Dec
14

Keys to Taylor Swift’s Success Every Artist Can Learn From

December 14, 2011 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  67 Comments

Yesterday Taylor Swift turned 22, and just over the last few weeks she’s assembled more awards and accolades than most artists could hope to get their entire careers, and not just from the shallow usual suspects of industry-driven institutions. She was awarded Billboard’s Woman of the Year award, the Nashville Symphony gave her the “Harmony Award,” and this is all after being named the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year in November.

When people talk about the “manufactured” pop star, what they mean is taking a pretty face, and pushing all the right buttons to make an artist that has mass appeal at the expense of soul and creativity. It is very easy to pigeon hole Taylor into this lot: She sells out stadiums, her shows are filled with shrieking little girls, she’s pretty, and on the surface, her songs are pallid. But in truth Taylor Swift’s success has nothing to do with her following all the rules, because she didn’t. She broke all of them, and that is why she is now in a position of not following trends, but forming them, and is on the way to only only becoming the biggest name in country music for 2011 or even the last 5 years, but possibly the biggest, most impactful music artists of a generation.

When you look at a band like, let’s say, Sugarland, you see a band that saw the success of Taylor Swift, misunderstood it as a simple infusion of pop sensibilities, and then sold out in an attempt to simulate her path. Sure, selling out to the manufatured pop template can give you a short-term boost of revenue, but I have no doubt Sugarland’s legacy will end up somewhere beside the Phil Collins’s of the world: eventually relegated to a punch line by the brutal judgement of time.

But if any artist or band, regardless of the genre, or their scope or goals, doesn’t want to hit their head on a ceiling, whether that ceiling is monetary, popularity-based, or creatively-based, they would be wise to learn from the lessons the success of Taylor Swift has taught us all.

1. Do Not use Auto-tune.

Ironically, the one mainstream country artist that could benefit from the pitch-correcting program the most refuses to use it, and has always refused to use it from some intuitive, self-born philosophy that it is cheating. The three singers of Rascal Flatts are probably all more gifted vocalists than Taylor Swift, but unflinchingly and overtly use Auto-tune in their live shows and on their records. In fact most, if not all mainstream country singers sing better than Taylor, yet many do use or have used Auto-tune. Taylor took the gamble that fans would appreciate honesty over perfection, and it has paid off in spades.

2. Do not lip sync, or participate in events where lip-syncing is necessitated.

When reigning American Idol champion Scotty McCreery flubbed his lip sync performance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, many offered the excuse that every performer has to lip sync at a parade, and to refuse the exposure a parade or similar event can offer would be self-defeating. Well unfortunately the exposure it brought to Scotty was probably not the type he was looking for. He truly was “exposed.”

Taylor Swift on the other hand, without lip-syncing at parades, performing National Anthems, or participating in any other events to increase her exposure that could also expose her vocal limitations, has outsold every other artist in the last 5 years. And just like with Auto-Tune, Taylor Swift might be the one who to benefit most from a pre-recorded track. Once again, honesty trumps perfection.

3. It Is Not All About Image.

Yes, aside from what anyone thinks about her music, Taylor Swift is an attractive young lady, make no mistake. But she is not the prototypical alpha-female with big boobs and a chiseled face, and she does not use sex appeal to sell her music. She does use choreography and all manner of over-production in her live shows, but at the same time she admits to her ungracefulness, and at times strips all the over-production back to sing songs with just her and a guitar.

Just like her honesty endears her to her fans, so does Taylor’s realness. Her early songs talk about being a dork in school and not fitting in, and they are not only something her fans can relate to, they are authentic. And for all the over-production, she never crosses the line of being sensational like a Lady Gaga, or sexualizing it. Sure, if Taylor Swift was dumpy with acne scars, then we probably would’ve never heard of her or her music. But Taylor Swift is not about shallow imagery. She uses imagery only when it does not sacrifice substance.

4. Write your own music, produce your own records.

Taylor Swift wrote every song on her last Speak Now album, and is credited as the co-producer, trumping a lot of her critics who asked about her previous albums, “Exactly how much of those songs do you think that little girl wrote?” In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Taylor explained how when signed to a development contract with RCA on Music Row, they continuously suggested to her to sing other people’s songs. In unprecedented move, she walked away from her deal, and singed up with Scott Borchetta at Big Machine as the label’s first artist. Scott gave her unprecedented creative freedom, and once again the move paid off in spades.

5. Endear yourself to your fans by being real and honest.

Though this is encapsulated in all of the other points, Taylor Swift takes it a step further. It is hard to humanize yourself to your fans when you’re standing on a stage in a stadium, but Taylor Swift has figured out how to. During her live shows, she goes to the back of the crowd to the cheap seats and sings acoustic songs. On her way back to the stage, she purposely weaves through the crowd to touch her fans and be close to them. When she first started out she answered every single email her fans would send her on MySpace. Taylor’s fans are so loyal, not because she is someone they idolize, but because she is someone they identify with. She is one of them.

6. Be Yourself.

Taylor Swift is not wildly-popular and successful because is is the best singer, best musician, best songwriter, or prettiest girl. It is because she is the best Taylor Swift, uncompromisingly-herself, true to her feelings, her instincts, and her desires.

Further Things Taylor Swift could do.

1. Dump the Cover Girl makeup endorsement.

In some ways I don’t blame her for taking the big payday when it was offered to her, but at this point Taylor, her family, her children, and her grandchildren are all set up for the rest of their lives with just the money she has earned and will continue to earn off of what she has done already. Just like many superstar artists and athletes that are offered endorsement money and refuse it, this is another step Taylor could take to endear her to her fans, and quiet some of her critics. It would give her the ammunition to say that she and her music are not just about money; that it is about artistic expression first, and the money is just a symptom of the purity and appeal of that expression.

