Why Taylor Swift Doesn't Own Her Own Songs
- Published on Aug 30, 2019
- Taylor Swift is going head to head with Scooter Braun, the music industry heavyweight who currently owns her master recordings. Now Taylor plans to record her first six albums all over again- raising the stakes in what's becoming the highest-profile battle over an artists' masters in recent music history. We break it all down.
Right on the release of her seventh album "Lover", Taylor by announcing she'll re-record and re-release six albums' worth of music in 2020. That means every song from "Tim McGraw" and "Teardrops on My Guitar" (off Taylor's 2008 self-titled debut) to "Look What You Made Me Do" and "...Ready For It? " (off her sixth album "Reputation"). Her goal, she says, is to finally own her own publishing catalog - regaining control over her music from Braun. But who is Scooter Braun, and why does Taylor seem to despise his ownership of her masters? How does their battle relate to Taylor's highly publicized feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian? And why doesn't Taylor Swift own her own music, anyway?
It has to do with Taylor's former record company, Big Machine Records. The star was signed to Big Machine from the very beginning of her career in 2005 up until the post-"Reputation" era in 2018. In the fall of that year, she left to sign with Republic Records (a subsidiary of Universal). Then in June 2019, her former label boss, Scott Borchetta, sold Big Machine to Scooter Braun's media company. Just like that, Braun assumed ownership of everything Taylor recorded for Big Machine from 2006 to 2017. When news broke that Braun had acquired her master recordings, Taylor took to her Tumblr account, penning a long blog post that described the Braun acquisition as her "worst case scenario."
Taylor retained her publishing rights over her songs, all of which she wrote or co-wrote. So she still gets songwriter royalties whenever her songs are streamed, license, downloaded, or purchased. But Braun, as the master rights holder, owns the sound recordings themselves. That means he gets a bigger dividend of the royalties.
After Taylor put Braun on blast, celebrities started publicly taking sides. Halsey, Cara Delevingne, Iggy Azalea, Kelly Clarkson, and Panic! At The Disco frontman Brendon Urie quickly allied themselves with Taylor. Braun, meanwhile, got the support of Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato, two of the big-name artists he manages. (Braun has a long list of superstar clients, including Ariana Grande, Zac Brown Band, J. Balvin, and formerly Carly Rae Jepsen).
Taylor hasn't been on warm terms with Bieber for some time now - perhaps because her best friend, Selena Gomez, was in an on-off relationship with Bieber for several rocky years. But Taylor's Tumblr letter focused mostly on Braun's association with Kanye West. Braun worked as the rapper's manager in 2016, when the whole "Famous" debacle took place. The fallout over Kanye's controversial song and video - both of which made explicit references to Taylor - eventually resulted in a PR nightmare for the pop star, and ended up shaping a lot of the symbolism and creative direction on her 2017 LP "Reputation." With that album and the ensuing tour, Taylor's career quickly recovered; but she still blames Braun for using his connections with Bieber, Kanye, and Kim Kardashian West to sabotage her image.
The star has long been known for her clever media and marketing strategy, and her ability to dominate the tabloid news cycle has proven lucrative throughout her career. But beyond all of the drama - and the personal history that factors into this feud - at the center of Taylor's battle is a very real and fundamental debate in the music industry. Why is it so rare for artists - even mega-successful ones Taylor Swift or Beyoncé - to own their own masters? It is their life's work, after all. And why is it so hard for musicians to buy back their catalogs from record labels? Finally, why is Taylor able to re-record all her music - and what will this mean for the industry going forward? We explain and analyze possible outcomes and implications.
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Why Taylor Swift Doesn't Own Her Own Songs