Home Music You Won’t Believe How Taylor Swift’s Re-Recorded Albums are Revolutionizing the Music Industry!

You Won’t Believe How Taylor Swift’s Re-Recorded Albums are Revolutionizing the Music Industry!

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You Won’t Believe How Taylor Swift’s Re-Recorded Albums are Revolutionizing the Music Industry!

Taylor Swift’s Radical Blueprint for Music Ownership

When Big Machine Label Group, Taylor Swift’s longtime record company, sold her song catalog to Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings LLC in June 2019, the reported $330 million deal seemed to be business as usual.

But Swift’s reaction startled the industry. In an open letter, she said the decision came as an unwelcome surprise. Braun and his clients, she wrote, had engaged in “incessant, manipulative bullying” of her online and in public, and now Braun controlled her valuable—and personally sentimental—recordings.

The 2019 acquisition included the rights to Swift’s recorded music from her first six albums. Hits like All Too Well, Teardrops on My Guitar and The Story of Us belonged to Braun, the music manager behind Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and, most problematically for Swift, Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West.

“My musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it,” she wrote. (In 2020, Braun sold Swift’s recordings to Shamrock Capital in a deal that valued the assets at about $300 million.)

Swift began to execute a plan to regain control and in the process created a radical new blueprint for artists and music ownership. The same month she published her initial letter, she announced she would re-record the albums included in that deal.

To do so, she took advantage of music law: Songs contain two different copyrights, the recording and the composition. Shamrock owns the master recording rights for the original tracks and can do what it wants with them. But because Swift wrote the songs herself, she retains the rights to the words and the arrangement of notes.

In the four years since the sale, Swift has returned to the studio and released three out of the six albums, Fearless, Red and Speak Now, dubbing each “Taylor’s Version.” Her fourth release, 1989 (Taylor’s Version), comes out on Oct. 27. The success of her other re-recordings suggests this latest album will be a hit, too, because increasingly, when listeners stream Swift’s music, they opt for the new versions.

As of July, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) had earned 1.47 billion on-demand song streams since its release. In the same time, the original album received 680.4 million. Since its November 2021 release, Red (Taylor’s Version) had reached 2.86 billion on-demand song streams, while the non-Taylor version earned 476.5 million, per Billboard.

“In certain corners of Taylor Swift fandom it’s almost crossing a picket line to buy or stream the originals once Taylor’s version has come out,” says Frederick Reece, assistant professor in music history at the University of Washington. “That’s been very powerful.”

This affects the future of her old catalog, which is less valuable in terms of streaming royalties and could be seen as less desirable for soundtracks, advertising and other possible revenue sources.

Mostly, the songs sound the same with a few tweaks. Swift included extended tracks, as well as unreleased vault songs featuring collaborators such as Paramore and Fall Out Boy. She also altered select lyrics. “Taylor’s efforts are distinct,” says Chelsea Burns, assistant professor of music theory at the University of Texas. She tries to make her albums both “old and new” to “fulfill both roles at the same time” for listeners.

Other artists have turned to re-recordings over similar label disputes in the past, though none as successfully as Swift. In 2012 hair metal band Def Leppard re-recorded multiple hits, including Pour Some Sugar on Me, to spite Universal Music Group (UMG). In 1999, Prince issued re-recordings of his song 1999, including remixes, to counteract his former label’s own reissue of the song pegged to Y2K. Neither effort yielded bigger hits than the originals, despite Def Leppard’s best attempts to make them sound identical.

Swift’s story is different, because it squares with the new realities of pop music, says Reece. Listeners no longer buy an album for a lifetime, but rather stream continuously, making choices about what songs and albums to select.

In response to Swift’s re-recording success, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2021 that UMG, Swift’s current label, adjusted its artist contracts to double the time required to elapse before an artist can have another go at their songs.

But even then, an artist would need a lot of cash and wherewithal to mimic Swift’s approach. “There’s an argument to be made that this works well if you have immense cultural cachet, and the fan base Swift has, and can weaponize it to get folks to stream the re-recordings,” says Reece. Swift’s current the Eras tour is on track to gross $1 billion in revenue, after all. “I don’t know if it works as well if you’re a smaller artist.”

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