2. Find and follow her roots.

It is not a coincidence that Taylor’s most popular song from her Speak Now album is also the one that is the most country. At 10-years-old she begged her parents to take her to Nashville. Somewhere there are some deep country roots in Taylor. Maybe those roots lead to Tim McGraw and not country’s deeper traditions, but the deeper she plants her roots in the music, the stronger she will grow, and she must create a stronger foundation if she is able to sustain her level of success. She did this in part when she moved to Nashville instead of New York or LA when she moved out of her parent’s house.

The two biggest criticisms of Taylor is that she can’t sing, and that she’s not country. She could fix one of those fairly easily, even just by setting a slightly more country tinge to her music since her median at this point is so centered around pop.

3. Watch who she associates with.

Taylor Swift must lead, not follow. Collaborating or even associating with acts that regularly lip sync and use Auto-tune for example can only make their star burn brighter, and weaken hers. On her Speak Now tour, she invited local artists to perform with her on stage in certain cities, and this was a good way to localize her music and create memorable and definable moments for media to report on, and fans to remember. But Taylor Swift doesn’t need a popularity boost from TI or Tim McGraw, it is vice versa. Her collaborations should stay to up-and-coming artists that need the attention Taylor can afford, and with other artists who have the universal legendary status Taylor is now on the verge of achieving.

Read: We Were Wrong About Taylor Swift

67 Comments to “Keys to Taylor Swift’s Success Every Artist Can Learn From”

  • Would you two just get a room already??

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    • I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crackers, but really, I don’t see myself stooping down to her demographic unless I was desperate.

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  • It’s getting weird around here. Is this the bizzaro world scm where everthing is the opposite? If I see superman with a backwards S I’m going to run for safety.

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    • Actually Dan, I decided to drop the charade, and make Saving Country Music exclusively a pop country celebrity site since that is where my heart lies, and really, always has. I know this transition may be difficult for a lot of people and I understand if I lose a few readers, but in my bid to live off of the Google ad revenue generated by the site, it really is a necessity. I do hope you stick around though, I have a really interesting story coming up about Carrie Underwood’s waxing behaviors I think you will find interesting.

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      • I think I peed a little on that one…..

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      • Hahahahaahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      • Okay, having bitched at you in several comments below, I’ll take this opportunity to say something nice. That was brilliant.

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  • I think I need my eyes checked. Pretty sure I read this wrong. This is satire, right? I mean, damn, she is good looking, but her music IS NOT country.

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    • Well I might need my eyes checked to, because I just read through the story, and didn’t see anywhere where I said she was country. In fact it looks like i went out of my way to say she wasn’t, and that by improving on that fact, she could quiet some of her critics.

      Or, maybe we can all have a reactionary response to a name we hate, and let the wisdom of her story be wasted.

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  • I think you hit the nail on the head Trigg… and I will state for the record that I am not a fan of TS

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  • I don’t like all of Taylor’s music, but I recognize it’s appeal, and I respect her as an artist. She has walked her own path, and been wildly successful, which is a rare thing in the music business.

    Regarding the Cover Girl deal, if Taylor was the high school dork, that would have been an ideal way, outside of the music realm, to stick to those people that made her feel that way. Can’t fault her for that. And maybe sometimes, the high school dork wants to feel pretty. Not unknown among young women of that age.

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  • Hopefully the music industry bigwigs take note and we can have more Taylor Swifts to enjoy for the years to come.

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    • I’ll assume you’re being sarcastic, but it makes an excellent point, and that is the main point behind this article, NOT to promote Taylor Swift as so many will falsely assume.

      The music industry has got it all wrong. They think control and perfection is what people want, when in truth they want genuine people and honesty. Taylor is proof of that.

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      • Yeah it was sarcasm.

        But no, the sarcasm wasn’t to be a dick to you, just my weird way of trying to be funny. For reals I do agree with the whole article and you did make valid points.

        I don’t however think that the music industry is all wrong, just the captains of it. I think there are probably a lot of people with good taste that work in the industry. They’re all just too afraid to speak-up or don’t care to speak up because they’ve accepted the situation for how it is. Too many yes-men (AND WOMEN) is my guess.

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        • Though in reality I guess, the particular topic of what’s wrong with the music industry could likely fill a 48 volume series of 500 page books.

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  • I agree with some of your past blogs about Taylor deserving the ETOY and that she is who she is,not phony etc,but yeah it’s starting to get werid up in here with this new love affair you got with her!

    And are you sure she doesn’t use auto tune in concert? Have you seen her in concert? I took my kid to see her on the “Fearless” tour and thought she sounded TOO good.All the running around and head banging she does,I didn’t hear her breathe or pant one time all night.

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    • No place in this article does it say that I love Taylor Swift, and a fan of her music, recommend her music, that she is country, or anything else along those lines. What I am simply saying is that in a world of manufactured pop stars, where young men and women come to Nashville and are told if they want to be successful they have to do things a certain way, Taylor Swift broke every one of their rules and became a success by doing it. Taylor Swift is an excellent example that the Music Row machine doesn’t work, and honesty does. I would love to write this article with Hank3 or Rachel Brooke or someone who I appreciate much more as the focus, but it happens to be Taylor Swift at the top of the pedestal.

      And yes, I’m sure she doesn’t use Auto-tune, because I take her at her word, and she consistently sings off key. She’s has even more reasons now to not use it, because not only would it make her disingenuous to her fans, it would make her a liar.

