Drake’s “Scorpion” Defines Success in the Streaming Era — for Better or Worse

The glory years for the record album are over, but the record album isn’t dead yet. In the age of streaming, it actually might benefit artists to release long albums consisting of multiple tracks, as the success of Drake’s Scorpion demonstrates.

Drake released Scorpion on streaming services on June 29, and a compact disc released followed July 13. The CD is inconsequential. The real barometer of Scorpion’s success consists of streams. Within two weeks, Scorpion sold more than one million copies based on streams (per Billboard, 1,500 on-demand streams equals one LP).

Incredibly, all 25 of the album’s tracks hit the Billboard Hot 100 charts. As Rolling Stone explained, the long-form format of Scorpion– clocking in at one hour and 30 minutes – was crucial to the album’s success:

Drake’s supremacy on the Hot 100 was made easier by the popularity of music streaming. Because streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music charge a buffet-style monthly fee to listen to music rather than a per-song price à la iTunes downloads, long albums benefit artists by giving them more chances to rack up listens. Drake also partnered with Spotify for an all-out “takeover” of the platform in the days after his album dropped, which forced tens of millions of users to encounter his album. (They weren’t required to actually stream it – but the all-you-can-listen model of streaming services made it appealing and cost-free to do so, and the real estate on their homepage contributed to the average listener’s awareness Scorpion.)

Drake is not the only artist to capitalize on the vagaries of streaming. As Rolling Stone reported earlier this year, Migos released an album, Culture II, that clocked in at a whopping one hour and 46 minutes. Culture II debuted at Number One on the Billboard album chart. Culture II was eventually certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for combined sales, streaming and track-sales equivalent of a million units.

Because an album’s sales via streaming are measured by 1,500 cumulative streams, it behooves an artist to release a longer album with more tracks to stream, which can lead to Gold and Platinum status. These accomplishments still matter as a barometer of an artist’s marketability to corporate sponsors.

But releasing lengthy albums to encourage streams comes at a cost. Listeners have short attention spans in the streaming era. Reportedly, one quarter of all songs on Spotify are skipped within the first five seconds. The typical listener skips a song once every four minutes, and there is nearly a 50 percent chance that a song will be skipped before it ends. In addition, according to Midia, “58% of subscribers report listening to individual albums and tracks just a few times while 60% are doing this more than they used to because they are discovering so much new music.” Continue reading

How Netflix Is Changing Your Behavior

Being a Netflix investor (which I am) is not for the faint of heart. Within the space of a few days recently, Netflix stock reached an all-time high, then fell off a cliff after Netflix reported disappointing quarterly earnings, only to rebound in stunning fashion the following day, before dipping the day after. The wildly gyrating stock price certainly makes for dramatic headlines. But the real legacy of the company is not its market capitalization but its ability to change human behavior.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is a market maker. Market makers do more than make money. They shape behaviors of people and companies. Netflix is undeniably shaping how people live going back to its founding in 1997. Along with Amazon, Netflix ushered in the era of on-demand living. If Amazon made it possible for people to buy things on their own terms, Netflix did the same for entertainment. Arguably Netflix and Amazon laid the groundwork for Uber’s disruption of the transportation industry through on-demand ride sharing. Together these companies ushered in an economy based on on-demand living.

A Cultural Phenomenon

The idea of giving viewers a digital catalog of movies to stream not only knocked Blockbuster out of business but made Netflix a cultural phenomenon as viewers embraced a new way of experiencing entertainment on demand. In 2009, Twitter users began using the phrase “Netflix and Chill” to describe the increasingly popular practice of simply hanging out with Netflix like a friend. Soon, “Netflix and Chill” became a euphemism for people hooking up to have sex, which is how we commonly think of the phrase today. The phrase “Netflix and Chill” became an internet meme and topic of much analysis and controversy. Netflix was shaping how we communicate as Google has done (“I’ll Google the movie time”). Continue reading

Amazon: One Industry to Rule Them All?

For once, Amazon is playing catch-up.

The great disruptor is just another player in the entertainment space. Amazon Studios, its TV and movie arm, is still looking for a blockbuster like Game of Thrones to compete in an elite league defined by HBO, Hulu, and Netflix. Amazon Music is a follower behind Spotify and Apple Music.

