What Happens Now #Taylorisfree?
#TaylorIsFree is trending on Twitter and Swiftys around the world are hysterical.
The singer has reached a monumental turning point in her legal battle over the ownership of her music, meaning she can now legally re-record her first five albums.
But why does she want to do that? And how would it actually work?
Timeline Of Taylor Swift’s Legal Battle
First, let’s look at a kind of timeline of how we got here.
Taylor Swift was 15 when she first got signed to Big Machine Records by a guy called Scott Borchetta.
Swift’s father was in charge of the details of the paperwork, which said her label would own her master rights in exchange for financing her career.
It was a pretty normal thing to do back then, especially for unknown stars.
Jump forward six albums to the end of 2018 and Taylor Swift has become a household name.
She’s left Big Machine to sign with the major label Republic Records (who are owned by Universal Music Group) and they’ve allowed her to own all her future masters.
Around the same time, Borchetta sold Big Machine Records to Scooter Braun. He’s the guy who discovered Justin Bieber on YouTube.
It was a 300 million dollar deal, and it meant that the ownership of Swift’s first six albums was then handed over to Braun.
In a Tumblr post, Swift responded to the change in ownership saying it was the “worst possible situation”.
She ultimately accused Big Machine of not giving her a fair chance to secure ownership of her masters when the deal was going down, which she’d been trying to do for some time.
What’s The Deal With Master Recordings?
But what actually are master recordings?
Lorrae McKenna: “There’s two parts to a song in copyright law. One is the master recording, which is the [original] sound recording of a particular song, and the other half is the publishing rights, which are to do with the actual song [writing].”
That’s Lorrae McKenna. She runs an independent record label and artist management company based in Melbourne.
It’s a bit complicated, but the master is the original recording. The one that all subsequent copies are made from.
All the digital songs we sing along to on YouTube or Spotify are copies of the master.
Master rights are usually signed away forever to record labels, because new artists need the labels to finance the start of their careers.
LM: “All of Taylor’s hits cost an incredible amount of money. Studio time, producer time, pre-production, musicians play on it – there’s hundreds of things that go into creating a pop album and [they are] by no means are cheap to make.”
Lorrae pointed out that it’s actually quite common that the bigger a star becomes, the more control they want over their art.
Swift Isn’t The First To Fight For More Artist Control
Prince is the pinnacle example of fighting for artistic control.
He never actually owned his masters. But he became a trailblazer in protesting against the system that he believed gave so much power to label bosses and so little to the people behind the art.
LM: “Artists are looking for more flexibility and to have more control over their music these days. That’s why they’re setting up their own record labels, looking at more like licensing deals, and licensing to record labels for a period of time.”
So, What Happens Now?
Which leads us to the latest developments in Swift’s story.
Last year on Good Morning America, Swift announced that her contract said that starting November 2020 she could record her albums one through five all over again.
Now it is November 2020. Is she going to do it?
Technically, she can re-record because she has the money and UMG behind her. And if she does then both versions, the original and the new will exist in the world.
But Swift herself hasn’t confirmed if she’s going ahead with it, and it’s actually her fans that are leading #TaylorIsFree to trend on Twitter.
What’s been highlighted by this whole story is how the music industry actually operates in regard to copyright laws and the restrictions of master recordings.
Thankfully, artists are gaining more freedom nowadays, but Swift’s story shows just how far the industry still has to go in providing a flexible structure for its artists.