Taylor Swift and the Masters Problem


Taylor Swift has been locked in a battle over her masters since the end of June/early July when it was announced out of the blue that Scooter Braun, or at least Scooter Braun as the frontman of a group of investors, purchased Taylor Swift's masters from Scott Borchetta's Big Machine Records for $300 million. She says that she basically found out in the media while that has been disputed by Scott and Scooter. Regardless of how long she knew, her masters were sold and she lost basically the rights to her old songs. She still gets royalties as the songwriter and some rights but it meant that Scooter and company would make the majority of the money and control more the usage of the songs. It also just sucks to have your masters of your life's work owned by someone you hate. As horrible as that was, and as much as it exposed the music industry's sleazy practices again, it was a semi-fixable situation.
Taylor can rerecord her old albums (it seems like excluding Reputation) in November 2020. While they're never going to be the same and she doesn't have the rights to her own music which is disgusting, it does present a unique opportunity for some cool reimagining of her old music.
With that, the whole controversy basically went silent with an urgent plea for new artists to watch their backs and read their contracts. Until now. Tonight, Taylor's put out a truly heartbreaking statement that again goes back to the masters situation. As you probably know, Taylor is Artist of the Decade at the AMAs. She's set to perform, but now, apparently, Scooter is saying that she can't perform any of her sold songs in a medley unless she agrees to his terms. In part the statement reads, "Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun have now said that I'm not allowed to perform any of my songs on television because they claim that would be re-recording my music before I'm allowed to next year... Netflix has created a documentary about my life for the past few years. Scott and Scooter have declined the use of my older music or performance footage for this project, even though there is nit mention of either them or Big Machine Records anywhere in the film."
I think that these are repercussions none of us could have imagined. I certainly didn't think of all the old concert footage that now seemed to belong to them. Yes, she can rerecord the songs now, but, for some reason, the idea of them owning the concert footage and blocking the use for the documentary stings more than anything. They're not only profiting from her work, they're denying her the right to tell her story. They're holding her past and her history hostage because they are petty, small people. It's one thing to buy the masters. That's business, and, while it went down unfortunately, Taylor herself acknowledges that she'd come to realize her masters would be sold one day. What isn't normal or "business" is holding someone hostage, denying them the rights to use any of it. I mean, it's not like the film wasn't gonna pay for the song writes. It's Netflix we're talking about. With both the medley at the AMAs and the Netflix doc, they wouldn't be losing anything to let her perform. It's psychological warfare and pettiness at this point because Taylor called them out at the start of the summer.
It gets worse though, they're not only holding her past hostage. They're gonna hold them as bargaining chips. She continues, "Scott Borchetta told my team that they'll allow me to use my music only if I. do these things: If I agree to not re-record copycat versions of my songs next year (which is something I'm both legally allowed to do and looking forward to) and also told my team that I need to stop talking about him and Scooter Braun." It's almost laughable. They know that they're screwing with the most powerful woman possibly in the world. She has an almost unrivaled fanbase, and, you can bet, come re-release of her music, they're investment is going to tank. Taylor can also drag their names through the mud like no other. Whether you like and agree with Taylor Swift or not, if you're getting into the business, do you really want to be associated with Scooter Braun. I almost worry for the careers of the artists he manages because I could see Swifties boycotting his artists.
I think that's the most disturbing part of this whole mess though. Taylor is a powerhouse in the music industry. She's one of the pinnacles of what a woman in music can have. She has fans that could spring into her own army, and they regularly do. They're savvy, smart, and fiercely protective. She could put out anything she wanted, and it would go to #1 and fill arenas. She's earned that over the last 13+ years, building this since she was a teen. But even sitting where she is, she can't put out her documentary, she can't perform her music that she wrote on an awards show. Since it's art, and some of the most personal art there is, they didn't just buy something worth a ton of money, they bought her diaries. Of course she's going to fight for them, and now they want to buy her silence and take away the only thing she has left against them, the power that everything they bought has given her. I think it's scary to think if they leave Taylor Swift helpless, what could they do to some small artist who can't get #IStandWithTaylor and #FreeTaylor and more hashtags to #1 in minutes.
She acknowledges this in the next part of her statement. "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 sh ut up. Our you'll be punished." She also goes on to expose The Carlyle Group as the backers for the sale which is interesting. But I love that Taylor is at the point, both age and career wise where she can turn around and say "Think again" to their demands. Whether she gets to perform her songs at the AMAs or not, Swifties will be there for it and be angry.
She concludes "I just want to b able to perform MY OWN music. That's it." She says all of her projects have been put on standstill until November 2020 which is a major point in her original Big Machine contracts. Over the course of this masters situation, we've seen Taylor choose fighting for what is right in a situation over taking the easier, yet painful route. She decided not to be blackmailed by her masters into staying at Big Machine and now she's not going to stay silent. Since the 2017 court case over the groping incident, Taylor's proved that she's going to fight the battles that need to be fought publicly for those not in her position. She's repeatedly attacked for playing the victim in these situations and asking for pity, but, really, people can only say that because she's Taylor Swift. If she wasn't rich or successful or famous, none of these could remotely be called petty fights, and I'm glad that Taylor acknowledges that she has the privilege too fight loud and say "That's not okay." Whether she's standing up for young women who have been groped or assaulted and can't speak out or she's working to expose the toxic side of the industry and warn young musicians or holding streaming services accountable for ripping of artists and songwriters, she's using her position of power to make industry and cultural change to help those beneath her without the voice and support. Taylor is fighting for all of us, and you have to remember even though she seems like an empire sometimes, she's just a single person too. It's a lot to put on someone.
I think the scariest part of this whole situation is Taylor captioning her tweet "Don't know what else to do." Taylor always seems to know what do to, or has the ability to do something. Imagining Taylor powerless is scary.
What does give me heart is that fandom is doing what it does at its best. It's standing up for Taylor and other artists. As I scrolled through #IStandWithTaylor, I saw fan accounts and update accounts from across the pop world showing support and encouraging others in their fandoms to do the same. I hope that fellow artists who skipped or missed the chance to publicly support Taylor last time come forward now and realize that 1 this issue isn't going away and 2 it's far bigger than Taylor Swift and her masters.

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