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    • She did not once use auto-tune. Not even on tour. We all know how she sounds when she’s auto-tuned. CMT does that all the time. The reason she sounds good on tour is because there isn’t any pressure on-stage when she’s performing for fans – she said that in an interview. By the way, her voice has really gotten strong throughout the years. I realized she got even better after her bronchitis. She sounded great(no auto-tune) on Speak Now World Tour Live CD+DVD.

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  • I think she should keep the Cover Girl contract and dump the record contract. It’s high time she starts acting too. Maybe a small part in a pseudo horror film followed by a leading role in a romantic comedy. Follow the J-Lo script. She’ll be hosting Nashville X-Factor in about 5-6 years.

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    • That’s another thing she hasn’t done, whored herself out for stupid Hollywood projects that every other artist participates in to help perpetuate their brand.

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  • I think we are approaching a critical juncture for Taylor Swift. She has the commercial success. She is set for life. Her next move is going to define her standing as an artist in my eyes. Is she going to release both a country and a pop version of her next album and become the next Shania Twain? Is she going to release a singer/songwriter country-tinged pop album and stay true to her roots a la Dixie Chicks? I’m really interested to find out. Her dating of “celebrities” and hawking Cover Girl makes me worried. Plus, she has this really disingenuous surprise toward adoration and awards. I mean, come one, she could have legitimately been Artist of the Decade and she’s still blown away by audience applause? On the other hand she writes her own songs, plays her own guitar and is not married to Blake Shelton. I hope she pulls a Norah Jones and starts making songs with Mike Patton and Willie Nelson.

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    • Shit, Willie sure would. I think if you just call him he’ll say “sure, come on over”.

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    • She talks about her astonished awards look in that 60 Minutes piece I linked to above. I don’t like it either. Whether it is a put-on or real, either way she should stop, but if it’s her natural reaction, I guess I can’t fault her for that.

      Taylor has showed dramatic maturation in her music over time, but she still puts out immature songs. I am interested in what she has coming up.

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      • I disagree with people who say that she writes “immature” songs…she is only 22…people act like she is singing childish love songs at 60! 22 is not that old, she is just out of her teen years, do you think turning 18 or 20 automatically makes you “mature” and that you should, what, be singing songs about sex and drugs? She is still a YOUNG adult, she still has childish feelings, of course, I’m 30 and I still have those sometimes. She still is affected by her teen years, and heartbreak, and friendships, etc. That doesn’t all go away just because you hit a certain age…give her some time to be young and quit trying to make her grow up too fast like all the other “Miley Cyrus’s” out there! I love her freshness and innocence…she is the way a young lady SHOULD be! Not whored out like all the rest of them!

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  • nice write. i hope she manages to make me want to listen to hear stuff at some point. really i do. though while reading your article i kept flashing on the monkees. similar but not really. anyway, i’m not going to worry about this place until you start reporting on the size of miley cyrus’ still developing hooters.

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  • Phil Collins a punchline? I’m not a big fan of his but he is one of the best drummers of all time and genesis could be considered to be a pretty important band. Their early stuff is crazy.

    Bad analogy IMO.

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    • “Phil Collins a punchline? I’m not a big fan of his but he is one of the best drummers of all time and genesis could be considered to be a pretty important band. Their early stuff is crazy.”

      ^ What he said.

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      • Yup.

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    • Oh jeez.

      Look, I have a lot of respect for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, and Phil Collins specifically from that time period, but one or two albums after he came out from behind the drum set it just became all about selling out. “No Jacket Required” is about as pallid pop as you can get while he’s making cameos with Don Johnson in pastel shirts with his collar popped.

      I could have picked any name out of the air to fill that spot, and i think the reason I picked him was because a while back I read a story where Phil pretty much admitted he’d run his course, and he was fine with that.

      I think you’d find a lot of people who would strongly disagree Phil Collins belongs in the “greatest drummer of all time” discussion.

      Let me see if I can find that story . . . here it is:

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopmusic/8360584/Phil-Collins-calls-time-on-music-career.html

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      • Okay, I promise I’ll shut up after this, but while I agree that NO JACKET REQUIRED sucks, I wouldn’t call it “selling out.”

        Phil seems to have genuinely loved classic r&b. So he tried to make some of his own. This was NOT seen as a commercial move at the time. The record company tried to dissuade him from putting horns on his first solo album.

        Anyway, he generally wasn’t very good at it (exception: “Easy Lover”, though maybe that’s thanks to Philip Bailey), but the public loved it anyway, so he got a big career out of it.

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        • “…exception: ‘Easy Lover’, though that might be thanks to Philip Bailey…”

          Or Nathan East.

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      • I had a British prog rock supergroup phase in the late ’70s and Genesis was my favorite. I’d say the two Genesis albums after Peter Gabriel left were very good (Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering) were very good. It’s when guitarist Steve Hackett left that they started their artistic decline/commercial rise.

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  • Taylor has excellent instincts and it will be interesting to see what the next phase of her career will bring. I like that she has not changed her core beliefs from when she first started and remained herself whether people like it or not.

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  • Taylor Swift is the only artist on my iPod that is “nashville country”. the only reason i listen to her is exactly what trig said above. “Taylor Swift is not… the best singer, best musician, best songwriter, or prettiest girl… She is the best Taylor Swift, uncompromisingly-herself, true to her feelings, her instincts, and her desires.”

