Every Swiftie and their mother was shocked to learn in summer 2019 that up until that point, Taylor Swift hadn’t actually owned any of the music she ever created. While it’s easy to sympathize with her about how indeed unfair it is and beg and scowl the buyer for not giving her songs back to her, seeing it from the other side now that her re-recorded albums are being released, it’s easier to see that this situation might’ve actually had some positives.
While we’ll never know the exact details of the arrangement that was signed by pre-famous Taylor all those years ago, it sheds a light on the unfortunately true side of the industry often forgotten about: the labels solely exist to make money. Not to say those who work there don’t have an eye for talent or care for their clients, but at the end of the day, there’s a reason they call it the music business. Without making it worth their time, and time is money in the business, the entire company would fold. Taylor was fifteen when she first signed her record deal. As smart as she was for her age, she was still only fifteen, which made it easier to put just anything in the small print to convince her to sign and agree to, as long as she got what she always wanted, the record contract. This is a common occurrence to lots of artists at any age however; Michael Jackson owed a lot of the Beatles catalog, for example. It wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now, but it does happen. If anything, this whole experience with Taylor helped her become stronger in terms of her business strategy and standing up for herself. On a wider scale, it serves as a valuable warning to other artists looking to get signed, to make sure they know what they are asking for, signing up for, and willing to sacrifice for a chance at bettering their careers.
Taylor’s case got more dicey when the actual selling of her masters took place. She says she was never informed they were being sold and never had the chance to buy them because obviously, she would want to and certainly has enough funds to purchase. (Is that even legal? I’m still wondering that.) Not only that, but they were sold to somebody who she informed her label she had a problem with time and time again. Further proving the previous point, like any business, some people may turn their back on what they morally believe is alright once they see all the dollars rolling in hand over first. Lesson number two is not to trust business associates to always do correct by you, because power can make people do some really crazy things.
Enter the re-recordings. How will this give Taylor her rightful power back, especially if they’re the same songs? The key is that the re-recordings will now be the only thing her extremely loyal fanbase that’s grown up with her will listen to, rendering the previous ones relatively financially meaningless. Each “Taylor’s Version” re-release not only features her singing those songs as an adult, but also tons of new tracks from her vault that never made the past albums. This perfect storm of nostalgia and new anticipation, listening to old songs but in a new way, makes Taylor shine even brighter, as if the albums are saying, “don’t think you can forget who you’re messing with here.”
Word of the wise for other labels that want to cross their artists: it wouldn’t be a good idea to anger your stars, especially not one as well-respected and talented as Taylor Swift. In the age of social media where it’s becoming easier for an aspiring artist to build their own promotions and followers, it looks like now the labels are the ones who need the great artists way more than the artist may actually need them.