It might surprise some of Taylor Swift‘s fans, but country music had a long and remarkable history before her 2006 debut album, and that grand tradition will continue, even if Swift ends up leaving the genre for good. But there’s no doubt that she changed the business of country music in several ways.
COUNTRY WENT POP
Not since the mid-’70s, when Olivia Newton-John and John Denver were winning country awards, has traditionalism been less evident in Nashville. “For decades, there’s been an ebb and flow in country music between traditional sounds and pop,” says Chris Parr, who co-manages Jason Aldean. “Taylor has certainly helped to push that pop boundary out a little bit further.”
YOUNGER ACTS GOT SIGNED
With a few exceptions — most notably Tanya Tucker and LeAnn Rimes — country labels didn’t sign teenagers. But lately, country is spotlighting younger, less grizzled faces, including Maddie & Tae (both 18), RaeLynn (20), Kacey Musgraves (26), Lucy Hale (25) and Hunter Hayes, who signed to Atlantic Records Nashville in 2010 when he was 19.
Swift at her Grand Ole Opry debut on Sept. 1, 2006.
SINGERS WRITE THEIR OWN SONGS
For years, even excellent writers like Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney recorded songs written by other people. Now, says a Nashville insider, labels are “increasingly interested in singers who write their own songs. If you have an artist signed to a 360 deal, the label gets an extra revenue stream from their publishing.” Swift tour opener Joel Crouse co-wrote all 10 songs on his Show Dog-Universal Music debut, while reigning CMA new artist of the year Brett Eldredge co-wrote all but one track on his bow for Atlantic Records, Bring You Back.
ARTISTS EMBRACED SOCIAL MEDIA
In 2008, Big Machine used an aggressive marketing campaign in which it promoted Swift as “the first bona fide country superstar of the Myspace generation.” As Myspace receded in importance, Swift adapted; in October, after she used multiple digital platforms to announce and promote the release of 1989, CNBC called her “a maestro of social media.” “She saw the power in being actively engaged with fans,” says Dawn Gates, VP digital media marketing for Universal Media Group Nashville. “All artists are able to do that. But not all artists are willing.”
This article first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of Billboard.