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Taylor Swifts Global Popularity Explained (Berklees Version)

05/06/2024

Taylor Swifts Global Popularity Explained (Berklees Version) Music business, songwriting, and live production faculty weigh in on what makes Taylor Swift unstoppable.

By

Bryan Parys

June 4, 2024

Image by Paolo V, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On the evening of July 23, 2023, at the Lumen Field in Seattle, Washington, Taylor Swift shook the earth.

Registering at 2.3 magnitude on a seismograph, the combination of a stadium full of flailing fans and a massive sound system pounding out the song Shake It Off (of course) created the event. As seismologist Jackie Caplan-Auerbach says of the measurement, which was gathered from a range of shows on the North American leg of the Eras tour, I collected about 10 hours of data where rhythm controlled the behavior. The music, the speakers, the beat. All that energy can drive into the ground and shake it.

This was not the only time a performance on Swift's Eras Tour, which has become the highest grossing concert tour of all time (and it's not even finished), resulted in seismic activity. Researchers from CalTech and UCLA measured the impact from the August 2023 performances at the SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Perhaps even stranger, when Caplan-Auerbach compared the seismograph charts from both of the Seattle shows, the readings were nearly identical, charting almost the same peaks and lulls.

When people talk about how music can change the world, it's hard to think of any other case more literal and without exaggeration than Taylor Swift. How she got to the cosmic heights of pop stardom from the small borough of West Reading, Pennsylvania-otherwise known for its large outlet malls-is a multifaceted journey. While the core of her career is her songwriting, she approaches marketing, brand management, audience engagement, and live production with the same level of intention, relatability, and quality that she brings to her music.

Her Approach Is Family-OrientedRalph Jaccodine, professor of music business, who has worked with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates, Linda Ronstadt, and many more, says that Swift's business plan has always stayed close to her roots, which is partly why she's been consistently great over the long haul. Taylor's family has been an extremely important and positive influence on her development as a musician and a business person, he said. Taylor's mom, dad, and brother have been her original team since she was a young, ambitious, and driven musician. This consistent grounding and support are important elements to her success.

That sense of family also comes through in her songs, as any Swiftie will tell you. The songs are more than catchy-they're relatable. Scarlet Keys, professor of songwriting, has studied the craft of Taylor Swift for years and developed the Berklee course Music of Taylor Swift. But like Jaccodine suggests, Keys has observed that beyond craft is a feeling of trust and intimacy that hits close to home.

For years, I've witnessed the impact of Taylor Swift in my own home with my daughter, she said. With each new song about love or heartbreak, Keys noticed that her daughter and her friends felt like they were living side by side with Swift. It was so important for them to have a voice that sounded like theirs, offering support, hope, and sometimes, solutions. It was almost like she was film scoring their lives along with them, and they didnt feel as alone.

Her Live Performances Somehow Feel IntimateCertainly one place where you'd never feel alone is at a Taylor Swift concert. At the same time, Swift's approach to stagecraft and live production has somehow managed to make the experience feel personal. Taylor Swifts Eras Tour represents a paradigm shift in live music performances, primarily attributed to its unprecedented success in both scale and intimacy, said Daniel Pembroke, program director for Berklee NYC's live music production and design graduate program. This confluence of top-tier talent allows for the execution of expansive productions that maintain a sense of intimacy despite the vastness of stadium settings. The strategic use of diverse stage layouts further enhances the personal engagement with the audience.

Pembroke also points out that Swift's use of cutting-edge technology underscores her commitment to delivering a visually and acoustically superior experience. This includes her use of real-time 3-D simulators and infrared technology that work alongside traditional lighting, LED, and projection surfaces that allow for immersive, customized moments throughout each show.

She is a brand that is evolving with each release.

- Ralph Jaccodine

Making use of such high-level resources also played to Swift's advantage when turning the Eras Tour into what became the highest grossing concert film of all time. Anticipating that a live concert will be filmed demands a unique approach to both lighting and staging, Pembroke said, adding that the tech needed for live production and filming purposes are two different worlds. This approach gets even more challenging when considering that the film was created and released-theatrically and then as a Disney+ exclusive-while the actual tour was still going. This setup promotes seamless integration of live and recorded formats, Pembroke said.

Her Brand Is Truly PersonalTechnological innovation and marketing acumen alone do not necessarily guarantee success, or at least not at a Swiftian height. Rather, these elements support and enhance her personal and artistic growth. She is a brand that is evolving with each release, Jaccodine said, noting that her ability to go directly to fans via social media has made it feel like they are along for the journey.

And while that's a savvy business move on her part, Pembroke points out that it's also chan
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