[This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]
Taylor Swift has made a career out of being a victim. Just look at the number of her hits that evolved from some kind of failed relationship in which she insists she was wronged. Now, though, she’s moved on to feuding with Scott Borchetta, her former manager, and Scooter Braun, a principal in the company that now owns the master recordings of Tay-Tay’s first six albums.
Before we proceed, a refresher is advisable. This is … complicated.
- A “master recording” is the final result of a recording session. Traditionally, these are owned by the record label so they may exclusively reproduce, distribute, and market those recordings to the public. That’s what record labels do.
- Taylor’s career began with Scott Borchetta’s label, Big Machine. She recorded six albums for the label while Borchetta worked magic to make her one of the biggest stars in the world.
- Last summer, Taylor’s contract with Big Machine expired, meaning that she could re-sign after renegotiating more favourable terms or sign with another label. Swift chose to go with Republic Records for big, big money.
- Shortly thereafter, Big Machine was sold to a company called Ithaca Holdings, which was financed by a Wall Street private equity firm known as The Carlyle Group. The main broker of the deal was Scooter Braun, the manager of Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, The Black Eyed Peas, and Carly Rae Jepson, among others. Scooter, Scott and Ithaca now own a lot of Taylor Swift-related assets, including photos, video, and the master recordings of those first six albums.
- Taylor is outraged that Scooter — someone with whom she’s publicly feuded in the media and online — owns her life’s work. However, she was offered the opportunity to acquire those assets if she (a) had stayed with Big Machine or (b) came up with money to buy them outright. She did neither.
- She does have an agreement where she will be able to re-record her old hits in 2020. These re-recordings would be new master recordings which she would own outright.
- Traditional recording contracts prevent an artist from re-recording their hits for five years following the end of the previous contract. The fact that Taylor can start with those re-recordings next year — just 12 months after signing with Republic — is unusual.
The latest controversy blew up earlier this month when Tay-Tay went public with allegations that she was being prevented from performing a medley of her songs on the American Music Awards as part of an appearance which would see her given an Artist of the Decade award. The villains? Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta.