UPDATED: In a confusing series of conflicting statements on Monday, Big Machine Records claimed that it had reached an agreement with Dick Clark Productions that would allow Taylor Swift to perform songs from her stint with the label on the American Music Awards this weekend — which was a key point in last week’s public dispute between Swift and her former record company — only to have show producer Dick Clark Productions deny that any such agreement had been reached.
While Big Machine had included DCP in its statements — which it revised at least twice — a statement from DCP clarifies: “At no time did dick clark productions agree to, create, authorize or distribute a statement in partnership with Big Machine Label Group regarding Taylor Swift’s performance at the 2019 American Music Awards. Any final agreement on this matter needs to be made directly with Taylor Swift’s management team. We have no further comment.” A rep for Swift did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for additional comment.
It was unclear at the time of this article’s publication exactly what is taking place, but a statement from BMLG earlier on Monday, which was reported by Variety and multiple other outlets, reads: “The Big Machine Label Group and Dick Clark Productions announce that they have come to terms on a licensing agreement that approves their artists’ performances to stream post show and for re-broadcast on mutually approved platforms. This includes the upcoming American Music Awards performances. It should be noted that recording artists do not need label approval for live performances on television or any other live media. Record label approval is only needed for contracted artists’ audio and visual recordings and in determining how those works are distributed.”
It is rare for a company of Big Machine’s stature to make a statement on behalf of another major company without prior approval. Says a source: “The media confusion was frustrating.”
Monday’s battle is the latest in a growing series of skirmishes between Big Machine and Swift, which began on June 30, when Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun and BMLG founder Scott Borchetta announced that the label — and the rights to Swift’s first six albums — had been acquired by a Braun-led group of investors for a reported $300 million. Swift called the deal her “worst case scenario” and said Braun had a history of publicly “bullying” her that stretched back several years.
Last week, Swift posted an impassioned plea to fans stating that the label was blocking her from performing her hits from her first six albums on the AMAs. While a label commonly cannot block the performance of songs from its catalog — although it can block the use of recordings of those songs that it owns — an argument could be made that a west coast broadcast of a live show is, technically, a taped version of a song.
Swift blasted Braun and Borchetta on social media, bringing the matter into the open and claiming that Big Machine threatened to also block her from using her older material in a forthcoming Netflix documentary.
Big Machine contended the opposite — that “since Taylor’s decision to leave Big Machine last fall, we have continued to honor all of her requests to license her catalog,” though it is unspecific to the AMAs or the doc. In the case of the latter, it stands to reason that original master recordings would be needed if she wanted to play portions of music from her first six albums.
While it was not entirely clear that Big Machine could have blocked Swift from performing songs from her years on the label during the show, she claimed that they threatened to do so, and in a statement issued Friday morning, the label did not specifically deny it. However, Swift has managed to portray the situation as a blow against artists’ rights that has not only mobilized her massive fan base and other artists, but even Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren.
The backstory behind this dispute lies in Swift’s publicly stated dismay over Braun’s purchase of Big Machine, which was announced June 30, and with it the rights to her first six albums. On that day, Swift posted an impassioned social media post in which she described feeling “sad and grossed out” by the deal, which includes the rights to her entire catalog up through 2017’s “Reputation.” She called the agreement “my worst case scenario,” said she has always mistrusted him, and accused him of “bullying” her, referencing a social media post in which Bieber, Braun and Kanye West — with whom Swift was bitterly and publicly sparring at the time — were photographed together captioned “Taylor Swift what up.” Bieber has apologized for the post.
“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work,” the post begins. “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.”
Swift claims to have been blindsided by the deal, which seems questionable since her father was a Big Machine shareholder and rumors within the industry were almost unavoidable in the weeks before it happened, but it’s possible the family turned a willfully blind eye.
The singer has said she will re-record and release her earlier material when she is contractually permitted to do so next year — a brazen play to devalue her early catalog, which is now owned by Braun’s investment company — although whether or not that actually happens (or if a re-recording would actually spur sales of the originals) remains to be seen.