Sunday, March 07, 2021

Taylor Swift’s Labour of Love: The Story

Taylor Swift is without a doubt one of the world’s most recognised and successful music artists, with a career spanning well over a decade. Love her or hate her, people know her name and usually a song or two, even if they do sing along reluctantly when it comes on the radio. Throughout her career, Swift has accumulated 10 Grammy awards and 32 American Music Awards across a number of categories. She won the 2015 BRIT award for International Female Solo Artist and has countless other awards and nominations to her name.

Signed to Big Machine record label when she was 15 years old, Swift broke onto the country music scene to huge acclaim and quickly became the label’s most commercially successful artist. Over the course of her contract with Big Machine, Swift released six albums, from 2006’s Taylor Swift, up to and including 2017’s Reputation. 

During this time she made the jump from the country genre to pop with hits such as ‘Shake It Off’ and enjoyed phenomenal success. Following the end of her contract with Big Machine, in 2018 Swift signed a new recording deal with Universal Music Group (UMG) for an undisclosed fee and went on to sign a publishing deal with the label’s publishing arm, UMPG, in 2020. It was after her move to UMG that the conversation around the ownership of her music started. 

Knowing the difference between mechanical assets and publishing assets is where it can get confusingMechanical assets are the original recordings of a song, often referred to as masters or stems. This includes every line of instrumentation including the vocals and for major label artists, they are usually owned by the record label as per their contract. The publishing assets are essentially the intellectual copyright and belong to the songwriter/s at the point of the song’s conception.  

Swift owns the publishing assets to her songs as she wrote them all, however Big Machine owned the mechanical assets because of the contract that Swift signed when she was fifteen years-old. This wasn’t an issue until recently. 

After Swift’s contract with Big Machine ended and she signed to UMG, the owner of Big Machine, Scott Borchetta, decided to sell the label, which included the master recordings of Swift’s first six albums. In 2019, Borchetta sold Big Machine to Ithaca Holdings LLC for a reported $300 million (approx. £213.8 million), which is where the fallout began. Ithaca Holdings LLC is owned by famous artist manager and entrepreneur Scooter Braun and, to put it lightly, he and Swift have notoriously not seen eye to eye over the years. In fact, Swift described this deal as her “worst nightmare” and claimed that Braun had bullied her throughout her career. She also alleges that she was not given the opportunity to buy her old masters before they were offered to other buyers. In July 2020, Ithaca Holdings sold Swift’s masters and associated media (i.e. music videos and artwork) to Shamrock Holdings, however it became clear that Braun would still profit from Swift’s masters should they be used, due to the terms in the deal between Ithaca and Shamrock.

Which brings us to the re-recordings. As long as Braun was able to profit from all sales, streams, downloads and plays of her old music, Swift was not satisfied. However, she owns the intellectual copyrights and it is reported that any clauses regarding the re-recording of Swift’s work in her contract with Big Machine, expired in late 2020, which is why she has been able to start this process now. These re-recordings mean that when the new versions of her songs are played instead of the originals, only she would collect royalties for them, not Braun. It also means that in regard to any sync deals, she can ensure that companies who want to use her music in their work (i.e. adverts), use her new recordings, again cutting Braun out of the deal.

So what can we expect from these new recordings? As demonstrated by Swift’s first re-recording ‘Love Story (Taylor’s Version)’, not much has actually changed in terms of the overall sound of the track from its original, however if we zoom in closer, there are some slight tweaks. For example, brighter hi-hats and some added pizzicato in harmony with the guitar melody during the introduction seem to be more sonic changes than musical. Overall, whilst the drum beat remains the same as in the original, the kit is much more prominent in the mix, as is the string melody in the choruses. These minor changes are sure to please long-time fans who, like Swift, have grown up with this music. By sticking to the original and heightening different aspects of the song’s instrumentation, the listener feels as though Swift is rejoicing in nostalgia and in the process of recording her old music – she is enjoying her labour of love.

 

Ellie Insley

@ellie_insley

Image: Taylor Swift Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/TaylorSwift/photos/10158572389430369

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