But recently Amazon has made some moves in a bid to transform itself from a follower into a leader. Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

How Apple Got Its Groove Back

Three years ago, Apple looked like a music dinosaur. The company was reeling from the embarrassment of foisting upon iTunes customers digital copies of U2’s Songs of Innocence – an incident that laid bare Apple’s reliance on downloading at a time when the music industry was marching inexorably toward streaming. But Apple has regained its groove, and the purchase of irresistibly fun and popular music discovery app Shazam is but one indication.

After licking its wounds in the aftermath of the U2 debacle, Apple focused its considerable resources on launching a streaming service, Apple Music, in 2015 — and then proceeded to show how quickly one of the world’s most powerful brands can right the ship.

Apple Music now boasts 30 million paid subscribers. Although its biggest rival Spotify has double that amount, Apple has eclipsed nearly everyone else in the streaming industry within 24 months, making it and Amazon the only alternatives to Spotify to lead the streaming music business. Just as remarkably, Apple had developed its own brand of cool by building a well-regarded catalog and affiliating itself with the right artists through endeavors such as Beats 1 radio.

A Deep, Well-Curated Catalog

Apple Music’s mix of algorithms and human curation appears to be working. The company put the right talent in place to curate its catalog, starting with Scott Plagenhoef, Apple’s global head of programming and editorial. Formerly editor of the oh-so-hip Pitchfork, he joined Beats Music in 2012, and then joined Apple in 2014 when the Apple bought Beats. And although Apple Music’s playlists haven’t gained as much acclaim as Spotify’s vaunted artificial intelligence-based curation, Apple is earning respect. Recently Apple Music scored a major coup when hip-hop tastemaker Andrew Barber agreed to curate Apple Music’s New Chicago playlist, which provides exposure for up-and-coming Chicago talent as Barber’s Fake Shore Drive blog has done for years.

Artist Affiliation

No longer is Apple the brand that forced uncool U2 down our throats. Apple Music is now where you go to stream radio shows hosted by the likes of Charli XCX, Drake, Frank Ocean, Continue reading

Is HomePod Apple’s Death Star in the Music Streaming Wars?

Apple’s newly announced HomePod smart speaker is more than Apple’s answer to Amazon Echo and Google Home in the battle for your home – it’s quite possibly Apple’s major advantage in the music streaming wars.

In unveiling the HomePod June 5 at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple announced that the voice-activated speaker will be a music-first experience that combines both the quality of high-fidelity Sonos speaker and the intelligent interface of the Amazon Echo – with a focus on providing users access to the Apple Music catalog. As Apple noted in a press release,

Designed to work with an Apple Music subscription for access to over 40 million songs, HomePod provides deep knowledge of personal music preferences and tastes and helps users discover new music.

At WWDC, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said the speaker has “amazing sound and incredible intelligence that will reinvent home music.”

Why the focus on a high-fidelity experience with an emphasis on music? One reason is that Apple wants to be the leading music streaming provider – badly. After disrupting the music industry through iTunes and the iPod, Apple found itself looking behind the times when consumer tastes shifted from downloading songs on iTunes to streaming them on apps such as Spotify. And looking outdated is strange ground for Apple. Apple’s desire to play catch up with streaming was a big reason why the company paid $3 billion for Beats in 2014. Months after buying Beats, Apple launched its own service, Apple Music, in 2015.

The good news for Apple is that within two years, Apple Music has become the Number Two streaming service as measured by paid subscribers. And these are heady times for streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify. In 2016, for the first time ever, streaming music platforms generated the majority of the U.S. music industry’s revenues. As the RIAA noted, the biggest contributor to growth was a doubling of revenues from paid streaming services. But for Apple, there is also some bad news:

  • Amazon has been rapidly encroaching upon music streaming. It offers a limited service to Amazon Prime customers (Amazon Prime Music) and recently launched a subscription service, Amazon Music Unlimited.

Spotify and Amazon are significant competitors with their own strengths and weaknesses:

  • Spotify enjoys the strong brand affiliation with music, its customer base, and outstanding personalized playlists, but the company is losing money.

  • Amazon enjoys an advantage with its deep pockets and the popularity of Echo speaker, which provide a natural platform for streaming music. But Amazon Music Unlimited is an upstart (and Amazon Prime Music is a feature of Amazon Prime, not a pure streaming service, per se).

