Taylor Swift: Writing is Still at the Heart of the Art

Taylor Swift: Writing is Still at the Heart of the Art

Hard to believe, but it’s been 12 years since an unknown, 11-year-old Taylor Swift was knocking on doors up and down Music Row, taking the first steps on what would become an unprecedented success story.

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Troy Tomlinson, CMA Board Chairman and President/CEO at Sony/ATV Nashville,

An especially big step came when Sony/ATV Nashville welcomed her to their roster at age 14 as the youngest writer they’d ever signed. CMA Board Chairman Troy Tomlinson, now President/CEO at Sony/ATV Nashville, witnessed that moment when the teenaged phenom wowed a staff of seasoned execs with her self-penned tunes.

“Everyone in there was stunned by her songs,” he remembered. “After the meeting disbanded, all we could talk about was, ‘How is someone this young writing songs at this level?’ Her writing and her lyrics completely sold us.”

How has her writing evolved since then? “I think her acceptance by millions of people has opened up her ability to write about different things in different ways,” Tomlinson mused. “Once she saw how people were affected by what she wrote and found themselves in her songs, it appeared to me she became even more determined to stay honest and open and authentic in her songs.”

Taylor Swift performs at LP Field in Downtown Nashville on Thursday, June 6 during the 2013 CMA Music Festival.

Taylor Swift performs at LP Field in Downtown Nashville on Thursday, June 6 during the 2013 CMA Music Festival.

Swift concurs enthusiastically. “I’ve really started to challenge myself in the last couple of years,” she said. “One of my goals is to never repeat myself, melodically or production-wise. It’s important to have your own fingerprint as a writer, and writing from a personal place and writing vulnerable lyrics is one of the elements of my songwriting fingerprint.

“But I don’t think you should ever, ever become predictable,” she emphasized. “So something I’ve been focusing on is, who can I collaborate with who can teach me something? How can I keep learning? How can I keep challenging myself? It’s easier for me to write by myself. It’s harder for me to start an idea and then stop myself and, say, bring it to somebody. But I know it’s better to stop myself halfway through writing a song and say, ‘OK, now I want to bring it to someone and see if they can add some weird twist to it that I wouldn’t have thought of.’ Co-writing, in a sense, is stepping out of my comfort zone, so when it pays off, it’s really a fulfilling feeling.”