
- Taylor Knox launched his album at the Toronto music venue Drake Underground, with appearances at Halifax Pop Explosion and a short tour of Germany.
- Taylor Swift worked on her album with superstar producers Max Martin, Shellback and Jack Antonoff.
- Taylor Knox worked on his album with indie producer Afie Jurvanen (a.k.a. Bahamas).
- Taylor Swift has extra vocals on her album from Ed Sheeran and Future.
- Taylor Knox has extra vocals on his album from Molly Rankin (of the band Alvvays).
- Taylor Swift called her album Reputation and takes jabs at several of her ex-boyfriends, as well as the celebrity couple Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, with whom she has an ongoing feud.
- Taylor Knox called his album Love because he was inspired by getting married last year.
- Reputation had more than 400,000 preorders from such sites as iTunes, Target, Walmart, Amazon and the artist’s own website. Sales were increased by a controversial promotion that told fans buying her album (among other activities) will “boost your opportunity to unlock ticket access” when concert tickets go on sale.
- Love was released by a small independent label and has sold less than 1,000 copies. Tickets are decidedly available for his upcoming gig at The Garrison in Toronto on Dec. 8.
- Taylor Swift withheld her new album from streaming services for an unspecified period of time to encourage fans to buy it.
- Love has been streamed approximately 250,000 times. Knox hasn’t got a statement yet of earnings from streaming, but typically those amounts are small — a fraction of a cent per play — unless an artist is receiving tens of millions of streams.
Many musicians need a side hustle
Last year Taylor Swift topped Forbes‘ Celebrity 100 list with earnings said to be $170 million US.
But the reality for many other musicians is they still need a side hustle. Taylor Knox, when he isn’t busy performing his own music, makes his living as a part-time bookkeeper.
“The awesome thing about doing the job I have, bookkeeping, is I can do it whenever I’m around. So whenever I’m not on tour I can just pick up the hours. And that’s been really helpful because it allows me to do things like pay rent and pay for groceries,” he told CBC News. We spent an afternoon tagging along with Knox to see what life is like for a non-Celebrity 100 list working musician.
“I guess for me, it was just understanding there wasn’t going to be any big million dollar advance,” he said. “I would have to be able to survive and live my life as I was building a name for myself.”
As a multi-instrumentalist, Knox also makes money touring with other bands, from Hayden to Alvvays, and used to be a member of the pop rock band Golden Dogs. He also produces records for other indie musicians such as the three-piece rock band Jiants, whose forthcoming album Knox helmed.
He’s placed a few songs in commercials and TV shows, a lucrative but elusive outlet that many songwriters aspire to since it brings in some income and can also introduce an artist’s music to new fans.
Our Taylor is a Taylor fan too
Despite the increased struggle for most musicians to sell albums in the age of streaming, Knox remains philosophical, if not outright optimistic that eventually things will change for the better.
“Definitely people aren’t buying physical CDs or records like they used to, that’s just a fact,” he said. What keeps him going is the idea that if more and more people subscribe the streaming sites, the music industry will make more money in the long run.
“I think there’s just a transitional period where there aren’t quite as many people paying for streaming and there aren’t as many people buying albums in the meantime,” Knox said.
As for the other Taylor — Taylor Swift — Taylor Knox says he’s actually a fan. He also gets a kick out of the fact that when anyone looks him up on a streaming site like Spotify, when they start to type in his name, hers pops up first as a suggestion.
“So it’s like they have to think of Taylor Swift before they think of me and before they get to hear my music,” he chuckles. “But I’m OK with that. I think her songs are pretty good.”