The Echo factor is big. Echo has experienced astounding growth to dominate the market for voice-activated home speakers, as people become more comfortable with the voice interface. It’s like a Swiss Army knife for doing everything from controlling the temperature in your home to ordering products.

And in addition, Echo is also a platform for playing music through voice commands (“Play the new Lorde song”), something Spotify does not offer. In 2017, according to eMarketer, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month, and 71 percent of them will use Echo. (Google Home has the second highest marketshare behind Echo, at 24 percent, but Google does not release user figures for its Google Play streaming service.)

No wonder Amazon offers Amazon Music Unlimited at its lowest price to owners of Amazon Echo speakers: Echo is a Trojan Horse for Amazon’s music streaming product.

But Swiss Army knives, while being useful, are not great at everything. The Echo is not engineered specifically to listen to music. HomePod is. At WWDC, Apple Senior Vice President of Global Marketing Phil Schiller said that HomePod will provide the high quality of a Sonos speakers and the smart interface of the Echo.

“These aren’t smart speakers, Schiller said of Sonos. “They don’t sound so great when you listen to music,” he said of the Echo. But HomePod will sound great and act as a home musicologist, he said.

He indicated that the HomePod will make it possible for consumers to call up music using complex voice searches and then listen to music through a product that provides state-of-the-art sound including spatial awareness, which adjusts the audio depending on where you are sitting in the room.

But the ace in the hole is the integration with Apple Music. As Apple announced,

By saying, “Hey Siri, I like this song,” HomePod and Apple Music become the perfect musicologist, learning preferences from hundreds of genres and moods, across tens of thousands of playlists, and these music tastes are shared across devices. Siri can also handle advanced searches within the music library, so users can ask questions like “Hey Siri, who’s the drummer in this?” or create a shared Up Next queue with everyone in the home. HomePod, Apple Music and Siri deliver the best music experience in the home that streams ad-free directly to HomePod.

HomePod will also provide the same functionality as Echo, providing functions ranging from turning on the lights in your home to providing sports and weather information.

The HomePod should be available in December at a cost of $349, a cost that is significantly higher than Amazon Echo and Google’s own Home speaker. By pricing the HomePod at the high end, Amazon is banking on consumers:

  • Accepting Apple’s position as a premium brand.
  • Caring enough to pay more for better sound.
  • Subscribing to Apple Music because it’s so easy to listen to music with voice commands on HomePod. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple offers an incentive for bundling Apple Music paid subscriptions and HomePod.)

It’s an interesting bet. Consumers have been indifferent to sound quality on mobile devices, not caring enough about sound quality to buy high-end mobile streaming products such as Pono. Meanwhile in the home environment, the growth and popularity of Sonos speakers for years showed that people would pay for premium sound  – but then Amazon’s encroachment on Sonos suggest that consumers were willing to sacrifice the fidelity of Sonos for the convenience of Echo. And now Apple believes consumers will do the same with HomePod.

Apple won’t put a dent in Echo’s 71-percent market share anytime soon, but Apple doesn’t need to. Apple is not offering a utility that competes on price as Echo does. Apple is selling a high-end experience first and utility second. Apple Music is central to that experience. Will HomePod be a catalyst for Apple Music to eat into Spotify’s lead?

Why AI Is the Future of Music

The music industry finally has some reason to celebrate, thanks to artificial intelligence.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) recently announced that music revenues in 2016 grew 11.4 percent to $7.7 billion — the highest year-over-year growth rate since 1998. Although the industry is only half the size it was in 1999, double-digit growth is encouraging after years of either declines or flat results. Why the growth? According to the RIAA, the answer is simple: streaming is taking hold. And streaming services — especially Spotify — are lapping the field with AI.

As the RIAA noted, the biggest contributor to growth was a doubling of revenues from paid streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora. In fact, for the first time ever, streaming music platforms generated the majority of the U.S. music industry’s revenues.

Younger streaming platforms such as Tidal are still too new to contribute significantly to the $3.9 billion that streaming services generated in 2016. Rather, the established streaming leaders, especially Spotify, are hitting their strides by offering better products fueled by AI.

