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The Billboard Q&A: Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift has accomplished a lot for someone who turned 18 in December.Taylor Swift has accomplished a lot for someone who turned 18 in December. At 11 she was dropping off CDs of her singing to karaoke tracks to Nashville labels; at 14 she signed with Sony/ATV Tree Publishing; and at 16 she released her self-titled debut on Nashville independent Big Machine Records.
That album, which has sold 2.5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, has spawned three top 10 singles, including the six-week No. 1 "Our Song." A fourth single, "Picture to Burn," is No. 12 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.
In April 2007 she was named breakthrough artist at the CMT Music Awards and in November she won the Country Music Assn. Horizon Award. She also nabbed her first BMI award in November for debut single "Tim McGraw." Swift was nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award in the best new artist category, but lost to Amy Winehouse.
A line of dolls inspired by Swift will hit the market this fall as part of a deal between JAKKS Pacific, a company that designs and markets toys, and Creative Artists Agency, which represents Swift. She is in the process of recording her sophomore effort, which is tentatively scheduled for a fourth-quarter release.
Not to put the weight of the music business on your shoulders, but the music business, particularly country music, is struggling with capturing a younger demographic. As an 18-year-old, what does the business need to do to engage today's youth?
The problem with the music business today in trying to capture today's youth is they're trying too hard. There are record labels that are admitting to the fact that they're trying to copy the "model" that has worked for Taylor Swift and Big Machine Records. And the thing is, we just didn't know any better. I was 16 years old and wrote all these songs about being in high school and sophomore relationships, not thinking that people would relate to it, hoping they would, but there really was no business model to make it work for the younger demographic.
If we can relate to lyrics, then we're going to buy the music and I don't think that's a hard formula to figure out. People my age are really, really honest about what they like and what they don't and they know it when they hear it and they know if they can relate to the lyrics.
You've had a Web site for years, even before you had a record deal. How did that come about?
I was like 12 when we secured taylorswift.com and started putting up different versions of a Web site. And when we moved to Nashville my mom and I got really proactive with trying to make it really, really cool. We went to Mad Dancer Media, and we told them we wanted it to look like a scrapbook. And there are all these buttons on it and it opens the book and there are all these tabs and pages and we wanted it to be really interactive and really appropriate for where I was in my life at that point. I didn't want a sleek, too cool site. I wanted it to be reflective of who I was as a person and who I am as a person. And that's kind of casual.
Last year at the CMT Awards you said that you spend at least half an hour a day on MySpace tracking people down and thanking them for their support. Is that still true?
Yeah, actually it's very true. I spend so much time on MySpace. It's the best way to figure out what your fans and what your friends and these people that helped you get where you are, what they're going through and what they want to hear from you, what they're liking, what they're not. My MySpace is something that I made. The background that you see on there, I went to a Web site and copied the code and copy-and-pasted my "about me" section. I upload all the pictures, I check the comments, I am in charge of everything on that page. It really is important to me and really special to me when someone comes up to me and says, "I'm your friend on MySpace." I've always taken so much pride in it just because it's really personal to me.
How do you find out about music?
I'll go on iTunes and see what's new. I will go on Web sites like mtv.com or cmt.com . . . I listen to the radio all the time. I listen to XM and Sirius in the car and they seem to always be on the cutting edge of having new songs that I've never heard. Satellite radio's doing great things as far as breaking new songs and then you hear them on FM radio.
I find the majority of my favorite new songs on my friends' Myspace pages. Whatever my best friend Abigail has playing on her MySpace is usually something new and cool that I'll most likely end up downloading. I think that's how a lot of my generation finds music. MySpace is the new word of mouth.
What music are you listening to now?
I'm listening to everything. I'm a country artist and I think country music is the best kind of music ever, but I'm not going to sit here and go, "Oh, I only listen to country music." I love Eminem, I love Kanye West as much as I love John Mayer and Coldplay and Maroon 5 and Boys Like Girls, and all these bands that are completely different, and the All-American Rejects. But then I'll listen to Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney and George Strait. The lines in between genres are getting blurred more and more each day as digital is progressing further and further.
How is the new album coming?
I've recorded six songs, including one that I wrote with Colbie Caillat, that she's going to throw some harmonies on, which I can't even wait to hear. And I'm going in to record six more this week and then we have another session scheduled for summertime. We're really trying to just cut a bunch of stuff and put whatever is best on the album.