    There is something natural about her. When I listen to Taylor singing about heart break and sorrow and you had your chance, I believe her. Yeah, she may be young but we all were that age before. High school break ups can be devastating. I think that is why she is so popular. most of her fans (high school girls) are going through those devastating break ups and they feel as tho Taylor has their back.

    I have no desire to see Taylor live nor would I wait in line on the day her album is released, but I do have a lot of respect for the girl. She is just a small town girl with a voice heard all over the world. I hope she stays around for a while. She is the best representation of the new “outlaw” movement in nashville if you ask me. Simply because her label isnt telling her to be one and she is doing it anyway.

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  • I agree your general point, but I’d argue that you define “honesty” too narrowly.

    You imply that Taylor endorsed Covergirl because it meant a big “payday.” Maybe she endorsed Covergirl because she likes Covergirl.

    Likewise, maybe she invited T.I., Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber and so on to join her on stage because she likes their music.

    As for pointing out that the (arguably) most popular song from SPEAK NOW is also the most country, that’s true as far as it goes – but on the other hand, the most popular song of her career (“Love Story”) is one of her more pop influenced ones.

    Does she need a deeper foundation in classic country music? Well, it might not hurt, but it might not be necessary either. The Beatles got by without much of a foundation in anything; Elvis, British dance bands, and whatever caught their interest along the way.

    I realize that your intentions here are completely noble. But honestly, I think the kind of advice you’re offering (to add more of a “country tinge” to her music; to dissociate herself from artists who use autotune) can be just as harmful as the advice of the most short term profit-obsessed industry player.

    There’s more than one way to sell out. You can sell out for money. But you can also sell out for respectability; making music to please the critics, or the scholars, or whomever.

    (Example: Madonna, whose work became worse at roughly the same rate that it became less commercial; Joni Mitchell, who, as Robert Christgau observed on one of those rare occasions where he decided to stop screwing around and actually do his job as a critic, turned herself from a great songwriter into a decent poet; Elvis Costello, whose albums these days show an encyclopedic knowledge of 20th century popular music – and aren’t nearly as interesting as the stuff he bashed out at the beginning of his career, or even as interesting as the material of some of his less academic fellow veterans like Bob Dylan – who probably knows about as much about classic folk music as Costello, but generally does whatever the hell he wants with it instead of fastidiously recreating it – Paul Simon, Neil Young, or Kate Bush.)

    Country music today seems to have the worst of both worlds. There’s certainly plenty of pressure on artists to give in to commercial considerations. But there’s also pressure on artists to limit their horizons; to only play THIS kind of music, and only write THESE kinds of lyrics, because if you do anything else, you’re not really country. (It’s even making its way into lyrics: “This Is Country Music”, “Country Must Be Country Wide”)

    What it reminds me of, more than anything else, is the conservatism of the folk music scene in the 60s. (“Judas!”) And it’s especially ridiculous when you consider how freely country and rock & roll mixed with each other back in the 50s.

    Granted, this probably isn’t an issue for Taylor, who seems self assured enough to not give a damn whether anybody else thinks she’s country or not. But I wonder whether it isn’t ruining other, less self assured country artists, who might achieve something great if they started exploring more eclectic territory, but have been dissuaded from doing so.

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    • “…Country music today seems to have the worst of both worlds. There’s certainly plenty of pressure on artists to give in to commercial considerations. But there’s also pressure on artists to limit their horizons…”

      ^ It occurs to me, in retrospect, that posting this on a site called SavingCountryMusic.Com is a bit like walking into the French camp at Moscow in 1812 and announcing that I have some thoughts about Napoleon’s foreign policy.

      Oh well, too late now. Sorry for the presumptuousness/fatuousness.

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      • Which is not to say that I take anything back. Okay, I’m done now.

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  • I agree. I love her so much! It’s not because she’s hot and sexy, beautiful or because she’s the best singer. I love how she always go the extra mile for her fans, honest about herself and always so grateful for everything. I can relate so well to her songs. I don’t know why people hate her for turning to music when she’s heartbroken. They don’t hate other celebrities for getting wasted and doing drugs. Weird. What is there to hate? She’s just human.

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  • I see what you’re saying here. I don’t like her music, but I respect what she’s done at an early age. She’s worked on her own terms and maintained a lot of control over her career, control that many artists with edgier public images probably envy. She has the potential to become really interesting as she and her fans grow up. And, there’s nothing at all wrong with music that appeals to teenagers written and sung from the view of a cool, slightly older friend who was there. It’s better than music for teenagers brewed in the minds and boardrooms of middle-aged executives.

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  • I’m nowhere near as convinced as you about Taylor’s realness and honesty.

    It’s well known she got herself into 2 publicity driven “romances” (also known as “fauxmances” or “showmances”) with Taylor Lautner from Twilight and Jake Gyllenhaal. Those came replete with strategically timed photo ops and tabloid leaks just when Taylor had new product coming out (the rerelease of Fearless in the case of Lautner who had a movie coming out at around the same time, the release of Speak Now in the case of Gyllenhaal). And, Taylor has not hesitated to write about her fake romance, seeing as she has given many indications that the song “Back To December” is about regretting her “breakup” with Taylor Lautner.

    On the bright side the publicity backlash against her after the short lived Gyllenhaal relationship does appear to have prompted Swift to take a step back from the Hollywood showmances, at least until she has a new album to release. For the moment Taylor’s contenting herself with associating with the hot teen acts of the moment like her BFF Selena Gomez whom she thanked as a “sister” at the American Music Awards.