Pandora and the Power of Personalization

Streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify have always created customers by personalizing their vast inventories of music. If you stream music, you already know how well Pandora and Spotify create engagement by offering you customized listening choices based on your personal tastes. I still remember how exciting it was when I first started using Pandora years ago and created my own Pandora radio stations based on names of artists or songs that appealed to me. If I wanted to create a station based on my love of Massive Attack, I could do so. If I wanted to create a station of music inspired by the Cure song “All Cats Are Grey,” I could do so. And Pandora refined my stations even further when I gave a thumbs up or thumbs down to songs that Pandora suggested to me based on my listening tastes.

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Drake and Jay Z Write Rules for Music Moguls

Drake and Jay Z are among the most successful musicians year after year. Between them, they earned $92 million in 2016 while making the list of Forbes highest-paid musicians, adding to the nearly $97 million they pulled down in 2015, and $93 million in 2014. Drake’s 2016 album Views was a gigantic commercial success (which is saying something in the era of the single), and he gets the most streams of any artist on Spotify. Recently both made the news for two different reasons: on March 6, Jay Z launched a venture capital firm, Arrive, to invest in startups. On March 18, Drake released a 22-song playlist, More Life, that promptly broke two Spotify streaming records and one Apple Music streaming record. Drake and Jay Z demonstrate how the new music moguls are defining success for the recording industry. On the one hand, Drake illustrates why artists need to hustle their songs constantly in an on-demand economy. And Jay Z understands why musicians — even the elite — need to build personal brands that transcend music.

Drake: Hustle Your Music

Drake knows that making music inaccessible doesn’t work in the on-demand economy. You can’t expect fans to buy your albums to find hidden gems of songs that reward patient listening the way Led Zeppelin used to do in the glory years of album oriented rock. As Brian Solis once noted, attention is a currency to earn and spend. And attention, while difficult to earn, is easily spent. Keeping anyone’s attention is increasingly difficult at a time when Americans own four devices on average and toggle their way through a sea of websites, apps, games, and other distractions that compete for our time. So Drake distributes music liberally, dropping multiple songs like attention bombs as he did with More Life, Views in 2016, and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late in 2015 (along with a short film for good measure). He doesn’t expect his fans to wait for a new album to hear his new songs — he maintains a constant hum of activity through his music, supported by a strong social media presence.

As Dan Rys of Billboard noted, “Unlike superstars for whom every move is an event, Drake keeps his activity at a constant simmer, peaking at ­strategic moments.” As a result, he is one of the few artists in the Forbes list who made the bulk of his money in 2016 from music sales.

Even Beyoncé, whose every album is an event, keeps our attention by releasing a barrage of videos to support her albums. Artists need to feed a content stream to keep their names visible. As music pundit and consultant Cortney Harding once told me, “Albums take a very long time to make, and artists can’t remain silent in between album releases, especially when everyone else is releasing a steady stream of content on YouTube. If you want to release an album a year from now, you need to release a song a month and content between songs rather than remain quiet and expect fans to wait for the big release day.”

For Drake, every day is release day.

Jay Z: All Business, Man

Jay Z has always known his brand is bigger than music. Even as his star was ascending as a rapper in the 1990s, he was creating business ventures. In 1996, Jay Z cofounded of Roc-A-Fella Records, and then a few years later cofounded Rocawear clothing line. He Jay Z operates businesses such as his entertainment company Roc Nation and Armand de Brignac champagne (which he acquired in 2014). As he put it, “I’m not a business man, I’m a business, man.” (Ironically the one venture that he’s apparently not mastered is streaming. His Tidal streaming service has famously struggled.)

In 2016, he released no new music, and he didn’t tour. And yet he earned $53.5 million as he cashed in on his many business ventures. His latest, Arrive, will invest in early-stage startups and provide support ranging from marketing to business development. Part of Roc Nation, Arrive will apply Roc Nation’s entertainment management experience to support entrepreneurs (and that experience is considerable, as Roc Nation works with the likes of J. Cole and Rihanna.) Arrive will apparently not restrict itself to entertainment startups.

Jay Z has also proven to be an innovative business operator with his music. For instance, in 2013, he signed an intriguing deal with Samsung to distribute one million copies of his Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album through a special app exclusively on Samsung phones before the album went on sale publicly. Samsung reportedly paid $5 for every album, meaning Magna Carta Holy Grail sold $5 million before a consumer purchased a single copy.

