After a quiet spring and early summer, sh-t got real over the course of 24 hours, starting on Sunday. This is, I’m convinced, the Big Summer Story. There are lots of moving parts and back and forth between the players, so I’m breaking up the story into several posts. This is the first. On Sunday morning, trade papers & the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Big Machine Label Group had been bought by Ithaca Holdings LLC, which is owned by Scooter Braun, manager and Svengali to artists like Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Ariana Grande. The purchase price was for “over $300 million.” Big Machine’s most valuable holding is, without a doubt, the masters of Taylor Swift’s first seven albums. Taylor left Big Machine in November, 2018, when her contract was completed with Reputation. Lover (her latest album) is part of her new contract with Universal Music Group, and her new contract allows her to retain ownership of her masters. Shortly after the news of Big Machine’s sale broke Sunday morning, Taylor posted this to her Tumblr:
For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. 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. Music I wrote on my bedroom floor and videos I dreamed up and paid for from the money I earned playing in bars, then clubs, then arenas, then stadiums.
Some fun facts about today’s news: I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world. All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years.
Like when Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked and then Scooter got his two clients together to bully me online about it. (See photo) Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge p0rn music video which strips my body naked. Now Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy. Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.
This is my worst case scenario. This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says ‘Music has value’, he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it.
When I left my masters in Scott’s hands, I made peace with the fact that eventually he would sell them. Never in my worst nightmares did I imagine the buyer would be Scooter. Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to. He knew what he was doing; they both did. Controlling a woman who didn’t want to be associated with them. In perpetuity. That means forever.
Thankfully, I am now signed to a label that believes I should own anything I create. Thankfully, I left my past in Scott’s hands and not my future. And hopefully, young artists or kids with musical dreams will read this and learn about how to better protect themselves in a negotiation. You deserve to own the art you make.
I will always be proud of my past work. But for a healthier option, Lover will be out August 23.
Sad and grossed out,
Let’s just focus on the business side of this story at the moment – it’s completely awful that Taylor was never given the chance to buy her masters, and it’s completely awful that her first seven albums – her blood, sweat and tears for more than a decade – are the “property” of men who buy and trade her work without any input from her. That sucks. It’s really awful. The fight for one’s masters is something I first heard about with Prince – he waged the war to own his masters for years, and few artists actually do own their masters even today.
But people are wondering about several things. One, Taylor Swift HAS $300 million. She could have conceivably bought Big Machine herself. I know it was more complicated than that and that if she wasn’t offered the chance to buy her masters outright, she probably wasn’t given the chance to make a bid on the label either. But that’s the thing – her dad was always heavily involved in Big Machine. As it turns out, he was a major shareholder. Yael Cohen Braun – wife of Scooter Braun – noted in her clapback: “Your dad is a shareholder and was notified, and Borchetta personally told you this before it came out. So no, you didn’t find out with the world.” Which was enough for Taylor’s rep to issue the one statement in defense of Taylor’s post/Tumblr essay, this People Magazine article:
Taylor Swift‘s rep is doubling down on claims regarding how the singer found out about Scooter Braun’s $300 million purchase of her music catalog. A source close to the deal tells PEOPLE Swift, 29, was given a courtesy note on Saturday by Big Machine Label Group from founder Scott Borchetta. TMZ reported that Taylor’s father, Scott, is on the board of directors of Big Machine Label Group and “has known about the deal for at least a week.”
However, a spokesperson for the Grammy-winning artist refutes TMZ’s claim telling PEOPLE, “Scott Swift is not on the board of directors and has never been. On June 25, there was a shareholder phone call that Scott Swift did not participate in due to a very strict NDA that bound all shareholders and prohibited any discussion at all without risk of severe penalty.”
The spokesperson adds, “Her dad did not join that call because he did not want to be required to withhold any information from his own daughter. Taylor found out from the news articles when she woke up before seeing any text from Scott Borchetta and he did not call her in advance.”
People Magazine slid that in, didn’t they? “A source close to the deal tells PEOPLE Swift, 29, was given a courtesy note on Saturday by Big Machine Label Group from founder Scott Borchetta.” They slid that in with quotes from Taylor’s rep. Was Taylor given a “note” about the sale on Saturday? The thing is, even if she was, that’s still f–king rude and awful. It just doesn’t go along with her “I just found out!” story.
Photos courtesy of Backgrid.