    Taylor’s “realness” and “honesty” are as much a marketing tactic as anything else these days. This New York Mag article does a good job dissecting the facade: http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2011/12/taylor-swifts-precociousness-problem.html

    I don’t know Taylor Swift but I think the problem she now faces is that she hasn’t actually lived much of a life since she got famous. So, she has engineered some public events to write about in order to reinforce the idea that her albums are her diary. Not that everything is made up, but some of it is.

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    • Oh my… The “showmance” thing is so overstated it is insane. There is ZERO proof either of those relationships were fake, outside of “blind items”, which are just rumors posted anonymously on the internet (usually datalounge) that get reposted by some dumbass with a wordpress site and the names taken out. If you believe any idiot who claims to know every single thing about every single celebrity, there’s really no helping you (belief-dependent realism and all that jazz).

      And Back to December isn’t the only song that alludes to Taylor Lautner. He is the “he will try to take away my pain” in Haunted and then there’s that line in Superman…

      Yeah, she has a semi-shady tendency to not admit when she is dating a guy her fans wouldn’t like (Mayer, Joe Jonas, Joe Jonas again, Joe Jonas a third time) and be seen everywhere with guys who are “safe”, but that’s a horse of a different color. To your point about her having nothing going on, she’s been dating the same guy since April and said herself she’s been writing more than ever. Nice try though.

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    • When assembling this article, I was going to put her celebrity relationships in as one of the additional things she could eliminate for authenticity, but upon my research, it seems that she has already done this herself. Whether she initially dated celebrities simply for the headlines or because as she admits herself she was a dorky young girl and now with some fame, she’s decided to taste the world’s oyster, I can’t tell you. What I can say is that at the present moment, it is not an issue, and from her recent comments on celebrity dating, I feel confident saying it won’t be a big issue in the future. I find it hard to hold it against someone so young to silly dalliances of the heart, especially when they all seem a good 15mo-2yrs in the past.

      As for her being marketed for hear realness and honesty, I say hell yeah! It is about time a pop star can be marketed in this way. I read that New York piece, and it is stretching for criticisms. Look, her whole career has spanned between the ages of 15 and 22, or course she’s going to come across as precocious. She’s a pop star that sings to 14-year-old girls. You can also look at her music and see tremendous maturing, and I think that is a trend that will continue.

      Read the name of this website. I am not a fan of Taylor Swift, I don’t condone or push her music, but in an environment where 90% of Music Row artists are forced to sing other people’s songs, have no say so in production, use Auto-tune and lip sync regularly, sue me for saying it is refreshing to see someone bucking those trends, and by the way, being much more successful than the folks that are following them. Taylor Swift is a template for why creative freedom should be more present on Music Row. I’m not going to get caught up in the nit picking. The whole point of this article is to hold Music Row’s feet to the fire. Taylor Swift just happens to be the example.

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  • Good insight. I haven’t heard much Taylor Swift music, but have heard HEAPS about her. Her career came up in a lot of panel discussions at this year’s Americana Music Conference. I hope that Swift’s popularity is signalling a demand from consumers for authenticity in music.

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  • Garth and Taylor get a bad rap, as country artists. Wouldn’t listen to any of their music, but they are country and they are artists.

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  • Read the name of this website. I am not a fan of Taylor Swift, I don’t condone or push her music, but in an environment where 90% of Music Row artists are forced to sing other people’s songs, have no say so in production, use Auto-tune and lip sync regularly, sue me for saying it is refreshing to see someone bucking those trends, and by the way, being much more successful than the folks that are following them. Taylor Swift is a template for why creative freedom should be more present on Music Row. I’m not going to get caught up in the nit picking. The whole point of this article is to hold Music Row’s feet to the fire.

    I applaud the idea of holding Music Row’s feet to the fire. But, here’s where I disagree with you.

    Singing other people’s songs doesn’t bother me if they’re good songs, well sung and well interpreted. Give me Trisha Yearwood over all everything on country radio today, no matter who wrote it. The issue is declining taste among Music Row’s gatekeepers, not who is doing the songwriting. Country radio will still play fine young singers like Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, and Little Big Town who don’t rely on autotune and lipsynching in the live setting, but it is incumbent upon these singers to fight for better material to record and release. They have the talent to put their own stamps on songs through interpretation regardless of who wrote the songs.

    On the other end, Eric Church as I think you acknowledged in your review of his album, can be a pretty sharp songwriter. He’s not much of a singer but he’s not hiding behind autotune or lip synching either (if anything, he’s hiding behind volume at his live shows). The marketing outfit around him is gross, and I wonder if he ever hurts himself patting himself on the back. But the actual music would speak for itself if he let it. I think Eric Church is actually a better example of what you’re trying to express because for all his explorations outside country, there’s enough country in what he does and his success with Chief is a good example of what happens when the music leads.

    Look at how Chief has fared compared to Blake Shelton’s Music Row-committee-formed drivel Red River Blue. Chief debuted with higher 1st week sales despite no national TV promo and no top 10 single compared to Blake Shelton’s multipronged media blitz and month-long #1 radio hit. Eric Church’s album has maintained its sales lead over Blake Shelton’s album even though Blake has done more promotion and landed a second multi-week #1 hit. As much grief as Jason Aldean gets here for having the best selling album in the country genre for 2011, I don’t think Blake Shelton gets enough.

    The fundamental problem I have with championing the Taylor Swift model is the way she treats country as a genre. It is pretty clear that country is nothing more than a marketing platform for her. I don’t blame her (and Scott Borchetta) for taking advantage of the sad realities of the country industry today but I can’t get behind championing their way of doing business (have you seen the manipulations undertaken to scratch out “#1″ hits for Taylor? There’s currently a similar one going on for another Borchetta charge, Rascal Flatts), nor can I get behind celebrating the ultimate country faker for her “realness”. Especially considering the calculation involved in constructing her image.

