You will not be surprised to know that 1989, Taylor Swift‘s new album, is my jam this month. I am a little surprised at how invested I am in her career lately, though. Her music has definitely grown on me over the years and I got really interested when she announced a full on split with country music for this record. Studying The Swift is like a study in everything a musician can do right on a grassroots level. The weird part? She’s arguably the biggest pop star in the world at the moment, and she just sold 1.2 million albums this week…in a year when (for the first time in decades) NO ONE ELSE has gone platinum. In fact, her first week sales numbers have consistently gone UP when it’s trending downward for everyone else. It’s not a coincidence. Let’s examine this, shall we?

Swift Factor No. 1:
Be a social media phenom (and go where your fans are)

Taylor has openly admitted to stalking her fans online, and they know she’s lurking. Her Tumblr (the blogging service for people under 30, really) is hilarious and a peek into her sense of humor, which I love. She reblogs fan posts, artwork people have made, and posts the occasional embarrassing middle school photo (because we all have them). She’s just like us, trolling the internet late at night when we can’t sleep.

On Twitter, she’s been re-blogging photos of her fans with their 1989 albums in hand and selfies she’s taken with them. Most pop stars try to seem a little bit untouchable, which is a tactic that actually works sometimes (hey, Rihanna). Taylor’s approach of accessibility has made for a very loyal crowd in her demographic, though. The selfie is the new autograph and the re-tweet is the new high five.

Swift Factor No. 2
Connect with fans on a personal level

Her PR game started way before release week, obviously. One ingenious idea was to host “Secret Sessions” where fans got to listen to the album before it came out. This has been done before because fan clubs have existed for a long time. What made this interesting is that the fans were selected through social media (hence the lurking) by Taylor and her team, and they were invited to Taylor’s own house where they listened to 1989, took photos (Polaroids, which jive with the album artwork!), and ate cookies…baked by Taylor. Again, back to that point…the biggest pop star in the world right now is baking cookies for her fans. I’m sure it made the life highlight list for all the participants, but the ensuing news stories also made casual fans wish they had the opportunity to go, and non-fans admit that hey…that’s pretty cool.

Swift Factor No. 3
Make a physical product people want

People stream and people download. CDs are dinosaurs, especially to anyone under the age of 35…which is Taylor’s main demographic. How the heck did she sell 1.2 million albums to people who don’t buy albums? I saw a couple of factors at play. First, if you bought the physical CD, you got the added bonus of lyric Polaroids. There are 5 sets of of them, and each CD comes with 13 photos. Kind of a throwback to collecting trading cards, but it’s fun to get a bonus for buying the real CD. I’m not sure on what her numbers are from each store, but she partnered with Target to sell the Deluxe version which included (some really great) bonus tracks and voice memos of rough demos. Extra content only available on one format = more sales. There was also the Swiftstakes, where entering a code from the CD puts you in the running to meet Taylor on tour next year. It’s like a lottery ticket with a bonus CD, so you win anyway.

Swift Factor No. 4
Take chances and be vulnerable

Those voice memos on the Target edition struck me as brave (because yeah, I got the Deluxe release). They’re raw beginnings of songs that are super produced and polished on the album. They are hesitant and unsure and sometimes pitchy. That’s how songs get written, and if there was a thought that Taylor wasn’t writing her own stuff, this helps combat it. The other thing I admire about this record is that the last track is a co-write with Imogen Heap, who is a hero of mine as a songwriter and a producer. Apparently, Taylor admires her too, and fortunately when you are Taylor Swift, you get to write with cool people. Imogen blogs about the process here, and they turned out “Clean”, my favorite track on the album. While there are plenty of Max Martin produced songs here, having Imogen end-cap it is a really classy thing to do. It makes me excited for the artistic growth that’s bound to happen if Taylor continues to do her thing.

Swift Factor No. 5
Respect your own work

The other big hullabaloo this week aside from baking cookies with fans and selling a bunch of albums was that 1989 was not on Spotify and in fact, her entire back catalog was removed from the service. I thought it a given that a brand new release would not be on a streaming service immediately, especially since there was such a mad rush to sell physical product, but the removal of older albums was interesting. Granted, rumor has it that her label is up for sale and this was a bargaining chip (remember kids, follow the money), but all the indie artists I know have been aflutter with Swift commentary this week because it’s a big deal when the Big Folk stand up for the Littler Folk (even by proxy of actions with other intentions). Taylor and her label have bargaining power in this art-meets-tech world we live in, and she just pulled out of the game entirely. Whether it’s permanent or temporary (I suspect temporary…streaming is not going anywhere), it is at least causing us to discuss the value of music as a service. We pay $100 for cable TV access every month, and we lay down $8 for Netflix easily. What will make the majority of music listeners pay for access? And in the meantime, how is music even valued these days? Fans aren’t paying $13.99 for the Deluxe Target version of 1989 for the songs. They’re paying for the right to be a fan…to call themselves members of the Taylor Nation and to have a communal experience. And hopefully, whatever comes of this Spotify streaming conversation, artists will be able to stand up for the work they create. As Taylor said, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.” Boom.