Will you write or co-write everything, like you did on your first album?
Of course. You know me.
Liz Rose was a big co-writer for you on the first record. Are you writing with her again?
I wrote eight songs on the first album with her and we need to catch up to that for the second record because I've written like eight songs for the second album by myself. If you're in Arkansas, who's there to write with?
Are there any hold overs? Is there anything you wrote a long time ago that'll make it on the new record?
Yes, definitely. There are songs that I wrote when I was 13 that I think are perfect to bring out now. I didn't get a chance to put 'em on the record the first time around. There's so much stuff that I'm gonna to pull from the back drawer and then there's some stuff that I will write today and cut tomorrow.
So what kinds of things were you writing about when you were 13?
When I was 13 I was writing about the same things that I'm writing about now, of course, boys. And I've always been fascinated by the way that people treat each other and the way that they interact. Stuff like that just really, really fascinates me and always has. I love writing about relationships, relationship songs are it for me. It's my comfort zone, it's my favorite thing to write about and my first album is scattered with them. And so that's what I'm going to be doing a lot for my second record, too. You know, if it ain't broke...
You dedicated your last album to all the boys who broke your heart. In a recent interview you said that you hadn't even kissed a boy in two years, so what's going to be your inspiration this time around?
Oh trust me, getting inspired by a guy or being frustrated and getting your heart broken has nothing to do with [being] physical. Sometimes if someone plays with your emotions it is so much harder to get over, whether you've kissed that guy, whether you've held hands with that guy, whatever you've done. If someone knows how to push your buttons and completely plays you, whether you were physically in that relationship or not, it's very easy to get inspired by that. I definitely have not run out of any kind of material.
What are you going to do when you do meet someone and you're happy?
You know songwriting is all about being able to paint a story and tell a story, and sometimes that's telling a story to yourself. Sometimes that's using your imagination to transplant yourself back to when you got lied to. I write when I'm happy too. The number one song that I had, I wrote when I was in a relationship.
How are you balancing your school work, the music business, being on the road and real life?
Balancing all this is not hard. I mean what do I have to complain about? I have the best time in the world. I'm so lucky. When I go out in public and I go to a mall, yeah it's a lot different than it was two years ago, but it's a beautiful kind of different. It's the kind of different that I've wanted my entire life. I'm a strong believer that if you work your entire life for something, and you work so hard and you want this one thing so much, you should never complain once you get it.
Do you have a ringtone on your phone?
I have a few different ones. It's kind of fun because now that a lot of my friends have music out there I'll download it. Like for Kellie Pickler, when she calls I have "Red High Heels" ring, which I think is hilarious. It makes me laugh. But my ringtone now is "Hero Heroine" by Boys Like Girls.
Do you have ringback too?
I do have ringback and it's "Taylor" by Jack Johnson, which is so awesome because people call and it's like 'they say Taylor was a good girl,' it's so cool.
A few months ago the Tennessean published a picture of you at a Predators game with Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler. Is that a regular thing?
Kellie's like my sister and Carrie—our schedules are so crazy that it's like when are you ever in the same town—but I absolutely love her and I think she's an amazing human being. But Kellie and I are always, for some reason, in the same place at the same time. We toured together last summer on the Brad Paisley tour and just became the closest of friends. She's literally like my sister and she's absolutely the most hilarious and honest person that I think I know.
Do you ever talk business?
Sometimes we'll talk business. It's really cool to be friends with someone who has the same job as you. It's like being best friends with a co-worker. You can complain about the same things and you can dish about the same things and get feedback on different things. And we wrote a song together for her new album, which I'm really excited about, it's like the coolest thing. It would be completely naïve to ignore the fact that we're in the same business when we can bounce ideas off each other and talk about that stuff, but you know we're also talking about stuff that friends talk about.
What's the song that you wrote with her?
It's called "The Best Days of Your Life" and it rocks.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I'm graduating from high school. I'm home-schooled— I don't go to a regular high school anymore, but I do graduate, which is really exciting. There's a home-school academy and you can go there and go to graduation. It just depends on whether I have a show that day or not. I'm gonna be touring with Rascal Flatts throughout the summer into the fall. Putting together a new record is what I'm the most excited about.