    As for her being marketed for hear realness and honesty, I say hell yeah! It is about time a pop star can be marketed in this way.
    Have you seen Kelly Clarkson’s marketing? She’s pop, and actually comes off as far more genuine and honest than Taylor Swift.

    You can also look at her music and see tremendous maturing
    What I see is the growing use of mixed metaphors, sloppy storytelling, attempts to cater to critics with a snappy phrase that goes undeveloped in the rest of the song, and a sorely missed Liz Rose who was good at editing Taylor’s ideas into something coherent. It’s still better than 95% of the pop that gets played at pop radio though, I’ll grant you that.

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    • Wanna know how i know that you swam here from the carriefans site? Is Liz Rose really the last straw to whom you keep holding on to in your hate? I say Taylor`s songs on “Speak Now” are far superior to the “Fearless” ones…and Taylor did them alone.

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      • Liz Rose would have also never allowed Taylor to write a nearly 7 minute song in “Dear John” and a nearly 6 minutes song in “Enchanted”, each respectively being 4X and 3X longer than standard radio play would allow. Those are the best two songs on the album, yet Taylor still gets chided for selling out to radio and being “precocious”.

        On a side note, I interviewed Liz’s daughter Caitlin at SXSW this past Spring and talked to her in depth about Taylor, her mom, the art and business of songwriting, and she had lots of good wise points that would help in this discussion, but some hipster stole my voice recorder from me, and my best, most important interview I’ve done all year is now traveling around with some guy in a V neck and vintage Keds who it means nothing to.

        Breaks my heart every time I think about it.

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    • “The fundamental problem I have with championing the Taylor Swift model is the way she treats country as a genre. It is pretty clear that country is nothing more than a marketing platform for her.”

      “Judas!”

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      • This isn’t a genius statement, it is a redundant platitude. Of course Taylor Swift isn’t country. I’ve been saying that shit for 3 1/2 years. It goes without saying. It is assumed. Here is an article of mine from over 2 years ago, simply called, “TAYLOR SWIFT IS NOT COUNTRY!”

        http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/taylor-swift-is-not-country

        I started Saving Country Music with a few fundamental principles, one being that all artists should have control over their music. I believe that the heavy handed control of artists on Music Row is one of the reasons the music industry is contracting so heavily, because artists come across as fake. Taylor Swift is this principle in action. I don’t give a fuck about how good her music is, or what she calls it or what someone else calls it. Those are all opinions. The facts are she writes her own songs, produces her own albums, and the result is rabid success. There is a lesson in there that artists have a right to control their music. Either you agree with that and this article, or you disagree. Taylor Swift is simply the context.

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        • So – saying “Taylor Swift isn’t country” is a redundant platitude?

          Or me teasing Cemalon for saying “Taylor Swift isn’t country” is a redundant platitude?

          Or both?

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  • I love the way you approach this article, Trigger. Honest, heartfelt artistry>>>Music Row fake bullshit.

    Taylor gets a lot of shit for her below average vocals, but i prefer her over most of the current country artists.

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  • Jacklantern, someday you’ll learn that we don’t all live in a world where criticism of Taylor Swift means Carrie Underwood worship. Go back and read where I included Carrie Underwood among the people who needs to insist on better quality material.

    My point is Music Row has some fine, promising talent but the declining taste among its gatekeepers (who seem to think Jason Aldean and wannabe Jason Aldeans are the way to go) has created an environment where Taylor Swift’s pop feels fresh. That isn’t a win for country music. Taylor Swift’s use of the country platform to sell pop is actually a big indictment of Music Row. Eric Church’s emergence on the other hand is potentially a look into how Music Row can change from within which is why, despite some major issues, I feel like he’s a more appropriate act to celebrate on a site called Saving Country Music.

    I also kind of feel like this piece comes 2 years too late and the music industry’s new face for authenticity and all encompassing talent is Adele. She wrote her current album at the age of 21 and somehow managed to make it an adult album.

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    • The last two things I’ve written about Eric Church on this site was a positive review for his song “Home Boy” and a positive review for his album “Chief”. He’s still a complete asshole though, and devoid of the star power that Taylor Swift, making his story has less impact. He also weighs much heavier on co-writers, which is not necessarily evil, but not the point I am trying to convey here.

      And yes, I am a late bloomer on Taylor Swift, I admit. I had absolutely no use for her until I heard “Speak Now”, then I still had little use for her until she continuously took shots from assholes like me and kept coming back for more. I don’t like Taylor Swift for her music, I like her because she’s got guts and pluck and stays true to her heart. She told RCA to kiss her ass when she was on a deal most artists would kill for. She got balls bigger than Eric Church’s under those shimmery skirts, I’ll guarantee you that.

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    • Hi, Cemalon! If we’re want to compare Taylor Swift & Adele from the perspective of age when they craft their albums, then Taylor Swift’s “Speak Now” should be compared to Adele’s “19″, not “21″. The whole Taylor’s discography were made when she was 15-20. Her debut was out when she was 16, so it was written when she was 14-16 (or even before 14). “Fearless” was out when she was 18, which was written when she was 16-18. And “Speak Now”, at 20, written when she was 18-20. Talking about Adele, “19″ was about her life when she was that age, same with “21″. Besides, it’s not fair to compare “21″ & “Speak Now”. With “21″ as her sophomore album, it’s still acceptable for Adele to do some mistakes, and she worked with co-writers there (and it’s not bad). Adele, for me, is still at the middle of trying-to-find-her-true-sound phase for me. Taylor on the other hand, fully wrote the songs on that album all by herself, and already at the 3rd album, the last stage of that phase, this is her last album which she can mess up with her music as part of the learning process. In case you forget, the first three album is the time for an artist to find her fixed sound, the albums where they learn to craft their music, do some experiments, and it’s okay to fail one or two times at this phase. I guess we can judge Taylor with her 2012 release. She has entered the critical juncture now.

