You Belong With Me: How Taylor Swift Could Still Get Her Masters Back
Written by Mama Char on November 19, 2020
While Taylor Swift made headlines Monday with news that Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings had potentially doubled its investment in her early catalog with a reported $300 million sale to investment firm Shamrock Capital, the superstar’s strategy to regain control over those recordings is still unchanged: If she can’t own them, she’ll copy them. Since June 2019, Swift has been saying she’ll re-record her first six albums, which were released between 2006 and 2017 by Big Machine Label Group, and the process is apparently already underway. “I can’t wait for you to hear what I’ve been dreaming up,” she told her fans in a lengthy Twitter note on Monday.
By re-recording and re-releasing these albums, Swift intent is to undercut Shamrock’s investment (and Ithaca’s before that) and reduce the value of those old masters, while creating more value for herself. The simplest way to do this is to deny uses of those old recordings and only approve uses of her new recordings once those are ready. Swift can do this because she controls her publishing, through Universal Music Publishing Group, and has the right to veto any (potentially quite lucrative) uses in movies, TV shows, commercials and video games. She could even prevent use of her original masters on newer streaming services like Twitch, which currently has no label licensing deals and must take down any copyrighted content at a rights holder’s request, or the next generation of platforms like Peloton or TikTok, which all require licensing deals as well.
Per her original Big Machine contract, Swift can re-record all her old masters as of early this month. Promising “plenty of surprises in store,” Swift says she recently began this process. But, assuming she follows through, what can we expect? Never mind that the 30-year-old megastar will no longer sound like the hungry and empathetic teenager she was when she first sang “15.” (Although today’s Taylor Swift may do a better job of imitating, say, 1989-era Taylor Swift.) How will she drive listeners to stream the new versions of her songs when classics like 2014’s “Blank Space” have drawn nearly 2.7 billion YouTube views and more than 436 million Spotify plays? While her passionate fans have pledged to support her here (“We all will be deleting all of her old music from our playlists and apps and will only be streaming Taylor’s art owned by Taylor,” tweeted one fan earlier this month), the answer, as always, really comes down to money.
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