What’s all this new noise about Taylor Swift’s master recordings? Let me try to explain.

If you’ve been following the tale of Taylor Swift’s master recordings–the actual source of all music from her first six albums–you’ll know that this has been a giant music industry soap opera. Let’s recap.

  • When Taylor was signed to Big Machine, she entered a standard agreement for new artists whereby her label owned the master recordings for a specified number of albums. In this case, the number of albums was six.
  • In 2019, Taylor’s contract with Big Machine came up. Rather than resigned with them, Taylor jumped to Universal/Republic. The ownership of the masters stayed with Big Machine.
  • Big Machine then sold those masters to Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber’s manager) for US$300 million over the objections of Taylor. She may or may not have been given the chance to buy them. (I’m still unclear on that.) Tay-Tay was FURIOUS about this (“Grossed out” was how she described it.) Yes, she still owns the copyright to all that music (which gives her the hammer on any business decisions regarding the exploitation of that music), but she doesn’t control the entire fate of her music from those albums.
  • Tay-Tay was so upset that she plans to re-record all her old songs–that is, create new master recordings–over which she will have 100% control. As of this month, she is contractually free to do that. She’s apparently already started to do that.
  • Why would she re-record her hits? To perhaps “diminish the value of my old masters.”
  • This week, Scooter has his company, Ithaca Holdings, flipped those recordings to Shamrock Capital for at least US$350 million and as much as US$450 million–a tidy profit over just 17 months.
  • Shamrock is obviously on Tay-Tay’s shit list. This is going to make things difficult for them.
  • Taylor is again FURIOUS about this. Apparently, the sale went through on the condition that Shamrock not reach out to her before the deal was done. She posted her views on Twitter.

It reads in part “A few weeks ago my team received a letter from a company called Shamrock Holdings, letting us know that they had bought 100% of my music, videos and album art from Scooter Braun. This was the second time my music had been sold without my knowledge. The letter told me that they wanted to reach out before the sale to let me know, but that Scooter Braun had required that they make no contact with me or my team, or the deal would be off.

“As soon as we started communication with Shamrock, I learned that under their terms Scooter Braun will continue to profit off my old musical catalog for many years. I was hopeful and open to the possibility of a partnership with Shamrock, but Scooter’s participation is a non-starter for me.”

If you really want to get into the weeds about this, I’m sure there will be plenty in the news over the next couple of days. Here’s a short summary to get you started.

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 “What’s all this new noise about Taylor Swift’s master recordings? Let me try to explain.

  • November 17, 2020 at 1:53 pm
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    You deserve a kick in the nuts for referring to Taylor as `Tay-Tay’.

    Reply
  • November 18, 2020 at 8:02 pm
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    This statement is inaccurate: “Yes, she still owns the copyright to all that music (which gives her the hammer on any business decisions regarding the exploitation of that music), but she doesn’t control the entire fate of her music from those albums”

    She does NOT own the copyrights to the sound recordings (i.e. “masters”), otherwise Big Machine had nothing to “sell”. She only has “approval” rights on how they’re used (e.g. in films, commercials, etc. .). She may own the copyrights in the underlying MUSICAL COMPOSITION (i.e. “publishing”), but not these recordings. Remember, there are 2 copyrights involved every time you hear music, the recording, and the composition. She does not own the former copyright (though she may still own/control the latter).

    Reply

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