      Talking about the lyrics, if you take away the voice, Adele’s lyrics were not that great actually, but it’s still tolerable. Taylor’s were more like poetry, but still not the greatest either. I’m a fan of both ladies, I feel like they could be two of the biggest artists of our generation in the future. But with Taylor, I have always feel like the ‘real’ artist in her still hasn’t fully stood up yet, there’s still an artistry side from her that hasn’t fully discovered yet. I’m curious with the amount of growth she has ad. Very interested with her upcoming album of course. And with Adele, I’ll keep an eye to her, hopefully she’ll put an album with less filler and do something with her lyrics (the only problem I had with Adele).

      Tbh, I don’t always buy her public persona. I’m here for Taylor’s music for first and foremost. Besides, she said that she’s brutally honest when it comes to music. So, Her music >> Her public persona, always.

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  • Oh Triggerman we agree on “Enchanted”. Lovely pop song albeit one that Taylor needs Autotune on for the studio version and that she sounds terrible on live. I’ll trade you your “Dear John” (when I think of Liz Rose, I think of her fixing this silliness: “All the girls you’ve run dry have tired, lifeless eyes/’Cause you burned them out”) for another lovely pop song that doesn’t require Autotune: “Last Kiss”. I love the musical construction of “Dear John” however and the way it sounds like a John Mayer song. Too bad the lyrics are a fail.

    I’m really sorry to hear about that lost interview with Caitlyn Rose.

    then I still had little use for her until she continuously took shots from assholes like me and kept coming back for more

    I’m not actually trying to be difficult here, but does that mean that you will one day celebrate Jason Aldean too? Because though he’s not writing his own songs, he is in full control of what he releases, he has built his incredible commercial success from a tiny indie label with nowhere near the muscle or aggression of Scotty Borchetta, he has not been helped by Music Row insiders, and he is rightfully taking shots from you and likely to keep doing what he’s doing, therefore coming back for more. Isn’t Eric Church continuing to thumb his nose at people like you via songs like “Country Music Jesus” which is his retort to the people on him for his outlaw marketing?

    Also, you keep saying that Taylor produces her own albums, I thought Nathan Chapman has had a strong hand on all 3 and is credited as a producer too?

    She got balls bigger than Eric Church’s under those shimmery skirts, I’ll guarantee you that.
    I do love this.

    I see what you’re saying about the artist having control. I think Taylor’s independence from corporate controls is being grossly overstated compared to other acts and what you’re really seeing is successful marketing of an image of independence. So, I agree with the point you’d like to make but I still disagree with your choice of example.

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  • What the fawk man??!! i dont know how to respond further

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  • Well, I said Taylor’s Covergirl endorsement was her biggest issue. Now her realness has a run in the mascara.

    http://marquee.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/21/taylor-swifts-covergirl-ad-pulled/?hpt=hp_c2

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  • TS writes her own songs: Then answer this: why are so many professional BMI songwriters winning BMI awards for writing Taylor Swift songs?

    TS doesn’t use autotuner: Perhaps she meant, she doesn’t use autotuner as opposed to pitch correction, but as an individual who spends quite a bit of time in the studio (If you spend enough time professionally recording audio you can train your ears to pick out nuances like autotuner and pitch correction), I can tell you, YES, her recorded songs contain quite a bit of pitch correction, and YES she uses pitch correction during her live performances (I caught sight of several autotuner racks being used by her audio engineers on tour – autotuner set on more subtle levels gives an artist very subtle pitch correction and makes the singer sound real nice without the audience being the wiser). Now, simply using autotuner/pitch correction should not be viewed as a negative, as I would bet my monthly paycheck that you havent heard a single album put out this year that did not contain autotuner/pitch correction, and cannot go to ANY major production event where the artist isnt using at least a touch of live autotuner/pitch correction.

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    • Pony,

      She writes her own songs. We know this because of the rules Roy Acuff and Fred Rose put in pace 60 years ago that make ghost writers an impossibility in country music. Yes, someone can contribute just one word and get a songwriting royalty, but on her last album “Speak Now”, Taylor swift is the only one the songs are attributed to. If folks are winning awards, it might be for her previous albums. You can argue taste, but you can’t argue fact. It’s easy to see that Taylor Swift is a pop star and assume she doesn’t write her own songs, just like it is easy to read an article like this and assume I am a Taylor Swift fan or supporter, when really I think her shrewd savageness is something to be learned from.

      As for her using Auto-tune, please. SHE CAN’T SING. We all see that. So why would she use it selectively? I just think that’s a silly argument. If you want to criticize her, say she can’t sing, because that is undeniable. As for Auto-tune, I believe her denials that she uses it, because I hear the results.

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      • well, apparently those rules mr. Acuff and mr. Rose put out are not too binding because I have personally viewed songwriting contracts which stated implicitly that (in layman’s terms) certain larger shares (points) would be gained by the songwriter agreeing that the artist(s) would be given full songwriter credit and the actual songwriter would agree to non-diclosure about their role in writing the song.

