You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rage Against the Big Machine: What’s Driving the Taylor Swift Showdown

The latest Taylor Swift-Scooter Braun-Scott Borchetta kerfuffle involves the sort of music business minutiae that doesn’t commonly interest the general public — in fact, it’s probably safe to say that untold thousands if not millions of people are suddenly familiar with the concept of re-recording old masters. But in blasting Braun on social media and bringing the matter into the open, Swift has deftly reduced a very complex legal matter into a simple issue: her right to own and control her music.

Swift said that Big Machine threatened to block her from performing her songs from the label’s catalog on the American Music Awards, and from using them in a forthcoming Netflix documentary, and Big Machine contends 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 American Music Awards 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.

As for the AMAs, Big Machine could conceivably make the case that such performances would be re-recordings — even on a live television show — after which a blizzard of legal documents would inevitably ensue, and the matter would almost definitely not be resolved in time for the AMAs later this month. Curiously, Swift’s lawyer is Don Passman, author of the well-regarded book, “All You Need to Know About the Music Business,” and it is his chapter on re-records that was used to evaluate the AMAs, according to an insider with knowledge of the negotiations. In the book, Passman mainly implores the reader to get a clear understanding from mutual parties about exactly what the parameters are, which is what triggered the legal question of whether such a performance, or a taped west coast broadcast of it, constitutes a re-record.

But aside from the legalities, Swift has been able to portray the situation as one of her as an artist who was betrayed by Borchetta, a mentor who nurtured her career for many years, by selling her creations to someone she accuses of “bullying” her. With that in mind, isn’t Swift’s beef more with Borchetta, the architect of her previous contracts, than with Braun? Whatever money is owed to Big Machine certainly came from a balance sheet that lived long before Braun’s arrival. Yes, he bought the company — with the help of private equity fund Carlyle, a minority stakeholder in Big Machine Label Group — but friends say he still speaks of his fandom for Swift and her music. The two only met a handful of times, and hadn’t seen each other in over three years. A common Braun refrain, according to insiders: “I barely know the girl.”

Still, Swift is conveying a powerful image that is clearly mobilizing her formidable fan base, to the extent that Big Machine’s statement of Friday morning excoriated her for placing the company’s employees in danger. And she is able to strengthen that image by depicting herself, not inaccurately, as a champion for artists and creators who for decades have been taken advantage of by draconian corporate contracts. The extent of her power in that area was made clear in 2015, when she was able to very publicly persuade Apple Music to reverse its policy of not paying royalties on music played by trial subscribers — in a day.

Many businesspeople may argue, as Braun and Borchetta have all along, that Swift had the opportunity to purchase her catalog from Big Machine — or the company itself — but she declined the terms that were offered and Braun simply won the negotiation, fair and square. She has gone into great detail about the unfair proposed deal terms — she claims they offered her the rights to one past album for each new one she delivered — Braun and Borchetta have largely denied those claims, and the situation devolved into the sort of “she said-they said” standoff that has marked this battle since it burst into the open on June 30, when news of the $300 million Big Machine sale was announced.

But there’s little question that Swift is winning the battle for public opinion here, and part of her strategy may be to mobilize her fans, other artists, and anyone she can into browbeating Braun and Borchetta so much that they simply give up and say “Just give her what she wants” — which may include many things, but is unlikely to include the asset she covets most: ownership of her masters. Only the U.S. government is willing to part with $300 million that cavalierly.

In a statement issued on Friday afternoon, the Music Artists Coalition commented that it “supports the rights of all artists to control their music.” The advocacy group continued: “Taylor Swift should be allowed to perform her songs where she wants and when she wants. And she should be allowed to use her music to tell her story through her documentary.  For a label to take positions contrary to that would be unprecedented.  We applaud Taylor for reminding all artists to be aware of their rights and to stand up for themselves.”

In their comments to the press, Big Machine’s statement read at times aggressive and condescending, which seems almost to be the exact opposite response one would counsel when facing the wrath of one of the world’s most powerful women. “You’re always gonna lose if you go after an artist,” says one industry veteran. “No doubt there are three sides to this story, but whenever you hold something over an artist’s head it’s bad for business.

More Music

  • Joni MitchellJoni 75: A Birthday Celebration

    Joni Mitchell to Receive Les Paul Innovation Award at NAMM TEC Awards

    Joni Mitchell will receive the prestigious Les Paul Innovation Award at the 35th Annual NAMM Technical Excellence & Creativity Awards, to be held Saturday, January 18, 2020 in Anaheim, California. According to the announcement, the award is given on behalf of the Les Paul Foundation to honor individuals that have set the highest standards of excellence in creative application [...]

  • Juice Wrld Bonnaroo Music and Arts

    Juice Wrld's Cause of Death Still Pending After Initial Autopsy

    The cause of Chicago rapper Juice Wrld’s death is still unknown after the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office released its initial findings of an autopsy on Monday. The Medical Examiner’s Office released a statement saying “additional studies are required to establish the cause and manner of death” for the 21-year-old musician, whose real name was [...]

  • Beyonce KnowlesBeyonce and Jay-Z in concert,

    Beyoncé Doesn't Care That 'Lemonade' Was Snubbed at the Grammys

    In an interview with Elle for her January 2020 cover story, Queen Bey answered questions ranging from whether she has a Snapchat to how she felt about “Lemonade” losing its Grammy nomination. In a candid response to a fan’s question from Instagram, Beyoncé admitted that her “Lemonade” loss for album of the year at the [...]

  • Remembering Prince

    Final Prince ‘1999’ Podcast Chapter Drops Tonight – Hear an Exclusive Clip Here

    The Prince Estate and Warner Records have outdone themselves with their re-release of Prince’s iconic “1999” album, with a massive boxed set containing tons of unreleased material and even a four-part podcast series titled “Prince: The Story of 1999,” produced with 89.3 The Current. The fourth and final installment drops tonight, but you can get [...]

  • Drugs, Guns Confiscated From Juice Wrld's

    Drugs, Guns Confiscated From Juice Wrld's Plane

    Law-enforcement officials were in the process of confiscating guns and drugs from Juice Wrld’s flight at Chicago’s Midway Airport when the rapper suffered convulsions and went into cardiac arrest early Sunday, police told the Chicago Tribune. The rapper was briefly revived but died at a local hospital. According to the report, officers and agents had [...]

  • Academy of Country Music

    Academy of Country Music Names Damon Whiteside CEO

    Nearly seven months after Pete Fisher announced his resignation as head of the Academy of Country Music, a new CEO has been announced. Damon Whiteside will exit his role as chief marketing officer of the Nashville-based Country Music Association to sign on for the top job at the L.A.-based ACM. Whiteside will step in as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content