One of the fundamental parts of my personality is my absolute love for Taylor Swift, and I have never been shy about admitting this fact to almost anyone who will listen. So, these last couple of months of surprise albums, with the release of “Folklore” in July and “Evermore” in December of 2020, have been great for me. When I heard that she was finally going to begin the process of re-releasing albums and was releasing her recording of “Love Story” on Feb. 12, I was so excited. I immediately told my roommates and I was shocked that they didn’t know what I was talking about. So, I then proceeded to do a master class on why Taylor Swift is re-recording all of her old music, and I am now writing it down to share with you, along with why it is so important.
The most important definition in this story is of a music “masters” and what that includes and entails. Basically, a master recording of a song or an album is the original recording of it, or the first one to ever be released. Either an artist or, in the case of Taylor Swift, the record label the artist is under, owns the rights to these master recordings, which is how money is made off of songs. The master recordings are “lent” out to be played for a fee on streaming platforms, movies or whatever. Think of it like every time you hear these songs, it is because the owner of the master recording gave their permission for it to be played. These master recordings and the royalties they produce are the major source of revenue from songs, which makes it easy to see why the question of who owns the rights to these recordings is such a hot button issue.
When the master’s rights to an album are owned by the record label and not an artist, the record label then agrees to pay a percentage of the sales of the master’s license back to the artist. This was the case for Taylor Swift in her deal with Big Machine Records. For an artist like Swift, who was worth 320 million dollars in 2019, these master’s rights produce an enormous amount of money. The record label owns the master’s rights to her first six albums and she was under a contract that said they would continue to own them while she was under the record label. When she left the record label, she could try and buy the rights to her songs. She left Big Machine Records in November of 2018, and this is when the drama began.
Swift wanted to buy the rights from the record label, and she was not allowed to make an offer on them for any amount of money. She was told flat out that they would not be sold to her. The record label is also under no obligation to continue to pay her a percentage of the royalties that those recordings produce, so anytime one of her songs (except the ones on “Lover,” “Folklore” or “Evermore”) gets played, she makes nothing from it. To make matters even worse, the record label sold the rights first to music producer Scooter Braun, after saying they weren’t planning on selling them. Then Braun sold them to another music group, Shamrock Holdings, without offering them to Swift. Swift has now decided to re-record her first six albums, so that she will have recordings of those songs that she will own, and she has released her first of the “Taylor’s Version” songs with “Love Story” on Feb. 12. She announced that she will be re-releasing her second studio album, “Fearless,” on April 9 of this year.
All of this comes back to the question of what ownership means and what a toll that greed can take on the creative process. At least to me, these songs fundamentally belong to Swift. The majority of them have been written by her about her own life experiences, and that’s why they should be hers to own, or at the very least buy from someone else. These songs have also been an integral part of the lives of so many people, and they have been tied to the love that so many people have for Taylor Swift. I know nothing about the music industry, or contracts or all of the intricacies that are involved in being a singer-songwriter, but I have to say that the only motivation behind keeping these songs from her seems to be greed. Miss Swift said it best in her song from “Evermore” called “it’s time to go,” which is said to be about this dilemma: “ He’s got my past frozen behind glass, but I’ve got me.” I can’t wait to hear her new recordings, hopefully as soon as possible.
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