As I noted in my ebook The New Music Moguls, the successful moguls who regularly make the Forbes list of highest-paid musicians build their audience through recorded music, but make their real money elsewhere, whether from touring, endorsing products, or investing in businesses. Dr. Dre may have earned his reputation as a rapper, but he earned his biggest payday, $620 million, through his stake in Beats Electronics. Diddy is worth hundreds of millions of dollars because of his branding deals with Cirac vodka and Aquahydrate. The list of celebrities as business brands goes on and on: Katy Perry (who has cobranded music with H&M), Luke Bryan (who endorses Miller Lite), Rihanna (who has her own footwear line with Puma), and Taylor Swift (who earned $170 million in 2016 through touring and via deals with Keds, Diet Coke, and Apple). Oh, and Drake hedged his bets through branding relationships with Apple, Nike, and Sprint. They all realize that recorded music is a launching pad, not an end unto itself.

The days of consumers rushing out to buy recorded music are over. We’re streaming songs, discovering music through ads, apps like Snapchat, and many other platforms that didn’t exist before digital. But music no longer engages our hearts. Music captures a fraction of our attention at best. The new music moguls grab our attention through their music and turn attention into money through their personal brands.

“How We Listen Now” Confronts the Music Industry

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Cortney Harding is on a mission to wake up the music industry.

The writer and music industry consultant has recently published How We Listen Now: Essays and Conversations about Music and Technology, a provocative examination of two different worlds: on the one hand, consumers are experiencing music on their own time, in their own place, and on their own terms. They’re not just streaming music; they’re also discovering great music through games, in hotel lobbies, movies, and many other media. And they’re not just listening to music anymore — they’re remixing their favorite songs and reposting those moments on apps, video- and song-sharing platforms, and everywhere else they can express their passions. But on the other hand, musicians, music labels, and other members of the music industry continue to struggle to keep up with the new reality of how people experience music, clinging to old models of music sharing, such as hoarding songs on record albums.

Harding sees music executives and musicians as viewing their world in black and white terms: everything that happened before Napster and everything that has happened afterward. In fact, she asserts correctly, Napster was just a precursor to several waves of change that occur to this day. Her book assesses those changes, ranging from streaming to user-generated content. How We Listen Now argues that only musicians and executives who constantly adapt to a constantly changing new normal will succeed. And the consumer defines that new normal.

Hers is a book that constantly asks questions. Why do artists make record albums anymore when it is patently clear that consumers don’t discover music through albums like they used to? Why do artists insist on releasing singles in the traditional 3-minute, verse-chorus-verse-solo-chorus format at a time when younger listeners especially like to listen to shorter snippets of content that they can remix into their own Vines, Instagrams, and Snaps? Why aren’t more artists more active on Twitch? Why doesn’t Spotify launch a music label and get into content creation as Netflix has?

For instance, she bluntly calls for artists to kill their obsession with record albums: “For some artists, who really want to present a body of work and tell a story, fine, keep [the record album],” she writes. “For everyone else, just scrap it.” She goes on to write that in the CD era, record albums became bloated filler, and consumers rejected them when Napster unshackled them from having to buy an entire collection of often-times mediocre songs when all they wanted to do was sample one or two songs from a new artist. And yet, with record albums in a permanent state of decline, artists cling to the format because it’s familiar to them. Even worse, artists insist on hoarding songs and releasing them every few years in album format. And artists cannot afford to be invisible for months at a stretch.

“So just start putting stuff out there,” she writes. “Kids are fine with imperfections . . . Release little clips of tracks and see what the response is. If it doesn’t get a bite, toss some more chum in the water.”

It’s not that Harding is on a war against record albums; in fact, she objects to long-held assumptions that hold back artists from succeeding in the record industry, and the record album is a prime example. She also rethinks the singles format, noting that in 2014 Spotify reported that one in four songs get skipped before the five-second mark.

“To me, this points to the fact that listeners want something shorter, more akin to the length of Vine or Instagram videos, than the standard verse-chorus-verse-solo-chorus etc etc format they’ve been served for the past several years,” she writes. “But this would also force a radical reimagining of what a song actually looks like.”

