What Taylor Swift Can Teach You About Radio Performance

What Taylor Swift Can Teach You About Radio Performance

by Tracy Johnson

She’s obviously wildly successful, wealthy and a household word. You may not like her or her music, but regardless of your opinion of her, there’s a lot that Taylor Swift can teach you about radio performance.

Hard work and innovation are critical, and Taylor has developed an influential presence through her strong work ethic, but has also been smart.

Performing a radio show is hard work, and I know that many personalities can (or should) admit to letting things slide and coasting from time to time. You fall into a pattern and soon your show becomes a production line as you churn out one mediocre after another. It’s okay, but it’s not delighting your fans.

Taylor Swift can’t get away with falling into a cycle of mediocre work, and here’s what you can adapt from her example to energize your show.

Stop Playing It Safe

Listeners don’t respond to ordinary. Being merely good is the price of admission They demand excellence. Yet show after show sounds like they’re simply going along with the status quo.

You hear other personalities producing certain types of material, so you go along with what seems popular. Don’t believe it? Then
why does virtually every show in existence carry the entertainment report? Why does everyone run the same features?

Great shows must innovate and take some chances. They must stand up for the art of the performance. If you’re afraid to try new things or fall under scrutiny, then how will you grow?

In 2015, Taylor Swift took issue with Apple’s decision to allow free trials of Apple Music. During those trials, artists wouldn’t be paid royalties if their songs were played. Rather than remaining quiet, she called out Apple on its decision and stated that she would not be releasing her album through the service.

Apple quickly changed. Eddy Cue, Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, tweeted, saying Apple “will pay artist[sic] for streaming, even during customer’s free trial period.”


Other artists didn’t speak out. They didn’t stand up, probably because of their fear of going against Apple, but Swift wasn’t having it – and her actions influenced change. That’s leadership, and leaders get attention.

I’m not saying you need to pick fights and burn bridges but you should certainly step outside of your comfort zone. Stop creating the same content, playing follow the leader, and settling for acceptable.

Innovate, come up with new ways to bring value to your audience, and be willing to risk a little. The rewards can be amazing, but they don’t come without hard work and a little risk.

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Swift has developed impressive connections and learned that by leveraging relationships, she creates something new and exciting that introduces her to a much wider audience.

Taylor is no stranger to collaboration, and she took it to a whole new level on Bad Blood. The video features Kendrick Lamar, Jessica Alba, Lena Dunham, Lily Aldridge, and Selena Gomez.

As an air personality, there are countless ways to entertain your audience through the contributions of others. Set up your partners to deliver a great line. If you are working solo, make your audience the star. Showcase their stories, their contributions and punchlines.

The listener doesn’t care who actually delivers the entertaining moment, but they do remember where they get it. Sometimes giving up some control creates more attention.

Be Flexible

As you know, Taylor Swift launched her music career as a country singer in 2006, and a few years later slid into pop crossovers. Her transition from country star to pop sensation was complete.

It was a smart move that has earned her a number of awards including ten Grammys, five Guinness World Records, an Emmy, and 23 Billboard Music awards. Her success has also earned her a spot in Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. She’s achieved that through her talent, obviously, but also through a willingness to be flexible and to pivot into something different.

A common mistake in radio programming and performance is relying on simple approaches and formulas without adjusting to a changing environment. It’s amazing that air talent still basically “does their four and hits the door”.

If audience engagement is limited to creating a decent radio show and maybe tweeting a couple of messages during your time slot, you’re missing opportunities. To win today, you have to be active both on and off the air. How can you create a video presence for your brand? Are you using social media to lead the audience to a deeper relationship? And, perhaps even more importantly, do all social roads point back to your radio show?

We don’t know what Taylor Swift’s career would look like if she hadn’t adapted, but there’s no doubt that she wouldn’t have the level of celebrity she has now. The talent would be the same, the content would be just as great, but it would be a very different audience and likely a very different outcome.

Emotional Connections

Brands are evolving past telling their own corporate story. Now, they’re focusing on telling great stories that lead back to their brand. It’s less about promoting a specific product and more about using storytelling techniques to make an emotional connection.

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Taylor Swift’s greatest skill is the ability to write and share relatable stories from her heart, through her music. The emotional connections through her writing is sticky

Taylor’s storytelling reminds us of the experience of being human, our own thoughts, and our own emotions. It also reminds us that others feel the same so we don’t quite so alone. That requires a certain amount of vulnerability. The ability to open up your heart and share emotionally is a key trait for radio personalities.

Using storytelling skills is more than just a few words worked into a break as a point of reference. It’s about sharing what people actually relate (and react) to. This is what forces them to listen, care, and want to share with everyone they know because they felt something when they experienced it.

She’s In The Moment

Ever been to a Taylor Swift concert? A funny thing happens there. She’s not on her phone. She isn’t surfing the internet or texting her friends. She isn’t checking out YouTube, responding to a tweet, posting on Facebook or adding pictures on Instagram.

She’s performing. She’s in the moment with her audience. You owe it to your co-hosts, your station and your audience to do the same. Focus on every detail of your show. Plan. Prepare. Stay in the moment. You may think it doesn’t matter, that you have plenty of time to talk to your massage therapist during the commercials or while the songs are playing. It matters. It’s all about being invested in your art and being 100% present in the moment.

There’s plenty of time to return those email messages after the show.

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