Swiftonomics: Taylor Swift course at AU to examine music industry, ticket sales, streaming

Taylor Swift course at AU to examine music industry, ticket sales, streaming

A course designed by American University students called “Swiftonomics: The Economics of Taylor Swift” will examine how the popstar has impacted the economy as a chart-topping musician and billionaire businesswoman.

Class registration is already open and fifty students have filled a blank space on their fall schedule with the 1-credit course, which will apply economic concepts to Swift-related topics, namely the Eras Tour, the Ticketmaster fiasco and her rerecorded music.

“I’m not trying to create Taylor Swift fans; I am trying to create fans of economics,” said American University student Megan Wysocki, who came up with the idea.

Wysocki enlisted the help of fellow economics student Mackenzie Shultz to put together a syllabus that included a course description, learning outcomes, a sample schedule, assignments and a grading rubric. The group submitted their pitch to the university’s economics department in January during its first-ever student-designed course competition.

“I honestly don’t know what inspired me. I just saw the post and the first thought in my head was ‘Taylor Swift’,” Wysocki, a sophomore at AU, told WTOP.

American University student Megan Wysocki
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE: American University student Megan Wysocki attends Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour in New Jersey in May 2023. (Courtesy Megan Wysocki)

Ten groups sent entries for the contest, all designed to engage students and play into their curiosity. With some input from student advisers and faculty, Swiftonomics prevailed.

The syllabus incorporates popular press about billionaire Taylor Swift, with academic articles about the music industry and market power. It includes a principles of microeconomics prerequisite.

Economic Department Chair Kara Reynolds reviewed the entry and helped the students find a textbook called “Rockonomics.” The self-proclaimed Swifitie (and mom to a pair of teenage fans) is teaching the course this fall.

“You wouldn’t necessarily think that you could study a lot of economic issues associated with her. But in fact, it is really entwined in the decisions she’s making and the prices that we’re paying, and how much welfare we are getting out of consuming her product,” said Reynolds.

A number of humanities classes are popping up at universities nationwide focused on Swift’s music, but the D.C. school’s course is charting a new path of Swift-related academia by examining her career through the lens of economics.

“I hadn’t seen an economics … and Taylor Swift [course], and I thought that was a huge gap missing with how huge the Eras Tour (has) been in terms of markets and the economy,” Wysocki said.

Months away from the start of the fall semester, the class already has a big reputation on campus. A handful of students are on the waitlist for the course, hoping to clinch a spot. Others who are on study abroad next fall or who otherwise can’t make the class have asked Reynolds and Wysocki if it will be offered again.

With interest both from economics students and those outside of the major, Reynolds said she would be “excited” to potentially lead the class in future semesters.

“I would be willing to offer it in the future,” she said. “It’s actually a lot of work to develop a course like this.”

What’s on the syllabus?

The course kicks off with the basics of Swift’s role in the economy. Some of the economic concepts on the agenda include:

  • Supply and demand (and how music streaming has changed it)
  • Market power
  • Gender-based economics

As the era of CD sales transitioned to streaming, Swift has topped charts with each album drop since releasing her debut work in 2006.

Most recently, “The Tortured Poets Department” released on April 19, launched with the largest streaming week ever for an album, Billboard reports.

“The fact that every album she has released since Midnights has been more and more popular and now she’s breaking records that she had set,” Wysocki said.

Students will also learn about market power; which refers to the “ability of a company to control prices in a particular industry,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition.

“Both Taylor Swift’s market power and how she can influence prices, but also industries like Ticketmaster and how that market power influences prices and how much welfare consumers get,” Reynolds said.

Two of the six class meetings will be dedicated to examining the wages earned and lessons learned by the Eras Tour.

American University Economic Department Chair Kara Reynolds
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE: American University Economic Department Chair Kara Reynolds is teaching the course on “Swiftonomics.” (Courtesy Kara Reynolds)

“Every single city that she visited was able to report a growth in hotel stays there, labor and employee hirings for that period, general tourism to that location,” Wysocki said of the tour.

Reynolds said this ‘Taylor Swift effect’ boosted economic income in the cities she toured to and benefited unexpected industries, including businesses that sell materials to make friendship bracelets.

Another topic for discussion: the contract dispute that led Swift to rerecord some of her music.

In 2019, Swift announced that she would be recording new versions of the songs off her first six albums to take ownership over her catalog — which at the time was owned by music manager Scooter Braun.

Flashing my dollars: The femininity in ‘Swiftonomics’

Wysocki hopes the course will confront those who question the validity of Swift’s success by discussing her role as a businesswoman, she said.

“There are too many people out there that just cannot come to terms with the fact that a woman is so insanely successful and continues to grow and expand upon that success,” Wysocki said.

The class will also look at gender-based economics, an area where Swift is somewhat of an exception.

Swift is the first musician to reach billionaire status whose income is solely from songwriting and performing (as opposed to side businesses or brands), Forbes reported in early April.

Reynolds said her success comes even with the challenges of being a woman in the male-dominated music industry.

Taylor Swift
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE: Taylor Swift performs as part of the “Eras Tour” on Feb. 7, 2024, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Toru Hanai)

Like music, economics is another field where women are underrepresented.

Economics “struggles” to attract women in general, Reynolds said, but the new course offering has particularly caught the attention of female students.

“The excitement on campus is really palatable. And its particularly true, even though Taylor Swift is for everyone, amongst women on campus,” Reynolds said.

On the business side, Wysocki admires Swift’s ability to calculate her next move. Her first time watching Swift perform was last May at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.

She’s been fan of Taylor Swift since the fourth grade. Back in 2014, Wysocki bought the first CD in her now extensive collection — Swift’s chart-topping album 1989. Over the years, she’s enjoyed Swift’s “brilliant” lyricism, attention to detail and ability to bring “a sense of togetherness” during the pandemic through her songwriting.

Though she entered the Swift fandom nearly a decade ago, 19-year-old Wysocki said her love story with economics only began recently.

She was first exposed to the subject while attending American University and fell in love with it, saying it helps to make sense of the world.

“Now I find that I always have like ‘economist brain’ turned on,” she said. “I can’t really go anywhere without thinking of like, ‘oh, yeah, their prices have gone up. I know — that’s because of inflation.’”

Both Wysocki and Shultz will be seated in the 50-student lecture come August. Would catching the pop star’s attention count for extra credit?

“I want Taylor Swift to know about our course,” Wysocki said.

But ultimately, her end game is to “inspire a better passion for economics” with her course.

“My goal is to take the people that love Taylor Swift, and the people that might not love economics as much and bring them together,” Wysocki said.

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Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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