She challenges artists to share “clips and stems of tracks” and invite listeners to remix them and create their own tracks. Why? Because listeners are already doing so with their own customized soundtracks to their lives, which they post on Snapchat and YouTube all the time. And the same holds true for videos: consumers, especially younger ones, are creating their own musical soundtracks on video platforms such as Flipagram. She urges artists to get proactive about sharing their music for use on Flipagram. “What if the true use for music is not to be consumed but to act as a platform for further creativity?” she asks.

And the music industry has been catching on. Since she wrote the core of the essays that comprise the ebook, Flipagram has signed licensing deals with labels and artists to permit them to share their music in an official capacity on the platform. To Harding, platforms such as Flipagram play an important role in the future of music. The more artists share their music on platforms where consumers live, work, and play, the sooner they will find an audience. And those platforms include Spotify. She is unsympathetic to artists who refuse to accept streaming. Spotify may not pay the bills — but it’s where audiences are built. And you cannot monetize music without first finding an audience.

After pointing out the disconnect between how artists share music and how people experience it, Harding talks with visionaries, thought leaders, and musicians who are closing that gap. Tellingly, the forward thinkers include people who do not conventionally fit the description of a music industry insider — such as Andy Weissman, a partner at Union Square Ventures whose portfolio includes Soundcloud. The conversations with people living in the thick of changes make for interesting reading. You get to know how indie musicians earn their livings, finding audiences through licensing deals, finding day jobs when needed, and building a support infrastructure around them. If you read the conversations closely, you get the message: the time has long come and gone when artists could succeed by leaving the business end to someone else. Artists need to wear many hats to succeed: musician, social media maven, merchandise seller, distributor, and overall hustler.

How We Listen Now provides a snapshot into a changing landscape. If you want to stay abreast of those changes, I suggest you follow Cortney Harding’s column and get to know her better through her website, and subscribe to her email newsletter. Her book is a great way to get started on your own journey.

Related: “‘Be Prepared to Never Make Money on Your Work‘”: A Music Insider Speaks,” July 8, 2015.

 

Why the Beatles Are Streaming: Legacy, Baby

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At a time when news headlines are dominated by disturbing stories about terrorism, social strife, and ugly politics, the world just found reason to rejoice: the Beatles are finally streaming their music.

Everyone is reporting the announcement about the Beatles making their beloved catalog available to Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play, Microsoft Groove, Amazon Prime, Rhapsody, Spotify, Slacker and Tidal starting December 24 at 12:01 a.m. local time. The New York Times, TechCrunch, The Wall Street Journal, and Venture Beat are among the many news media jumping all over the news.

But why are the Beatles streaming?

After all, the Beatles don’t need streaming to continue succeeding commercially. People buy Beatles albums even as albums continue to suffer a drastic sales decline in the digital era. The Beatles anthology 1, released in November 2000, still sells 1,000 copies a week (amounting to 12 million copies sold in the United States to date), even though “there’s really no reason for anyone who owns all the records to get this too,” as Allmusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote. (1 was also just re-released as a special edition featuring a Blu-ray surround-sound format in November 2015.) And through a relationship with Apple formed in 2010, the music of the Fab Four has continued to sell in digital format even as downloading gives way to streaming.

I believe the answer comes down to legacy. Especially Paul McCartney’s.

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Adele and Taylor Swift: The Diva and the BFF

AdeleSwift

Adele and Taylor Swift succeed by writing and performing personal songs that connect emotionally with a fan base consisting mostly of women. But they have pursued markedly different approaches to building their personal brands, demonstrating that superstars can write their own rules.

Taylor Swift, who turned 26 December 13, is all about accessibility. She saturates the public eye by courting the news media, being open on social media, touring heavily, and doing endorsement deals that keep her face visible. But she’s not only ever present; she also connects as personally with her fans as a pop star can. When she released her massive-selling album 1989 in October 2014, she surprised a few lucky fans by holding “secret sessions” consisting of exclusive previews of the album. She even brought baked cookies to the sessions. She is a constant presence on social media, commenting on her life, sharing visual stories, and reaching out to her fans on their own social accounts. Her social content is genuine, earning accolades from branding experts. Through social, she excels at “treating your fans like friends,” in the words of interactive marketing executive Joshua Swanson.