Swift Factor No. 6
Make your loyal fans have your back

Another interesting point in this whole thing is that no tracks leaked early from those aforementioned “Secret Sessions”. The fans were asked not to record anything and no one did. When the album did leak online a few days early (who does that? Some intern from the label I suppose) and tracks were being posted around Tumblr, fans were refusing to listen to them or share them. They assumed it would hurt Taylor and her sales, and at this point the diehard fans were like a rabid guerrilla marketing team…they had a vested interest in their girl doing well on opening day. This is direct opposition to most album leaks…people generally scoop them up with little thought. Taylor had connected so much with her base that they weren’t about to mess up the album release or spoil the experience of Release Day excitement (which they knew Taylor would be tweeting and blogging about right along with them).

Phew. That’s a lot of dissection for a 24-year-old pop star. I just think that Taylor encapsulated everything I try to preach about over at Social Thinkery when I meet with clients…connect with your fan base far beyond that of a “I am an artist buy this music because I made it” mentality. It’s old and uninspiring. Create your army that will go to bat for you, spread the word for you, share in your victories with you…that is a fan base that will keep returning as long as you stay true to your art. Follow the Swift.

My deepest fear is that my fears are not that deep…they are just simple things.

On the wall at Joanne

Of course, since I spent a whole post on dinner in Vegas, I have to offer due diligence to the East Coast trip…and yes, we ate well. You’d think this has turned into a food blog. I don’t know, maybe it has. Food and traveling for music go hand in hand.

My one request tourist and culinary-wise for our NYC stay was Joanne Trattoria…owned by Joe and Cynthia Germanotta, parents of Lady Gaga. I am a fan girl, and I’m proud. Plus, I mean, I’ll eat pasta in the name of almost any musician…this is not a hard task.

Joanne was definitely a treat, though. It’s located around the corner from Lincoln Center, and we went early in the day so there wasn’t a crowd yet.

But strangely I still felt a little crowded on the sidewalk outside.

We all ordered coffee which…a lot of places I go, the coffee is an afterthought. Maybe NYC is different, maybe Italian restaurants are different, maybe Joanne just knows that coffee is pretty much the staff of life and one should not serve a bad cup…but this was amazing. It came with a crema on top, which maybe it was espresso, except it was coffee, and I am not good at this stuff, but it was heaven. THIS IS NOT A FOOD BLOG. I had two cups.

They brought us bread, and we ordered. I went with the signature dish, Joanne’s spaghetti and meatball. I mean, what else can you say about a meatball that looks like this?

Everything tasted great; the meatball had the right ratio of…meat stuff (I’m sure there were several ingredients happening here) to bread crumbs. The sauce had a little zing to it and tasted fresh. I did not have an ArtPop cocktail but maybe next time.

Yep, this is definitely not gonna turn into a foodie blog since the best I can describe is often “foooood gooood want mooooore.” But I mean, I’m totally going back to Joanne when I get a chance. Paws up.


Shout out to Aqua Thai in Philadelphia because my pineapple chicken CAME IN A PINEAPPLE Y’ALL.

Adore You Lyric Video

17 Oct

For the sensitive among you…and we’re all a little sensitive.

West to East

16 Oct

After a road trip through the wildest of the West, it was over to New York and Pennsylvania with Susan for some rare (and hopefully now, less rare) East Coast shows. We know a NYC local, so we got the grand walking tour of the city (thanks, Norma!). I wore inappropriate shoes. I tried really hard to wear appropriate ones, except I really don’t ever wear real shoes, so my normally flip-flopped and free toes were freaking at the walls suddenly encasing them. Lesson learned, next time I think I’ll wear Chacos and avoid puddles.

New York is, of course, exactly what you think it is. All that stuff you see in the movies and photographs – the skyline, the activity, the brownstones, the subway…that’s what it is. Texas is so car-centric that it was awesome to be able to walk or subway everywhere for a change.

What am I looking at? I probably thought I saw Tina Fey.

No lie, anyone can walk across the bridge and see this view.

After a fun show at Hill Country BBQ in Manhattan which is like walking into a Texas BBQ place in, well…Manhattan, we headed down to Bleeker Street where I got to play a tune. Then my friend Stephanie and I talked philosophy and religion on the street outside The Bitter End. It was like the 60’s.

We headed down to Bethlehem and Philadelphia. More historical things. Awesome shows with Susan and Christine Havrila.

And now, back in Texas for a minute. I am getting reacquainted with my apartment…my neighbors don’t think I really live here, but they check on my plants, so it’s cool.

I love Gordon Ramsay. I watch all this shows. Hell’s Kitchen is the least interesting, just because I feel like he comes to America and has to scream more. It was when I started watching Kitchen Nightmares and MasterChef that I realized he really does care about food and people, and just wants things to be excellent all the time. I think it’s a good lesson to live by in business…excellence first, everything else after that.

When I learned that Ramsay has a restaurant in Las Vegas, I knew that’s where dinner would have to happen. It took me about 16 read-throughs to realize there is no “e” in BURGR because the GR is for Gordon Ramsay. Of course.

