© 2011 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.
To paraphrase a certain Country Music phenomenon, let’s go “back to August.” Taylor Swift’s third album, Speak Now (featuring the single “Back to December”), was still weeks away when “Mine” exploded on iTunes, reaching No. 1 on its All-Genre and Country singles charts within six hours of its release and topping 297,000 downloads in just four days.
The album broke the million-sales ceiling in its first week — the biggest debut week in any genre since 2005 and biggest ever for a Country artist. By January, all of the album’s 14 tracks, each written solely by Swift, had appeared on the Billboard Hot 100. The album’s first single and Swift’s sixth No. 1 Country hit “Mine” had crossover success at No. 11 at Top 40 radio, Top 5 A/C and Top 10 Hot A/C. TV appearances, magazine covers, her one-hour TV special on NBC, a show-stopping performance at the CMA Awards — evidence of her spectacular popularity was everywhere.
And for the second time in three years, Swift was named Billboard’s top-selling artist of the year, with more than 4.4 million albums sold in 2010. She was the top-selling artist in 2008 and her second album Fearless was 2009’s best-selling album at triple Platinum. Swift remains the top selling digital artist in music history with more than 33 million tracks sold.
But beyond these facts and stats lie two critical insights: The fans are at the center of everything this artist does, and that fan base encompasses the planet.
These are the key reasons why the 2009 CMA Entertainer of the Year’s “Taylor Swift Speak Now World Tour 2011” kicked off Feb. 9 with her first-ever concert in Singapore, followed by 20 dates in Asia and Europe through March 30 before coming back and touring the United States and Canada through November. This is the most intensive overseas trek Swift has ever undertaken. And that is precisely because of the number of fans the 21-year-old has won over in far-flung areas.
“There’s a huge element of adventure in traveling the world,” Swift said. “I just really love that adventure. You experience so much in the course of going outside of your comfort zone. That’s always been really important to me. Of course, the flights are long and the jet lag is pretty rough, but everything else is pure excitement for me.”
It’s also a challenge in more ways than one. Despite many similarities, domestic and foreign tours are different enough to pose problems for those who aren’t prepared. None, however, is serious enough to change the fact that Country artists with worldwide followings are well advised to take their show on those faraway roads.
As Swift’s manager, Robert Allen works with his colleagues at 13 Management to organize and oversee her tours, at home and abroad. Born in England, he knows how to move artists, retinues and gear around Europe. As the older brother of Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, he learned the basics by managing the group’s business and travel. This led to work with Ozzy Osbourne and other major acts, with whom he became familiar with the great concert venues of Asia.
Allen was involved from the start in arranging Swift’s itinerary. Work started in early 2010, based in part on where her support is particularly strong. “With the power of the Internet, there were so many fans out there who lobbied hard for Taylor to go out,” he said. “We monitor how her album sales are and we get these pockets of activities. Singapore completely surprised us. You see this activity there and then you see it in Hong Kong. And this is the fourth time we’ve been back to Japan in the space of two years because we specifically want to work that market.”
Once Swift’s schedule was nailed down, preparations began. 13 Management handled logistical issues, with help from Arthur Kemish, who recently ended a three-year run as production manager for Metallica.
“Metallica has been to every place we’re going and more, so he was a natural fit for us,” said Allen. “The minute the promoters knew he was our production manager, a calm came over the proceedings. We’re very fortunate that we’ve added him to our team, but for a young act that’s going abroad, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t bring on somebody like Arthur, who has that prior experience, as a consultant.”
Even with a talented staff working for the artist, the key people should establish personal contacts quickly at each foreign venue. “Make sure your production manager has plenty to advance not only with the promoters but with the actual vendors themselves,” Allen noted. “Make sure that your sound engineer and lighting designer have their own dialogues. It’s the only way you can assure success because when you turn up at the venue, you’re looking at people you’ve actually spoken with on the phone as opposed to naively going over there and saying to the promoter, ‘Wait, this was in our rider!’”
Budget is another major issue, for mid-level as well as headline acts. “Touring in Europe is very expensive, so you have to cut your costs,” Allen noted. “You have to pack your trucks pretty tightly. In Asia, we’re touring five countries in the space of 15 days, so you have to know what you can and cannot take. Consequently, we scaled everything back in the show to make the most of local production. Because of the presentation we’ve put together for this particular tour, we made the decision to carry our own video. Video is so light these days, so that enabled us to do it. We also carry a few pallets of backlights and soft goods (curtains, backdrops, etc.) for continuity of the show look.”
