I heard “Love Story” and “You Belong with Me” on the radio for the first time when I was only eight years old and I have loved Taylor Swift ever since. Most of Taylor’s fans were young when her debut album came out, getting to sing along to songs about high school first loves. Now, we have grown into adults, and her music has grown too, so those same fans can relate to music about empowerment and true heartbreak. Despite her status as a musical icon who is widely recognized and respected for her craft, Taylor, like most artists, does not own the rights to her own music.
On February 12, 2021, Taylor released “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” from her 2008 album Fearless. Like “Love Story,” Taylor has been re-recording and is now beginning to re-release all of her music from her first five studio albums. Here’s why:
Taylor signed with her previous record label, Big Machine Records, in 2005, and subsequently released her debut self-titled album in 2006. When a recording artist like Taylor signs with a label, the legal agreement is generally that the record label owns the rights to the recordings, which is commonly referred to as their “masters.” While the artist is paid, they don’t receive all of the revenue that their recordings generate nor are they in control of what happens with them. So, obviously, it makes financial sense for an artist to want to own their masters. While Taylor Swift may not need that income, her re-recordings are a bit more about unfair dealings in the music world, which she has been advocating for in recent years.
In 2018, Taylor’s contract with Big Machine Records expired and she signed a new agreement with Universal Music Group, who granted her ownership of her masters from then on. This, however, does not include her first six studio albums: Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red, 1989 and Reputation. In 2019, Ithica Holdings, headed by Scooter Braun, purchased the Big Machine Label Group for $300 million, and thus gained ownership of Taylor Swift’s masters. Taylor said that she was completely unaware of the sale of her music, calling it her “worst-case scenario” after a less-than-friendly past with Scooter Braun and clients he manages, such as Kanye West and Justin Bieber. In a long and upsetting post to Tumblr, Taylor explained how she had begged Big Machine Records for the chance to own her work but was forced to walk away.
In an exciting development, Taylor revealed that as of November 2020 she is contractually allowed to re-record her first five albums. Then, it all got even messier when Scooter Braun sold Taylor’s masters to the investment fund Shamrock Holdings for $300 million, once again without her consent. According to Taylor on Twitter, Braun had asked Shamrock Holdings not to reach out to Taylor, thus not giving her a chance to bid on her own music. Even worse, she claimed that Scooter would only give her the chance to bid if she were to sign an NDA that made sure she would never speak negatively about Scooter Braun again. Take a look at this post.
Upon promising to re-record her music, Taylor has not disappointed. Releasing “Love Story (Taylor’s Version)” and everything that is to come, she has rendered the original masters obsolete, ensuring that she owns her work. Here’s her Instagram post, complete with new cover art, announcing the release of her re-recorded second studio album, now titled Fearless (Taylor's Version).
Not only is she re-releasing her album on April 9th (which, in true Taylor fashion, she hinted at with a secret message in her Instagram post), she is adding 6 never-before-released songs that weren’t on the original album. On February 12, 2021 Love Story (Taylor’s Version) was released, complete with a very nostalgic lyric video. It looks like things are trending upwards, and ‘Swifties’ can look forward to lots of content in the coming year.
You may be wondering, though, why Taylor didn’t just buy her masters back if she is clearly financially able?
The reality is that many artists don’t ever get the chance to own their masters because of the nature of the music industry. Taylor Swift can afford to get in the studio and do it herself, and she can afford any backlash that may come along with it because she has such a strong fanbase. Taylor does not need the extra money afforded to her by owning the copyrights of her music, but most artists do need that income. By taking a stand, Taylor is setting a precedent that artists deserve to own the art that they worked so hard to create.
Hopefully, she’s on the road to real change within the industry, but for now, Swifties like myself will be patiently waiting for the re-recordings and those 6 new songs. Taylor deserves to own her work, and finally, she will.