        I was told personally by one professional songwriter of one specific example where he/she was part of two person songwriting team assigned to work with this one specific Nashville artist. The two songwriters showed up at 9am and started working over several song ideas they both brought in. The artist finally drug in around 1pm without even bringing an instrument, then proceeded to sit on the couch and play with his/her phone the remainder of the day pausing only to say “Yeah, that sounds good” or “Yeah, let’s try that.” Both songwriters signed a deal similar to the one described above, and to this day are still receiving royalties for a song that this popular artist got credit for writing (I even watched a GAC interview with the artist going on-and-on about the life events and inspirations that caused them to write this lovely tune…very funny stuff)

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        • Look man, I have no doubt the Music Row machine is stilted towards performing artists being given credit as songwriters whether they truly deserve it or not. In fact I wrote a long piece about it a while back, specifically talking about Taylor Swift and Liz Rose:

          http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/big-names-cash-in-on-third-for-a-word-songwriting-rule

          I also would not be surprised if songwriting credits are being swapped behind doors, protected by gag orders as you’re implying, and if you truly believe this, then let’s break some news.

          But this is the deal. I will assume you are not a Taylor Swift supporter. I have gone from being a Taylor Swift detractor to being benign on her. But if you want to defeat somebody, you first have to show that person respect. It is like a football team. They may have more talent than their opponent, but if they don’t have respect for them, they can still get steamrolled on Sunday. If you want to defeat Taylor Swift, first give her credit where it is deserved. If you want for people to listen to you about her songs sucking, start off by admitting she wrote them herself. If anything, this is even a bigger indictment. If you want to say she can’t sing, at least give her credit for not using Auto-tune like many tone deaf artists do.

          When you say she’s tone deaf AND uses Auto-tune, all you do is come across as bitter, because you can only have one and not the other. For over three years I screamed and yelled about how bad Taylor Swift was. I don’t take any of my words back, but I have come to find respect for her in her honesty. I’d like to think I can hear Auto-tune and pitch-bending shifts. I’ve done some audio engineering myself. But moreover, I’ve grown to trust Taylor Swift at her word. She may not be good, but she is honest, and being honest about who she is, is what will give your arguments a strong foundation.

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  • HI Triggerman,

    First time I’ve ever commented on one of your articles, although I’ve read quite a few of them. I admit right up front I admire Swift and enjoy most of her music, though I’ve watched her go further pop with each album in disapproval. I admire the honesty and integrity with which you write, illustrated by your blogs in particular about Swift, in that while you don’t connect to her music on a deep level (if any) you still give her credit for those things which in your opinion she does well. I also admire your not caving in to those who might attack you for writing about her and commending her where you feel it is due.
    I’ve followed Taylor (her career) since before she was popular, and I believe from all the interviews I’ve read and watched with those who worked with her and wrote with her that she is as genuine in her writing as has been said, and anonymous claims that her career and songs were bought and paid for come from detractors that buy into rumors and not from hard evidence.
    All that said, I’m curious what is your take on her latest cowrite and performance with folk? duo The Civil Wars? I’d be interested in your review of the song and what it might mean to her career if she goes this direction in her future music.

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    • Hey Sinn, I might elaborate on this more in the future, but I’ll say right here that I think the song shows a continuing maturity in her songwriting. Since I wrote this article, my working theory on Taylor has been that her next album might be considered more adult contemporary than anything, and when I heard this song, it fell in line with that theory. Personally I don’t like it or hate it, and I would say the same for The Civil Wars, who I think are a little oversold by their fans, but nonetheless have undeniable talent.

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  • Thanks for answering. I’ll be interested to see how her career goes as she turns older, and I hope she returns a bit to who she was before she had so many people involved in it. I don’t really hear contemporary adult in the song myself, but then maybe I don’t really understand the genre or what it comprises.
    And as I said before I know you aren’t a fan of her’s, especially regarding her pop-country sound, but I always find your writing about her and other musical artists interesting, because of it’s honesty and attempt to be just in criticism even tho that is hard to do when one is very passionate about something (the music).

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  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANPk-mRtpLc&feature=related at the :58 second mark proof that she has used auto-tune despite her saying she never would….
    And yet again the use of auto-tune skip to the 1:29 and 1:56 to the VERY obvious usage of auto-tune http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zudLJdajX5Y&feature=channel. I used to be a “fan” of her and her music until facts out weighed what she was saying, some of her music is still enjoyable to listen to but I refuse to give my money to someone feels the need to lie to stay on top or for whatever reason. Hopefully she doesn’t go down that dreaded washed up road but she sincerely needs to be straight up and real. Hope you have a great day!!!

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    • Hi, Cathy!

      I see what you’ve been trying to point out here. This could be the same case with her CMAs performance last year. When people watch it on YouTube, it looked like she was lip-synching (even though it was an acoustic set, and she missed notes left & right, so it’s quite impossible to lip-synch). And then the video uploader explained about the technical stuff that not many has known. For some video, if you don’t view it in HD quality, there’s gonna be some delay problems occured, that makes it looked like a lip-synched performance. I forgot which video it was (cause there’s so many of them!). But when I found it, sure I’ll tell you. I’ve seen her live in concert, and it’s no auto-tune there. Cause she missed notes too. If there’s ‘safety-net’, then everything should have sounded perfect. Also, I remember there’s a video floating on YouTube when her mic suddenly died, then she used her back-up singer, and she sounded the same. It was from Hong Kong or Japan show. Just check them out.

      And if you wonder how capable I am to talk like this, well, let’s say I’ve been around music since I was a kid.

      Have a nice day.

      Yoggy.

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