“I’m so sick of running as fast as I can/Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man.” The lyrics from Taylor Swift’s song, “The Man,” reflect on her experiences being a successful female in the music industry, but somehow they foreshadowed the future of her music as well. In 2019, Scooter Braun bought Big Machine Records and along with it, the rights to all of Swift’s music. Braun subsequently sold the rights to Swift’s masters, leaving her first six albums in the hands of someone else.
In an effort to hold the rights to the music Swift wrote and sung herself, she is re-recording her first six albums and releasing them to the public. Swift began this journey with her grammy-award winning country album, Fearless, and added (Taylor’s Version) to the title in honor of owning the album. She then released Red (Taylor’s Version) and both of the re-recordings include unreleased songs from the album’s era that Swift calls “From the Vault.”
Swift’s re-recordings are created to sound identical to the originals. This way, fans will only listen to Taylor’s Version of the albums. The re-recordings are impressively outperforming her original works and changing the game in the music industry. While fans may be excited for unreleased songs, new music videos and old songs with Swift’s mature voice, the re-recordings symbolize much more than new content: Swift is taking a stand against males controlling and manipulating females in their profession.
Let’s backtrack a bit
How did Scooter Braun legally obtain Swift’s music and why did Big Machine Records own Swift’s music in the first place? For everyone who does not work in the music industry, the concept of a singer not owning their albums can sound a bit confusing.
Taylor Swift signed with Big Machine Records at the young age of 14. Music labels notoriously take advantage of new artists with unfair contracts, so a teenage girl with superstar potential was the perfect candidate. The original contract put the rights of her masters in the hands of the label, which means they receive less of the profits and have less control over
In 2018, Swift left Big Machine Records, and signed with Universal Music Group. Swift allegedly attempted to buy back her six albums from the owner of her previous label, Scott Borchetta, but his suggested compromise was for Swift to return back to the recording label and earn an album back for every new one produced. She disagreed and stayed with Universal Music.
Borchetta eventually decided to sell the label, including the rights to Swift’s masters. Scooter Braun bought Big Machine Records for a hefty 300 million dollars.
Is this just a way for Swift to earn more money?
When musicians own the rights to their music, they receive a greater piece of the revenue it earns, but this is not Taylor Swift’s reason for re-recording her albums. Swift, with an estimated net worth of 365 million, is obviously not dependent on her old albums revenue. New musicians releasing their first singles and albums do, however.
Swift’s re-recordings are helping new and smaller artists, something she believes in strongly. She even previously boycotted Spotify for three years because musicians received a small royalty per stream and she argued music should be paid for. This time, her actions are helping in a more symbolic and inspirational way.
Swift is exposing to the public a deep-running issue in the music industry and inspiring artists to seek ownership of their master recordings. In a usual contract, 80% of the revenue goes to the label. When the musician owns their masters, they receive that 80% or more. By publicly speaking about this issue, artists can make educated decisions when signing contracts or even higher a music lawyer to protect them.
With her master recordings in the hands of Borchetta and Braun, Swift could not perform her old music on television or use the songs in her Netflix documentary. Despite writing and creating music for longer than a decade, Swift had little to no control over her own songs.
But what does this have to do with feminism?
In the most general sense, two men manipulated a younger woman with contracts and are exploiting her work. Swift expressed her frustrations on social media when she posted:
“I feel very strongly that sharing what is happening to me could change the awareness level for other artists and potentially help them avoid a similar fate. The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished. This is WRONG. Neither of these men had a hand in the writing of those songs. They did nothing to create the relationship I have with my fans.” and “I’m hoping that maybe [artists under Braun’s management] can talk some sense into the men who are exercising tyrannical control over someone who just wants to play the music she wrote.”
Young female musicians are typically manipulated by older men in the music industry and are pressured to stay silent about it. Swift’s stance against this treatment is helping protect young aspiring musicians. Olivia Rodrigo, the newest teenage popstar, mentioned in an interview that she owns the rights to her masters. The “Driver License” singer said Swift, who is her favorite singer, has reached out to offer advice to Rodrigo and form a mentor relationship.
The re-recordings are informing new musicians on what to look out for and displaying the power of a woman who refuses to stay silent. Swift has claimed Braun tried to set terms of a negotiation where she would be prohibited from publicly speaking about him negatively. Instead of taking the easy way out and staying under his control, Swift did the exact opposite and came back stronger than ever.
Why does everyone care so much?
This is not an issue isolated within the music industry. Most female professionals have experienced sexist attitudes, behaviors, or remarks in the workplace. Swift consistently stands up against misogyny in the music industry, but she is setting an example for all women to fight against men stealing credit for their hard work. It is a typical issue in the office for men to talk over women in offices, claim more credit than their female counterparts, or bosses to promote men over more-qualified women. Swift is the perfect example of this behavior needing to come to an end; she is just doing it at a much larger scale.
All in all, Taylor Swift is earning the credit and appreciation that she deserves. At 22 years old, Swift was bullied by men in the music industry, attacked by the press, and wrote songs about a heartbreak. Today, at 31 years old, Swift is smiling as more people flock to her music. Music that she finally owns. Swift is reclaiming her work and in a sense, reclaiming her entire career for herself.
For so long, Swift has been pleasing other people - especially men - to remain “America’s Sweetheart.” Ever since her record-breaking album Reputation and return to the public eye after avoiding the press, Swift has been unapologetically confident and bold. While Braun and Borchetta attempted to silence Swift, her decision to re-record her first six albums and the success it has received has proven to the world that Swift is one of the most influential musicians of all time.
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