Taylor Swift’s Rapid Rise

Guess you can say that Taylor Swift is aptly named.


While she’s only 19 and hasn’t even begun her first tour as a headliner, Taylor Swift has swiftly risen to the number four spot on Forbes magazine’s just-published list of estimated top earners in country music for 2009.

Of course, after selling more than 4 million CDs last year–a feat that made her the best-selling solo artist of 2008–t’s not really a surprise that Swift made the list, which the business journal puts together by calculating estimates on grosses, merchandise revenue, album sales, and income from endorsement and licensing deals.

With an estimated take-in of $18 million for ’09, she ranks behind only Kenny Chesney ($65 million), Rascal Flatts ($60 million), and Toby Keith ($52 million), and ahead of the likes of Brooks & Dunn and Tim McGraw, who are tied for fifth place with $15 million.

What is surprising is the fact that the teenaged Swift has so quickly crashed through the cowboy hat that is Nashville’s version of the proverbial glass ceiling. All the others in the above list were also in Forbes’ Top Five in 2008, and while much of that is certainly due to country music’s longstanding fanbase allegiances to its established acts, it’s noteworthy that the only other females on the list are Carrie Underwood and Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles. Both of them are tied for eighth with $14 million behind Brad Paisley ($15 million), with “Elder Statesman” Alan Jackson rounding out the Top Ten with an estimated ’09 haul of $12 million.

It’s also noteworthy that Swift has achieved all this despite being part of a genre whose CD sales fell some 24 percent last year, as country music had the dubious distinction of following only classical music in overall sales drops (the decline for the music industry as whole was 14 percent.)

Still, since the average ticket for a country concert cost far less than comparable acts in rock or pop, the genre is a bit less susceptible to sharp declines in its overall popularity. And those endorsement and merchandising deals, which young Ms. Swift is only first getting a bronco-busting like handle on, are another reason. As veteran industry executive Joe Galante of Sony BMG Nashville points out, country is still regarded as the “music of the people. Marketers are realizing that if you want to reach the mainstream audience–the people that show up for work every day and are raising families–then country needs to be part of the mix.”

And, barring undue influence of friends like Miley Cyrus, as long as she can keep the diva demons away, Ms. Swift just might just keep reshaping the moneymaking side of country music’s good ol’ boy network.

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