Under the Influence

How a Toronto music school attracted Taylor Swift

When the government cut grants to school music programs, the Regent Park School of Music swiftly took matters into their own hands.
Taylor Swift at the premiere of "Taylor Swift: Miss Americana" in Park City, Utah. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

An amazing audio idea was created in Toronto recently.

The Ontario government cut grants to school music programs by more than half in the last few years. The Regent Park School of Music is an inner-city school that relies on funding to survive.

Most music lessons cost upwards of $80 an hour. The Regent Park School of Music wanted to remove that barrier for kids who come from low-income families and teach music for $1 or $2 an hour instead. But when the school could no longer rely on government funding, it had to figure out a way to support itself.

Here's what they did:

Together with advertising agency BBDO Toronto, they created a library of original music tracks performed by the kids at the Regent Park School of Music.

The school approached Frank Dukes, a Grammy-award winning Toronto producer, who had worked with artists like The Weeknd, Drake and Rhianna. Dukes loved the idea and agreed to compose music for the album. And the Regent Park students played on the tracks.

But it was their marketing strategy that was so smart. They didn't target the public with the music. Instead, they targeted musicians.

The Regent Park School of Music provides high quality, affordable music education to youth in Regent Park and other high priority areas including Parkdale, Jane & Finch, and Lawrence Heights. (Photo courtesy of Artscape)

Every time an artist sampled music from the library, the school would receive royalties and residuals for the life of the song.

Then this amazing thing happened: Taylor Swift sampled a track for her song It's Nice To Have A Friend on her album Lover.

It was streamed 226 million times in its first week of release. Lover would become the number one selling album of the year. The song was also licensed for the Dreamworks film Abominable. Every new stream, license and download equals a new royalty for the school - meaning - the kids who benefit from the program are playing a direct role in sustaining it.

The music library, called Parkscapes, hopes to raise million of dollars for the Regent Park School of Music. It also has one other very meaningful benefit. When the kids hear themselves on a Taylor Swift album, it empowers them. And they take that feeling out to the community.

The message: Anything is possible.


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Under the Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio, a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

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The Terstream Mobile Recording Studio. (Image Credit: Sidney O'Reilly)

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