Adele cultivates mystique. She is not quite a private diva like Barbra Streisand was in the 1970s, but she’s nowhere near as accessible as Taylor Swift is. She has tweeted a total of 20 times in 2015 (as of December 11), and she vets everything she tweets. Her social posts usually consist of bland news about her career. Adele maintains a private reserve. She does not do commercial endorsements. There is a sense of vulnerability about her, informed by her real-life experience of enduring a career-threatening throat ailment in 2011. She is only 27, but she seems like an old soul.

Taylor Swift creates moments. Adele creates The Moment. In 2008, Adele broke through to U.S. audiences by owning a huge moment: an appearance on Saturday Night Live in which she sang “Chasing Pavements” and “Cold Shoulder” from 19. The appearance triggered a spike in sales for 19 and made her a superstar in the States. She marked the release of 25 with another highly publicized and well-received Saturday Night Live appearance that created a surge in SNL viewership. She followed up SNL with appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and TODAY and will broadcast a one-hour special concert December 14 on NBC (it’s a prolific time for NBC and Adele).

Adele is well suited for engineering giant moments that rely on the reach of mass media such as TV. She can use her powerful voice and commanding physical presence to make an impact through a televised concert. Television is not as kind to Taylor Swift. Her lighter voice and willowy presence seem small when she performs on televised events such as The Grammys. She is better off creating her own moments on social media and in her own well choreographed concerts and videos, where she can surround herself with a stage that plays up her assets. Each stop in her global, 85-show 1989 tour has triggered branding micro moments as fans capture the experience through Instagram, Tumbler, Twitter, and other social platforms. Her tradition of sending personal gifts to fans (moments she has documented on YouTube), dubbed “Swiftmas,” is a brilliant example of Swift at her best (even if she did attract some snarky criticism for attempting to trademark the term).

Both Adele and Taylor Swift are protective of their music, famously withholding their albums from streaming services such as Spotify. In 2014, Swift withdrew all her music from Spotify because she believes Spotify hurts music sales and fails to compensate artists properly (a view that is shared by many, to say the least). Adele restricted 25 from streaming services (and had initially done so for her last album, 21) to protect music sales.

This is not to say that they’ve withheld their music from the digital realm — far from it. On December 13, Swift announced she would stream her 1989 world tour video exclusively on Apple Music December 20 as part of a broader co-branding relationship. Meantime, Adele’s single “Hello” has become the second-fastest video ever to hit 100 million YouTube views ever. Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off” have more than 2.5 billion views between them as of December 11. “Hello” and “Shake It Off” also express the distinct personas of these two superstars: the moody “Hello” dramatizes Adele’s brooding romanticism while the quirky and playful “Shake It Off” celebrates Swift’s chirpy optimism.

Their strategies are working handsomely. Billboard recently named Taylor Swift its top artist for 2015. 1989 is only the fifth album to spend its first year in the weekly Billboard 200’s top 10. As of December, her 1989 concert tour had grossed $240 million. She is the first and only artist to have three albums sell more than one million copies in the opening release week. 1989 has sold 5.4 million units, and even though the album was released in 2014, it was the top seller of 2014 — until Adele’s 25 became the year’s biggest seller only three days after its November 20 release.

As of December 11, Adele’s 25 has sold 5 million copies, the first album to sell 5 million in a calendar year since her last album, 21, was released in 2011. In its first week of release, 25 sold more than 3 million copies, setting a new record for most album sales in a single week — a feat even more impressive when you consider that the previous record holder, NSYNC, achieved its massive numbers before the era of digital downloading and streaming. At one point, 25 was accounting for nearly half of all music sales.

But most importantly, Adele and Taylor Swift share a commitment to writing personal songs about their lives, oftentimes about the ups and downs of relationships. They have inherited the mantel of heartfelt singer-songwriter from the likes of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Stevie Nicks. By drawing upon universal themes such as the heartbreak of loss, the joy of independence and sexual liberation, and the pleasures of growing up, Adele and Taylor Swift write songs that appeal to a broad audience. Their personal brands extend the reach of their songs even more widely.

What works for Adele and Taylor Swift may not work for lesser-known artists although Swift’s accessibility to fans and brands is a more advisable route for unknowns attempting to build their reputations. It remains to be seen whether lesser artists can afford to avoid streaming like Adele and Taylor Swift have done. Few musicians have the clout they possess. But if the up and comers can make it to their elite level, Adele and Taylor Swift demonstrate that successful artists can still write their own rules even in the fractured music industry.