Taylor Swift is one of the world’s biggest music stars, having sold over 200 million records and receiving 11 Grammy awards.
She is also respected for being a highly creative songwriter and performer.
So why did she just do potentially the most un-creative thing a musician can do: Re-record one of her previous albums, ‘Fearless’ from 2008?
It all comes down to owning your own platform as an artist.
And in this case, Taylor Swift does not own the music for the first six albums she recorded.
As noted by the BBC:
When 14-year-old Swift moved to Nashville in 2004 to chase her dream of becoming a country pop star, she signed a record deal with Big Machine. Label boss Scott Borchetta effectively gave the unproven singer a big cash advance in exchange for having ownership of the master recordings to her first six albums “in perpetuity” – in other words FOREVER.
This used to be common practice in the music industry, but has become less common in the past few decades. It did however allow a young Swift to focus on producing her music.
Unfortunately, in 2019 another music producer called Scooter Braun, who also manages Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Ariana Grande, bought the Big Machine record label for $300m, effectively making him the owner of all of Swift’s album master recordings, videos and album art. He then allegedly proceeded to bully Swift publicly and prevent her performing her own music on TV.
At the end of 2020, Braun then sold Taylor Swift’s music rights to another Private Equity fund for around $300m without even telling Taylor Swift, including Braun being paid for future revenue from albums.
Essentially, Swift could not profit from the sale of her creative art because she did not own it. She did not own the platform it was produced on (her record deal).
So Swift wanted to regain control, and the best way in her mind was to re-record each song on those first six albums as new versions of the song. As the songwriter, she had the copyright ability to do this, and the new recordings would belong to her.
Her first re-recording was just released and instantly topped the music charts: Fearless (Taylor’s version).
While there are several new tracks on this album compared to the original Fearless from 2008, for the tracks she re-recorded, Swift wanted them to be as true to the originals as possible, which meant she didn’t change the lyrics, and even went as far as training her voice to sing like it used to 13 years ago when she was younger.
Why would she do this all?
Well, now she will benefit financially whenever her new version of the songs are played. And considering how the songs are essentially identical, fans are now more likely to stream or buy her new version to show they support her as an artist.
As an additional benefit, she has also openly stated that she knows that having a new version of the songs on the market will significantly reduce the value of the previous records sold to the private equity firm.
Been getting a lot of questions about the recent sale of my old masters. I hope this clears things up. pic.twitter.com/sscKXp2ibD
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) November 16, 2020
Now that is Schadenfreude!
But it all goes to show the importance of owning your own assets, and the best way to do that as an artist is to own the platform you are producing and distributing on.
It might just save you from having someone else own all your work without you being able to do anything about it in the future.