Taylor Swift is re-recording her first six studio albums after a battle over the rights to her masters with her former record label, Big Machine Label Group, led by mogul Scott Borchetta and owned by music manager and executive Scooter Braun. The re-recording of her four-time Grammy nominated “Red” is set to release in November, just seven months after the release of her four-time Grammy award winning “Fearless” re-record in April.
Why would Swift — now 31 years old — completely re-record the commercially and artistically successful albums she released in her teens and twenties? Essentially, Braun is holding them hostage. When Swift signed to Big Machine in 2005 at 15 years-old she entered a thirteen year-long contract that ensured her the tools she’d need in the industry, while the label would own the rights to the albums. As an aspiring singer-songwriter who’d mainly played in coffee shops in Nashville and Pennsylvania, Swift was bright-eyed and eagerly signed the agreement.
After soaring to undeniable it-girl status, Swift left Big Machine for Universal Music Group in 2018 where she could own the masters to the music she wrote, produced, and performed. She revealed in a 2018 Tumblr post that, “For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead, I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future.”
Swift left the label believing she’d have a later opportunity to buy back her masters. She had no idea the label would sell them without including her in discussions, let alone sell them to a known enemy of hers. She continued in the Tumblr post, “Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to.” Somehow, the situation got even worse. Braun, now the sole owner of Swift’s masters, entered discussions to sell the rights to the masters to private equity firm Shamrock Capital. After the company contacted Swift about these negotiations, her attempt to buy back the masters directly from Braun was thwarted. Just for a seat at the table at all, Braun stipulated that Swift must sign a nondisclosure agreement and never publicly speak ill of him again. She refused.
Through a contractual loophole, Swift announced in August 2019 that she planned to re-record the first six albums with Universal, thereby giving her rights to the new (Taylor’s Version) masters. With an army of Swifties behind her, Swift expected the re-records to not only help her reclaim a sense of rightful ownership but also dilute the monetary value of the original recordings. Her life’s work would no longer make Braun rich, and the possibility to reopen negotiations would be back on the table.
Braun sold the masters to Shamrock Capital.
But Braun isn’t the only member of the boys-club that dominates the music management industry and perpetuates a culture of misogyny against female artists. Dr. Luke, record producer and friend of Braun’s, has an even more sinister history of abuse against his former client Kesha. In 2013, Kesha filed a petition to be removed from Dr. Luke’s label after he threw out over seventy songs she wrote for her album Warrior. Kesha filed a civil suit against Dr. Luke in 2014 alleging sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse that led to her rehabilitation for an eating disorder. In support, Taylor Swift donated $250,000 to Kesha’s legal team. After a two-year-long battle in court, Dr. Luke withheld Kesha’s royalties on all previous albums, financially attacking her.
Misogyny permeates the fabric of the music industry’s hidden curtains, while its victims are forced to perform and bring revenue to the men that exploit them.
Movements like #FreeKesha shed light on the terrifying reaches of the patriarchy, but ultimately Dr. Luke and Braun still have their jobs and continue to make millions profiting off of not only Kesha and Swift but many other female artists. Deplatforming individual wrongdoers is impossible in an echochamber of men for whom the system was designed to benefit. Structural change and legal reformation of these predatory contracts is imperative to ensure that artists, specifically female artists, are granted freedom and dignity.
Despite a tremendous struggle behind the scenes, Taylor Swift proves to be a resilient and constantly evolving force of nature. “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” “Red (Taylor’s Version),” and the “(Taylor’s Version)” songs to come are not merely re-recordings born of contractual disputes, they are reinventions of her adolescence that remain true to her artistic identity while appealing to an ever-growing fanbase. With the inclusion of unreleased songs, a tighter production team, and now almost two decades of singer-songwriter experience under Swift’s belt, her re-recordings are set to usher in a new era of Taylor with the material we fell in love with as second graders. Taylor Swift and her work transcend time, and they will undoubtedly transcend a little man’s greed.
Photo by Eva Rinaldi (via CC BY-SA 2.0)
Baisier is a Sophomore in the College studying Justice and Peace Studies and Journalism and is our resident Swiftie