UPDATE: Let me try to explain the latest Taylor Swift beef with her old manager and record company.

[This version of the article contains new details and updates to the original post from November 15. – AC]

Taylor Swift is playing the victim card again over something she wants to do on the American Music Awards (i.e. the pre-Christmas Grammy imitation designed to goose holiday music sales).

As part of her performances, she wants to play a medley of her big hits. However, she claims that the new owners of her master recordings, Scooter Braun and her old manager, Scott Borchetta, are preventing her from doing so.

You remember that story, right? Big Machine, Tay-Tay’s old label and management company, was purchased by Scooter Braun and company called Ithaca Holdings earlier this year. The deal included the rights to the master recordings–that is, the finished studio recordings–of all of Swift’s albums. This came after she decided to bolt for a new deal with Republic Records. Had she stayed with Big Machine, the new deal would have let her earn the rights have to her old masters one at a time. For every new album she released, she’d get an old album back. That deal would have continued until she owned all six albums outright.

She could have also raised money to purchase the masters outright. She chose not to.

But the lure of Republic was too much and Taylor moved on, leaving those master recordings behind. However–and this is extremely important–she retained the publishing rights to all those songs. Publishing is where all the money is made. As owner of the publishing of her songs, no one can do anything with them unless Tay-Tay says “yes.” In other words, she still holds the hammer when it comes to everything she’s ever recorded.

Back to the AMA situation. Here’s what she posted on Twitter.

Let me write it out for you so it’s easier to read. I believe the entire issue is encapsulated in what I put in bold letter.

“Guys – It’s been announced recently that the American Music Awards will be honoring me with the Artist of the Decade Award at this year’s ceremony. I’ve been planning to perform a medley of my hits throughout the decade on the show. Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun have now said that I’m not allowed to perform my old songs on television because they claim that would be re-recording my music before I’m allowed to next year. Additionally — and this isn’t the way I had planned on telling you this news — Netflix has created a documentary about my life for the past few years. Scott and Scooter have declined the use of my older music or performance footage for this project, even though there is no mention of either of them or Big Machine Records anywhere in the film.

“Scott Borchetta told my team that they’ll allow me to use my music only if I do these things: If I agree to not re-record copycat versions of my songs next year (which is something I’m both legally allowed to do and looking forward to) and also told my team that I need to stop talking about him and Scooter Braun.

“I feel very strongly that sharing what is happening to me could change the awareness level for other artists and potentially help them avoid a similar fate. The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.

“This is WRONG. Neither of these men had a hand in the writing of those songs. They did nothing to create the relationship I have with my fans. So this is where I’m asking for your help.

“Please let Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun know how you feel about this. Scooter also manages several artists who I really believe care about other artists and their work. Please ask them for help with this – I’m hoping that maybe they can talk some sense into the men who are exercising tyrannical control over someone who just wants to play the music she wrote. I’m especially asking for help from The Carlyle Group, who put up money for the sale of my music to these two men.

“I just want to be able to perform MY OWN music. That’s it. I’ve tried to work this out privately through my team but have not been able to resolve anything. Right now my performance at the AMAs, the Netflix documentary and any other recorded events I am planning to play until November of 2020 are a question mark.

“I love you guys and I thought you should know what’s been going on.”

So in a nutshell: Swift claims she’s cannot perform her own songs because (a) Braun and Borchetta are concerned that she’ll record copycat versions of her hits (i.e. create new master recordings that she would own) before she’s legally allowed to next year, and (b) stop squawking about them in public.

Swift has threatened for months to make new recordings of her old hits, but that’s a bad idea. Re-creations of well-known songs rarely, if ever, sound as good as the originals. Just look at how Def Leppard tried to get around a similar problem by posting new recordings of old hits on iTunes when they were on the losing side of a fight over rights. Those newer recordings sucked. (Fortunately, that whole issue has been resolved.)

Are Braun and Borchetta really worried about any new Taylor recordings competing with the originals? And they believe that her performance of a medley of her songs on the AMAs would constitute new recordings of those songs? Maybe, but–and please correct me if I’m wrong–unless a recording of that medley was made available for streaming or for sale (a highly unlikely thing), what’s the problem?

As far as I can tell, appearing on the AMAs to sing those songs would technically constituted a recording, but only for time-shifting that particular broadcast. If that’s the reason they’re holding back permission, that’s pretty petty.

The above tweet also buried a very important point:

“Netflix has created a documentary about my life for the past few years. Scott and Scooter have declined the use of my older music or performance footage for this project, even though there is no mention of either of them or Big Machine Records anywhere in the film.”

Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.

When Taylor bailed for Republic Records, all the media–pictures, video, film footage, etc.–featuring her stayed with Big Machine. She could have eventually acquired the rights to all that material had she re-signed–that was a big part of the negotiations–but again, she chose to walk away from that. Therefore, Braun and Borchetta own that material and can do (or in this case, not do) whatever they feel like with it.

And let’s not forget that Taylor walked away from a deal that would have eventually given her everything she wanted.

As for them withholding their permission for her to play those songs as part of a TV appearance, something just doe not add up. The more she puts her music out there, the more money they’ll make from song and album sales, which is exactly what they hope to do by owning the masters.

Here’s what I think is going on: As holders of the rights to Swift’s master recordings, it’s in Braun and Borchetta’s best interests to let Taylor do whatever she wants to promote that music. At the same time, though, Braun and Borchetta are just sick and tired of Tay-Tay playing the victim card and making them look like bad guys when, in fact, they’re totally playing by the rules.

And she had to play the sexism card: “Basically, be a good little girl and shut up.” That remark has some people taking the position that she’s being repressed by the white male hierarchy of the music business.

I think this whole thing can be summed up like this: Braun and Borchetta are saying “Make it rough for us, and until you stop with the whingeing, half-truths, and twisted facts, we’ll make it rough for you.”

That, however, may have backfired on them. Swifties, Tay-Tay’s superfans, took the above tweet to mean “go after them.” Now Borchetta and Braun are being doxed. That’s never a good thing. In fact, Big Machine offices had to close early Friday (November 15) because of death threats to the staff.

That’s disturbing criminal behavior. And it’s all Taylor’s fault.

Meanwhile, Braun and Borchetta are striking back on Swift’s claims, saying that they’re just untrue. And that, by the way, Tay-Tay owes them millions of dollars. Of course, she almost immediately fired back with a counter-statement providing a letter as proof she’s been denied the right to perform her songs and that Big Machine owes her $7.9 million. Naturally, the Swifties are right there with her. Look for the hashtag #IStandWithTaylor.

Once again, Taylor is airing her dirty laundry in public, something she’s done for years and made millions as a result. (Think about how many of her songs about failed relationships.)

Expect this high school drama to play out more and more in the coming days and weeks.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “UPDATE: Let me try to explain the latest Taylor Swift beef with her old manager and record company.

  • November 15, 2019 at 5:30 pm
    Permalink

    I”m a bit confused. How can they prevent her from performing her songs live? That doesn’t involve the master recordings and she owns the publishing rights.

    Unless (*gasp*) she wasn’t actually planning on performing the songs live but was planning to lip-sync over the master recordings.

    Reply
    • November 15, 2019 at 5:32 pm
      Permalink

      Ohhh I re-read it and I think I get it. Part of the deal was also that she wouldn’t re-record her songs for a period of time and they’re counting a TV performance as a “re-recording”.

      Reply

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