The recording industry has been in a tailspin for a decade as fans started buying digital singles instead of albums. In the middle of the business’ overall decline, Taylor Swift stepped in went on a one-woman incline, building a career in which she sells digital tracks and full albums by the millions.
So when she got ready to put out her third project, Speak Now, the pre-release debate in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville was not just about whether the album would be any good, but also about how many copies she might sell in the first week. Most guesstimates put it in the range of 750,000-800,000 units as many executives believed the days of the one-million debut were gone.
But Taylor did reach that plateau, selling 1.047 million copies the first week out. The accomplishment ranks No. 2 as GAC continues its countdown of the one dozen top stories in country music for 2010.
The album’s release was quite the production. She announced the title, Speak Now, during a Ustream web chat with fans in July, barely a month after writing the final song for the project. The album’s title addresses the idea of being specific about your words — what you say, what you don’t say and when you say it.
“Timing and when you say something and when you say the right thing and when you say the wrong thing,” Taylor notes, “has so much to do with the way that your life goes, and with the way that your story weaves in and out of the people who come into your life and how long they stay there. It all has to do with communication — timing and a lot of stuff that I still haven’t figured out yet.”
Taylor led up to the release with a series of events — an appearance on a special before the first game of the NFL season, a bunch of magazine covers and talk-show appearances. And she spent the week of release in the news by performing several places in New York, then playing for fans on a plane to Los Angeles, where she assembled an audience with a single Tweet for a one-song performance on Hollywood Boulevard from the top of a double-decker bus. It didn’t hurt that she was spotted with Jake Gyllenhaal by the tabloids in the weekend leading up to the release — whether it’s intentional or not, Taylor appears to have the timing part of communication down.
The album’s impact will most certainly continue into 2011. The second single, “Back To December,” is a bona fide hit. The Speak Now Tour begins in February with a series of international dates, starting in Singapore. And the tour hits the U.S. in May, sprinkled with at least a half-dozen stadium gigs, several of which have already sold out.
Speak now? Taylor spoke, and people responded.