Its popularity is impacting the GDP of some countries. Cities are bending over backwards to get more, but they’re missing the bigger picture. Let’s use that as evidence that investing in our local music ecosystems makes sense.

Taylor Swift has come to town and it’s big business. During her 2023 U.S. dates, she’s estimated to have added $5 billion in total impact to the 20 cities she visited. According to the U.S. Travel Association, every $100 spent on tickets generated another $300 in indirect spending on hotels, taxis, meals and merchandise. The sudden splurge across Europe is expected to be so large that there are concerns it could exacerbate inflation, as fans spend more money on a single concert than most would spend on live music in an entire year.

Much of the economic data celebrating her impact ignores the fact that Taylor Swift is popular because of the music she writes, records and performs. As she noted in a Time magazine interview, it began in Nashville, where her mother “took her (and her) brother to Nashville for spring break…we drove up and down Music Row. She waited in the car while I ran to the record labels one by one, handing my demo CD to the receptionists.” It was here that she was first discovered, signed, and began her career. Like all superstars, Taylor had to start somewhere.

What this article, or most coverage of Taylor Swift’s stratospheric rise, leaves out is that the Nashville she encountered was a testament to the power of local music ecosystems. The mid-sized American city, as a municipality, invested in music not only through trademarks Nashville Music City to stimulate tourism. Over time, the business and legal environment, by both design and luck, was optimized to attract, welcome, and invest in music as a business. In many ways, the development of Nashville’s songwriting and music publishing industry was an accident. The first worldwide touring act, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, came from Nashville but could have come from anywhere. An insurance company, WSM (We Shield Millions), launched a radio show at the Grand Ole Opry in 1925 to attract customers. Low density and large tracts of land allowed people to make noise without disturbing neighbors, which attracted music companies to the Edgehill district (part of which is now Music Row). Its central location—about a 10-hour drive from much of the U.S. population—made it an attractive touring destination. But there’s more to it than luck, fate, and history. In 2015, Tennessee was the nation’s largest employer in the music publishing industry, buoyed by tax breaks. The city had a robust music and entertainment task force at the time. The mayor’s office was proactive, so much so that Mayor Karl Dean was honored by the Country Music Association. As in all cities, there were challenges, but Taylor—and tens of thousands of others—made the pilgrimage to Nashville to sell their wares. While she succeeded in ways most never will, her success shows that not only is it possible, but that decisions can be made in communities to maximize the chances of it happening.

Communities can influence their chances of developing commercial music success. As with any industry, the more you invest in the roots, the stronger those roots will be. This starts with music education, from learning instruments to vocational training, corporate training and apprenticeships. In the UK, for example, where Taylor is scheduled to perform three more times in addition to the six she has since performed, music education has been systematically reduced and higher education courses have been scrapped. Grassroots music venues, where Swift’s career began, remain under threat, with 2023 set to be the most challenging year ever. Brexit has reduced touring opportunities. In the Netherlands, where Swift is scheduled to perform three times, plans to increase VAT on concert and festival tickets by 12 percentage points will make tickets more expensive and concerts unaffordable to produce. In Australia, where Swift recently performed to hundreds of thousands, 1,300 venues have closed since the start of the pandemic. In the US, music remains an outlier in economic development priorities and rarely, if ever, a priority sector. While a new law to support music tourism in the United States is welcome, most major cities are struggling with significant budget deficits, with discretionary spending—i.e., culture, recreation, and entertainment—the first to go. The series of restrictive noise ordinances being implemented across the country are threatening live music on a massive scale.

This has created a divide. We see – and experience – the substantial economic impact that music can deliver through Taylor Swift, but as a whole we lack the foresight to recognize that decisions can be made to maximize success and create more stars and economic impact. Taylor is an economic powerhouse, but she is also a welcome distraction for the cities she has chosen to visit. They can celebrate the economic benefits of music without being scolded to ensure they are taking the right steps to create the conditions for the most superstars to emerge and more music to flourish.

It’s encouraging to see initiatives to increase investment in music and cultural infrastructure growing through ticketing levies and the introduction of new datasets to articulate the value of music (such as in Austria, where Swift is performing three times), but the change this cultural and economic phenomenon could bring remains elusive in most places.

Taylor Swift is as clear an example as we’ll ever have of why investing in music can improve the economies of cities. And while cities listen to Taylor’s music, for the most part, that’s all they listen to.