“You have a little bit less production especially in Asia,” Swift added. “You still get a big screen and a big stage, so I have no complaints because we haven’t scaled back too much. But you definitely have to rethink your production and your staging because it’s so far of a flight to Asia.”
As these concerns were being addressed, the roughly 45 members of the “Taylor Swift Speak Now World Tour 2011” were taking equally important preparations. These included lining up passports and other travel documents, getting inoculations and being briefed on issues that don’t apply to domestic shows. “We work in different countries with different cultures, so we need to be aware of each market’s dos-and-don’ts,” Allen said. “We encourage our people to be aware of their cultural surroundings and be sensitive about how they interact with and address people locally. That’s a huge priority for us, because we are diplomats of our country, we are diplomats of Country Music and we are diplomats of Taylor Swift.”
Swift has her own way of gearing up. “I like to get in touch with my record labels in all these territories and ask them as many questions as I can,” she said. “I go online and try to figure out as much as I possibly can about the area we’re going to and what there is to do there. I want to experience the world and not just experience the arenas all over the world, which can tend to happen if you’re not careful, if you don’t schedule your shows in a way that you can go and take side trips. One of the cool things I’m excited about in Europe especially is that there will be some little side trips to these places I’ve wanted to go to my entire life. It’s important to me because, at the end of the day, you’re living your life.”
For this reason, while her technical crew checks into a hotel near either the venue or the airport, Swift and her band stay closer to cultural attractions and recommended restaurants.
Catering on a bus trek through Europe is unfeasible, and while backstage catering is provided, Swift’s adventurism often entices her to go out and seek something unique in each place she visits. “Sometimes out of convenience you eat room service, but most of the time my band and I try to go out and experience at least one nice locally-cooked meal. We always go to these teppanyaki grills in Japan with the most amazing Kobe beef and incredible food. A lot of it we’d never eaten before, which made it exciting because it was a first.”
Swift has learned much since making her overseas debut in London in 2009 after Fearless dropped. For first-timers, she has advice on battling jet lag. “When you arrive in a place and you want to go to sleep even though it’s daytime, always adapt immediately to the time zone where you have arrived,” she said. “When I got to Japan, I had to stay up for 26 hours straight before I eventually got to bed. The rest of the trip I was fine because I had made that commitment.”
Making the effort to bridge language barriers will also pay off. “Regardless of what language people speak, smiling and genuine human emotion are universal,” she said. “I can feel it from the people there and I hope they can feel it from me. But going to Japan taught me a lot about how far you can go with a crowd by speaking a little bit in their language. It’s important to make the effort to let them know you’re so excited to be there and that you’re grateful that they showed up for your show. It shows them that you’re not just there, you’re present and you’re happy to see them.
“And be open,” she added. “Don’t be close minded. Just because something is different from what you’re used to, that doesn’t make it less awesome.
I fell in love with traveling to places I hadn’t seen before and spreading Country Music to places where they haven’t necessarily been very exposed to it. It’s a huge priority for me now, and I just want to continue to expand and explore as much as I possibly can.”
Swift will give the closing performance at the 2011 CMA Music Festival on Sunday, June 12 at LP Field in Downtown Nashville.
CMA Music Festival takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12, in Downtown Nashville. The event, which celebrates its 40th birthday since beginning as Fan Fair® in 1972, will once again be filmed for an ABC television special to air in late summer.
Artists currently scheduled to appear at LP Field include (in alphabetical order):
Thursday, June 9: Jason Aldean (with a special guest performance from Kelly Clarkson), Easton Corbin, Sara Evans, Brad Paisley, and Zac Brown Band (with special guest performance from Alan Jackson).
Friday, June 10: Lady Antebellum, Reba, Ashton Shepherd, Sugarland, and Keith Urban.
Saturday, June 11: Trace Adkins, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, Josh Turner, and Chris Young.
Sunday, June 12: The Band Perry, the JaneDear girls, Miranda Lambert, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, and Taylor Swift.
Artists and schedules are subject to change.
Country Music Association
Taylor Swift performing at the Toyota Center in Houston Texas photo by Christie Goodwin/Provided by Country Music Association