Last year, Taylor Swift chose not to re-sign with Big Machine, the label that helped make her into the superstar she is today, opting instead for a big-money deal with Republic Records.
Fine. Artists jump labels all the time. But as with all things Tay-Tay, things are never exactly what they seem.
While Taylor owns the publishing rights to all her songs–the big hammer when it comes to music ownership because no one can do anything with her songs unless she signs off–the ownership of her master tapes stayed with Big Machine.
Again, standard sort of stuff within the music industry. Labels contractually own masters in order that they can duplicate, market, and distribute the music. That’s what record labels so.
When Taylor left Big Machine, she was allegedly offered a chance to acquire ownership of her masters. No deal was reached and everything stayed with Big Machine.
But then the label was sold (Taylor knew it was up for sale, too) to super-manager Scooter Braun. This upset Tay-Tay to no end because she has a personal beef with Braun regarding things he said about her on social media. Real high school stuff.
This needs repeating: Braun may own the master tapes–i.e. the finished and final result of recording sessions–but he can’t do a thing with them without Taylor’s approval because she owns the rights to the music on those tapes. Therefore, ownership of those masters is largely irrelevant from a business point of view.
Now, though, Swift is making noise about re-recording her old songs. This would create new master recordings which she would then own outright. She could also theoretically make life really difficult for Braun to make sure that the new masters are used ahead of the old ones.
For example, if Swift agreed to participate in an ad campaign that uses one of her songs, she could insist that a new master of that song be used, thereby depriving income to Braun and Big Machine. This, in turn, could devalue Big Machine, which cost Braun US$300 million. Left alone, this investment could well appreciate beyond US$1 billion in the future.
Tay-Tay obviously doesn’t want to see Braun see this kind of profit. She just wants to make him miserable.
This is an extreme route but not unprecedented. When Prince was locked in a contractual dispute with Warner Brothers over his music, he went back and re-recorded a bunch of songs over which he had 100% control. Def Leppard did the same thing, which explains all those alternate versions on iTunes. (Both situations have since been settled. As a result, many record contracts now contain clauses that prevent this sort of “soundalike” end-run re-recordings.)