How Taylor Swift controls her money and her narrative

How Taylor Swift Controls Her Money and Her Narrative

Taylor Swift is on her way to becoming a billionaire. But how does Taylor Swift make money? And how much money does she actually make? Additionally, what is the connection between controlling your image and making money? Today we’re going to talk about Taylor’s financial situation, from how she earns her money to how she is changing the music world.

How Taylor Swift controls her money and her narrative

As you may know, Taylor Swift is on tour. The Eras tour began in March 2023, and it pays homage to every era of Taylor’s 17 year career. The show takes about three hours to perform with a setlist of 44 songs. It is broken up into the distinct eras of her albums and her career. This tour is on track to become the biggest tour of all time, and it’s only a third of the way through.

Taylor Swift’s History and Statistics

  • Taylor is 33 years old.
  • She has recorded 10 original studio albums, three re-recorded studio albums, five extended plays and four live albums.
  • She has sold an estimated 114 million album units worldwide as of July 2023.
  • She is the woman with the most weeks (63) at number one on the US Billboard 100.
  • Swift’s net worth is $740 million as of June 2023. This makes her the richest female musician in US history with music as the only main source of income.
  • Taylor Swift will become a billionaire. In fact, she will probably become a billionaire in the next five years.
  • Her Eras tour is on track to gross over $1.5 billion in the next two years.
  • Taylor Swift is in the top three wealthiest woman in music and her career is definitely nowhere near done.

She may not even be halfway through her career. How did she build such a huge following? And how did she create such a profitable tour? Really, all of Taylor’s money comes down to one thing: her fans. Her fans are obsessed. I know there’s a lot of celebrities who can claim obsessed fans, but Taylor Swift’s fans are ride or die. And this is a relationship that Taylor has actively cultivated and encouraged.

Taylor Swift’s “Easter Eggs” encourage fandom

Taylor is well known for hiding easter eggs for her fans in her lyrics, her merch and in her tour performances. Easter eggs are references to previous work and sometimes even have specific meanings that she wants you to get. But she doesn’t want to tell you outright and hiding these Easter eggs is a fantastic way to build closeness with her audience. It encourages people to obsess over her content to obsess over her lyrics. It encourages them to listen to her songs on Spotify, or on YouTube over and over again to look for hidden meanings.

And you can also use Easter eggs to acknowledge your fans, like Taylor recently did during a live performance. On tour, Taylor incorporated a dance created by a Tiktok follower into her live set. Who doesn’t want to see their favorite artist acknowledge them and something they created live on stage in a fun and sweet way? Something like that would absolutely bond you to that person forever.

Taylor also uses easter eggs to encourage fans to buy multiple copies of her merchandise. She puts different Easter eggs in different albums, so in order to get all the clues, you need to buy them all. Taylor Swift is also really relatable for the majority of her fans– even though Taylor has been rich for her entire life. She comes from a very wealthy family and even though she’s been very famous since around 17 years old, fans still see her as their bestie.

Taylor also curates her “one of the girls” persona

She’s seen as one of the girls because Taylor shares pretty openly about her love life through her music and in her documentaries. She has also opened up about things like her disordered eating, as well as her anxiety. Her fan base is largely women. She shares about the ups and downs of being a woman in pop culture and being a woman in the limelight. This has really bonded her audience to her. Plus, she even went through the whole “squad era.” She was seen frequently in public without a boyfriend and instead with a group of her girlfriends. She would even bring her friends on stage to perform with her. Female friendships are really powerful bond and Taylor has incorporated that into her public image very well.

Taylor Swift’s Philanthropy

Swift also has a long history of being very generous with her fans and with the nonprofit world. It would take way too long to list all of the charitable things she’s done since becoming famous. So, I’m just going to focus on things she’s done during this Eras tour.

Swift has donated to food banks at every stop of the Eras tour, as reported by the respective organizations. She has also exclusively employed various local businesses to fulfill her crews daily requirements.

Taylor’s generosity to her crew

Perhaps most famously, at the conclusion of the first US leg, Taylor gave unprecedented bonus payments totaling over 55 million to her entire touring crew. This included $100,000 each to the 50 truck drivers involved in transporting the stage parts and production equipments.

Little known fact: most truck drivers involved in the musical world do not make very good money. They might make anywhere between 30 and 50 grand a year. So getting $100,000 bonus from the biggest pop star in the world is a huge deal. That’s life changing money to a lot of these people. I have to say even though I’m not a Swifty, I think this is a very stand up thing Taylor did. It makes me respect Taylor more. So if you’re already a fan, and you hear that she is treating the people that she works with very well, you’re gonna double down on your fandom.

I also found this interview that Taylor did in 2012. That reiterates to me that she has always treated the people she works with well. In 2012, Taylor Swift was on David Letterman and described backing up her car into her bassist’s car. Letterman cuts into say, “We know backup musicians have no insurance.” And Taylor says: “Mine do.” Again, a lot of mainstream, popular artists do not treat their touring musicians particularly well or pay them particularly well. What I get out of this interview is that Taylor is paying them well, and providing things like car insurance. Again, I think a very stand up thing to do.

How Taylor Swift is on her way to billionaire status

How do musicians make money?

So how did Taylor Swift become the financial king of music? Let’s talk about how musicians make money. To really understand how much money Taylor has made, we need to understand how musicians make money. In general, streaming a song (AKA listening to it on Spotify) generates between 1/4 and three fourths of a penny for everyone involved in creating that song. So that means the singer, the producer, the songwriters, the music company itself, the label, all of them have to split between 1/4 and three fourths of a penny per stream.

That’s why you often hear artists talking about how streaming makes them no money. However, due to Taylor’s popularity, she’s a little bit of an exception to this rule. Taylor puts up huge numbers when it comes to streaming. Her most recent album, Midnights, did 1.8 billion streams in 2022. And this is just in the span of a few months. It wasn’t even out for the whole year.

I do want to note she is not the king of streams overall. In fact, the actual king of streams is Bad Bunny. His album, Un Verano Sin Ti was streamed 4.3 billion times in 2022. That absolutely dwarfs Taylor’s 1.8. People are streaming Bad Bunny like it’s going out of style. So while Taylor does make a bit of money off of her streams, artists in general make the bulk of their earnings off of touring and off of album sales.

Midnights has been her most commercially successful album

Midnights, Taylor’s most recent album, is her most commercially successful. Midnight sold 1.6 million copies in the first week alone. She is the only artist to have five albums sell over 1 million copies in a week. Midnights sold over 6 million albums in just two months. So how much does an artist make off of the sale of an album as opposed to streaming a song? Well, albums cost anywhere between $20 and $30. So already, you can see that the people who have to split the profit off of an album are making way more money off of $30 than a fourth of a penny.

Taylor is the number one vinyl selling album in the United States. This is due in large part to those Easter eggs. She encourages fans to buy multiple versions of the same album.

There is power in owning the masters of your music

Now, if you really want to make serious money in the music world, you really want to own your masters. When you create a song, there’s generally two camps of creators. There’s the musical composition of a song, the people who write the lyrics and the music. And then there’s the audio composition, so that’s going to be the singer and the record company.

Sometimes the person who wrote the song is the person who sings the song, so they make more money that way. Historically, and still, typically today, the record label owns the master of a song. Which means that whenever a song is used in an ad, in a movie in a TV show, whenever it is performed on television, whenever it is performed in general, whoever owns the masters is going to get paid in perpetuity.

To make serious money in music, musicians have to own their masters

So for example, when Kate Bush’s “Running up that hill” was used in Stranger Things, Kate Bush who owns the masters of that song, made a ton of money. If you want to make serious money, I’m talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in music, you need to own your masters. And as anyone who has even vaguely been paying attention to pop culture knows, there has been huge drama around Taylor Swift masters over the last couple of years.

It basically boils down to this: When Taylor first signed with Big Machine Records, Big Machine owned her masters to her first six albums. When Taylor Swift started becoming Taylor Swift, she wanted to buy back her masters. But Scooter Braun, who is a manager to a lot of really famous people like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, actually ended up buying out Big Machine Records and thus the her masters. There was a lot of back and forth. Taylor tried to buy it from Scooter. Scooter denied that she ever tried to buy it. Big Machine said she did try to buy it, but she turned down what we offered. I’m not really sure who’s telling the truth. But the point is that the first six Taylor Swift albums, she did not own the masters until she started re-recording her songs.

The economics of Taylor Swift

Taylor’s Version of her songs reclaims her narrative

So that’s why sometimes on songs you see, “Taylor’s version.” That’s the version that she owns. She was able to do that because of a line in her contract. Also, in 2018, Taylor signed at a new record label. She signed at Republic records and notably a line in her contract says that she owns her own masters from here on out. For every sale of a song that she owns the master of, she is getting almost 100% of the profit. And every time that song is used in an ad and a movie, she’s getting 100% of that profit.

Because this was covered so widely in the media, Taylor was also able to spin this story of owning her masters as a feminist victory. Fans wanted to support her by listening to Taylor’s versions of songs or by re-buying albums that were Taylor’s version. They wanted to support a woman in this industry that, frankly, is known for treating women like garbage.

Touring is very lucrative for artists

Finally, the biggest way that Taylor is currently making money is through touring. Touring is a major way that most artists make money, especially artists who don’t own their masters. About 85% of the sale of a ticket goes to support the artist who then in turn uses that ticket sale money to support the tour. So paying those truck drivers, paying the backup dancers, all of that money in general gets put back into the tour. Taylor Swift is selling out seats to this tour like you would not believe. When tickets to the Eras tour initially went on sale, she had 3.5 million people who wanted to buy tickets. She was only able to sell 2 million because that’s just how many seats were available in the stadiums.

Let’s take one tour stop as an example. Her LA stop was six nights at the SoFi stadium which seats 7,240 people. Each night was sold out. Taylor is doing a total of 146 stops on this tour. She’s going to be on tour for the next year and a half of her life and she is going to be raking in major dough every step of the way. Taylor Swift is making so much money that it is literally impacting the economies of the cities that she is visiting with her tour.

The Eras tour’s economic impact

The Eras tour is projected to have a $5 billion economic impact on the US. And that’s because people are not just buying tickets to see Taylor, they’re buying specific outfits to wear to the show. So now they are supporting clothing stores. They are getting hotel rooms, so they can spend the night in cities. They are buying gas, they are buying public transportation tickets, they’re buying food. All of this goes into a city’s economic life. And all of it comes down to the fact that these purchases would not be made if Taylor did not perform in that city.

Multiple streams of income is key to Swift’s financial success

Taylor Swift is quickly becoming the richest person in music by creating a raving fan base. They’ll pay for her products at multiple price points, multiple times a year. This includes expensive price points like live tickets, leaning into the most profitable parts of the music industry, ownership of her masters, going on tour, and regularly releasing music. Taylor Swift seems like a pretty impressive person. Taylor Swift is also a powerhouse business. This is a brand that is not going anywhere anytime soon.

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