The restaurant is located in the Planet Hollywood casino on the strip, so the atmosphere is not exactly quiet. We got a place in line and had about an hour to wait. Once we were seated in a very orange, very fiery dining room that was an obvious homage to Hell’s Kitchen, it was on.

The menu was full of burgers…er, BURGRs, and I chose the Brittania…medium with arugula, sharp English cheddar, and chutney. We shared the sweet potato fries (dusted with powdered sugar) and the truffle fries (dusted with crack). This is turning into a poorly written food blog.

It was amazing. I am not exceptionally picky with food…I travel so much I have to just eat stuff sometimes, like those triangle sandwiches from gas stations (when it’s desperate). I do like to think I have watched enough Ramsay TV to know what to look out for, though. The burger was cooked really well, the bun was sturdy but not hard to chew (architecture is important), the ingredients were few but perfect in proportion and taste. I once heard Gordon say that any item on a menu really only needs 3 components…any more and you’re mucking it up. This makes sense for a lot of things in life.

The only thing I noticed that was a LITTLE odd was that the SECOND you finished, they took your plate and silverware. I am pretty sure this is because so many Vegas tourists have tried to walk out with a Gordon Ramsay souvenir fork, they have to be on the ball. Aside from that bit of weirdness, we had an amazing meal.

All burgers will pale in comparison from now on, even the In-N-Out we had on the same trip.

iViva Las Vegas!

22 Sep

What do you do when your college roommate is getting married (yay Beth!) in Northern California and you decide to road trip with your college friends?

You stop in Vegas. It was legitimately halfway. California is a deceptively long ways from New Mexico…you might think “oh, they’re all Western states.” Well, the West is HUGE. I had been the Las Vegas but I had never driven through Nevada before. That state is a national treasure, and I lump it into a category with New Orleans…a completely unique culture in the middle of the rest of America.

The first thing we did when we got to town was go see the art gallery at The Bellagio. It was Jamie’s idea, and I was so relieved when she suggested it. I am not really the gambling type, and to discover that there was something museum-y to do made my day. We walked in under a Chihuly glass sculpture.

I knew you were trouble when you walked in.

My aversion to burning money through gambling did not stop me from being drawn in to the Jurassic Park slot machine area (because of course there is a Jurassic Park slot machine area), where I lost a dollar in record time. I then got away from the slots as fast as Dr. Grant running away from a flock of dinosaurs.

We happened upon the Pawn Stars shop from the fabled History Channel show, and wandered in. Oddly, Chum Lee (Chumly? Chumlee?) happened to be there “working” meaning he was taking selfies with a long line of people. Selfies are the new autographs, by the way. I took a distance selfie because I don’t wait in lines.

Then we proceeded to drive hundreds of miles through nothing aka Nevada, skirting Area 51 and being shocked that we could see brothels from the highway. As opposed to the opulence of Las Vegas, where even the public bathrooms were gilded in fake gold, prostitutes in Nevada are still forced to operate in trailers, apparently. Weird.

Dinner was its own adventure for the next blog post…

Green Chile Primer

21 Sep

I know people know that I am a New Mexican and we love our chile, but do you KNOW, really? When one doesn’t live in New Mexico and it’s chile harvest time, one does things like…buys a bushel and drives it 12 hours home in a cooler. Because it’s necessary. Some photos of the process:

1) Refuse to do it the easy way:

2) Get a bushel freshly roasted and almost faint from the delicious aroma.

3) Take it home in a giant box and smell up your car.

4) Divide into smaller bags for ease of use (and maybe to share…maybe not).

5) Enjoy it while it lasts.

What a Band

12 Sep

We had a great time at the Strange Brew CD release! Thank you Billy, Christa, Emily, Katie, Susan, and Anna for making me sound good. It was a mighty big, mighty good band!

Rad Stuff

9 Sep

Sometimes the amount of cool stuff I have on my radar makes it impossible to fit into one Facebook post, and thus another “Rad Stuff” post is born.  I have some really great friends putting out records this week.  Czech it:


The Belle Sounds – Blackstone

This band is amazing. Every time I see them live I am awash in amazing harmonies, cool pop hooks, and great writing. Also, they are the KINDEST people, which makes it even better. This is the first Belle Sounds album my good friend Emily Shirley is on, and I am so glad for her. Go team, go! BUY IT.

Drew Kennedy – Sad Songs Happily Played
There’s a cool concert series in League City, TX called the San Benave Series, and Drew did a show there. It was an amazing show. He didn’t know they were recording it, and he was pleased when he found out they had. So pleased, he’s releasing the show! Drew is aces at storytelling and of course his songs are articulate, smart, and singable (which is the best combo). BUY IT.


I had a lot of time to read in the car this trip. One book that particularly sucked me in because we spent a lot of time in Northern New Mexico, Eastern Colorado, and Western Kansas was “The Worst Hard Time” about the Dust Bowl. This is the real story of the Dust Bowl, not the glossed over “it stopped raining and there was dirt everywhere” grade school version. Short version: humans messing up the environment made more problems for humans. Imagine that. READ IT.

Taylor Swift is this month’s Rolling Stone cover story. I think she’s great. You get to make your own decision.