×

When Could Taylor Swift Re-Record Her Big Machine Songs? It’s Complicated

Her few words echoed around the world within minutes: Asked in a preview of her forthcoming “CBS This Morning” interview whether she might re-record her master recordings from her Big Machine, which are now owned and controlled by her nemesis, Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun, Taylor Swift said, “Oh yeah.”

Asked whether she plans to: “Oh, absolutely.”

No further details were provided, but the remarks open up a plethora of legal questions about when and how Swift could re-record her catalog, and thus snatch income from Big Machine by making sure that her new versions, and not the ones owned by her former label, are the ones played by fans and used in any number of commercial ventures, such as advertisements, TV shows, movies, games and other uses.

[UPDATE: After this article published, Swift revealed on “Good Morning America” Thursday that her contract with Big Machine allows her to re-record songs from her first five albums beginning in November of next year. “My contract says starting from November 2020 I can start re-recording albums 1-5,” she said.”]

Prince and Def Leppard are two artists who successfully went that route in the past when they felt they were being unfairly compensated by their original labels, but their contracts dated back to the 1970s. Record companies quickly got wise to the practice and wrote provisions into their standard contracts setting a time period — typically two years after an album’s terms expire or five years after the release of the recording — before those same songs, which include live versions, could be released.

Without direct knowledge of Swift’s contract, unnamed sources are batting around both sides of the coin. On one side, the assertion that Swift would be unable to re-record songs from her catalog until five years from 2018, when her deal with Big Machine officially expired, and even then the process would be prohibitively complicated. For example, she may not have access to the album’s original artwork or even the names of the songs.

On the flip side, an insider tells Variety that Swift believes she can re-record her classics and that a smart lawyer — Swift’s is Donald Passman, one of the top attorneys in the industry and the man who literally wrote the book on the music industry — would not allow a severe re-record restriction in their artist’s contract. This source suggests that any album more than five years old is fair game.

Laurie Soriano, a top music industry attorney and partner in the firm King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, who has no involvement in the Swift contract, says she doesn’t see any reason why Swift couldn’t move ahead with new versions of her songs and points to the practice by legacy artists to do the same. Once an artist’s deal with their label expires, that artist has “a contractural right to record for a new label and for [both entities] to make money off those recordings,” she tells Variety. “Standard language is two years after the end of the term or five years after the release of the recording in question.”

However, some contracts do have what is called an original production or “sound alike” clause, which prohibits a newly recorded version from being too similar to the original — if that’s the case with her contract, a Swift-sung reggaeton version of “Mean” or a heavy metal take on “Love Story” could have moved closer to reality. But Soriano says it’s “an unusual provision” for a label to make seeing as interest in the catalogs often spurs consumption of both the original and new versions.

To be sure, Swift has made her fans more than aware of her feelings about Braun’s acquisition of her masters, and it’s likely that a large percentage of them will follow her to whichever versions of her songs she asks them to. Then again, others may prefer the original. Any such confusion may ultimately have an adverse effect on perception of the worth of the Big Machine catalog, potentially devaluing the assets.

On the other hand, that’s a question of the future. Right now, rights to master recording are seen as incredibly valuable one-of-a-kind works of art, not unlike that of a famous painter. If Braun were to sell today, at multiples of 22x to 25x, he’d be looking at a $1 billion valuation for a company he and backers Carlyle Group spent $300 million to buy.

If Swift’s battle history is any indication, this one is far from over…

More Music

  • Cambodian Rock Band review

    'Cambodian Rock Band': Theater Review

    Is there anything less politically threatening than a rock band jamming to its own vibrant music? Tell that to the Khmer Rouge, which descended on Cambodia in 1975 and killed off some three million people, including many musicians. In Lauren Yee’s play “Cambodian Rock Band,” the doomed, fictional band Cyclo is represented by actor-musicians with [...]

  • Spanish tenor Placido Domingo attends the

    Investigation Finds Placido Domingo Had ‘Inappropriate Activity’ With Multiple Women

    An investigation into accusations of sexual misconduct against opera singer Plácido Domingo by opera performers’ union found that he “engaged in inappropriate activity, ranging from flirtation to sexual advances, in and outside of the workplace” when he was a senior executive at the Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera, according to the Associated Press [...]

  • Scott Harris Clio Massey Jon Platt

    Shawn Mendes Collaborator Signs Joint Publishing Deal With Sony/ATV, Work of Art

    Scott Harris, the songwriter, producer and musician who has worked extensively with Shawn Mendes, has signed a joint agreement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Work of Art. The long-term copublishing deal marks the first collaborative signing between the two companies, both under the Sony Music umbrella. Among Harris’ best known songs are Mendes staples “Treat [...]

  • Wendy Goodman

    Promotion Executive Wendy Goodman Exits RCA Records

    Wendy Goodman, a 20-year veteran of RCA Records (and formerly imprint J Records), is leaving the company. Currently senior vice president of promotion for the Sony Music label, her last day is Feb. 28. In an email to staff, RCA co-president Joe Riccitelli praised Goodman’s “passion, positivity and tenacity” in helping break multiple hits at [...]

  • Ashley McBryde Country Radio Seminar, Day

    A Country Music Conference Dares Wonder: Could 2020 Be 'the Year of the Woman'?

    Taking his seat for a panel on the subject of women in country music at Country Radio Seminar last week, one of the speakers, Damon Moberly, VP of promotion at the Mercury Nashville label, made a quip about what a minefield the topic has been. “Doing the female panel. What could go wrong?” Moberly asked, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content