When Taylor Swift shared that her music catalog had been sold without her knowledge back in June, she sparked a larger conversation about artists’ rights to their master recordings.
Following her August 25 appearance on the CBS program Sunday Morning, she is doing so again.
To recap, Swift told Tracy Smith that she plans to re-record her previous albums. She also maintains that she was unaware her catalog was sold and found out with the general public “when it hit the news.”
What Swift knew or didn’t know is debatable to some, but this much is clear: her issue is not about money. Rather, it’s about legacy.
For Swift, her music catalog represents her legacy and her catalog now belongs to someone who: 1) is not obligated to respect it, 2) can control it, and 3) can profit from it. (Each time someone buys or streams one of Swift’s songs from her eponymous 2006 debut to her 2017 mega-smash reputation, her long-time foe Scooter Braun will receive a cut).
It’s no wonder why Swift called the situation her “worst-case scenario.” With Braun as now the owner of her catalog, what potential harm might be brought to her legacy? What can she do to ensure that doesn’t happen?
“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in. I walked away because I knew once I signed that contract, Scott Borchetta would sell the label, thereby selling me and my future. I had to make the excruciating choice to leave behind my past. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums. […] When I left my masters in Scott’s hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter.” –Taylor Swift via Tumblr, June 29
The only obvious thing: re-gain control of her work by re-recording her previous albums. Swift will not only take comfort in knowing that she’ll own her new master recordings, but that in doing so, she will simultaneously diminish the value of the originals, a strategic move given her rabid fan base. (Swift was already breaking records with her seventh studio album, Lover before its release on August 23).
As a fan of Swift’s myself, I wouldn’t just be excited by her re-claiming the rights to her life’s work, but also by hearing how much her voice has grown on re-imagined versions of her old hits.